In an iW interview, Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann talks about Omega’s past, present and future.
After joining Omega in 1996, Raynald Aeschlimann spent two decades with the Swatch Group. He worked with Omega as well as with Longines and Blancpain. In 2017, Aeschlimann took over the role of Omega CEO following the retirement of Stephen Urquhart, who held the title for the previous seventeen years. We spoke with Aeschlimann recently about Omega’s recent debuts and how Omega draws such a broad range of collectors.
How is Omega doing in 2018?
There is a lot happening at Omega. We are the most universal brand because each and every line has its own DNA. Everybody has a classical watch, but nobody has a Globemaster. Not every company has an incredible feeling because they have a watch with such history. They can try to work with the vintage aspect, but we don’t work on vintage– we are working on history.
For example, look at the 1957 Trilogy from last year, and now the Seamaster 1948. These aren’t the vintage watches; they are historic watches. That brand has that history. My mission, with my colleagues, is to shine a spotlight on parts of our history because the success of Omega is about all of these parts. And we continue to talk about the movement, certification and many things.
These brands within Omega each deserve this.
Were you happy this year with buyer responses at Baselworld?
We are more than happy. Most of the best brands in the world were there. I compare it to the Olympic Games. Once it starts, it’s all about the sports. For Omega, we are seeing very much the same activity as we had for many years. All of our partners and our important retailers came. Our booth, with twenty-five sales rooms, was busy from the morning until the evening.
This year we presented two lines and many other products that were very much along the lines of what I wanted. This means we also recreated the same emotions for Trésor, the new Omega ladies’ line. We are also working with the Master Chronometer certification, and with the Seamaster 300. This has not only been one of Omega’s bestsellers, but it is an iconic diving watch for Omega.
Is the watch industry these days relying too much on hype and trends to attract young buyers?
Thanks to Mr. Hayek’s invention of the Swatch, which is really ‘second watch,’ the watch is an accessory. But here the watch is also a luxury item. We have opened a pop-up store in the south of France that does not even sell watches. Why? Because many young people also like to have special straps for their watches as an accessory. They want to personalize their watches.
Obviously, each buyer’s choice is different from everybody else. But because you really don’t need luxury, everything with it is around emotion. And many companies will spend money to create this emotion. Some create emotion by investing with the best bloggers, some do it by talking with journalists–or doing nothing. But I think we have to balance it.
For Omega, we also do this by spending many millions to create the highest quality manufacture, the best service, and our Master Chronometer certification. For Omega, we are also delivering emotion by creating facts about precision, about anti-magnetism and about water resistance. These are things some people forget. Too many talk only about emotion and forget about the facts.
Are young people buying watches?
Millennials and the younger generation are not uninterested in finding luxury watchmaking. They are interested in watches and in brands. But because they are the Generation Y, they all ask “why?” They ask, “Why should I buy, and how should I buy it?” I think this is a good sign for us.
How do you reach modern collectors?
There are some fashion brands that are very successful because they are modern. Modernity is about talking to everybody, and at Omega we are modern. Thanks to our hard work, we speak with our Constellation, Speedmaster and DeVille.
I would go further to say we are inspiring people. There aren’t many brands that can inspire the younger generation. But if we don’t do that, they will not understand what a real watch is. You have to explain why such a watch is a piece of art and why a movement elicits an emotion.
By the way, Cindy Crawford (a long-time Omega ambassador) was one of the very first influencers. She had no blog and she had no Instagram. It is not because you have a blog that you are an influencer. On the contrary. She has been loyal and she has been trustful—and her kids have too. Other brands take anyone who has been a bit successful, but what is their value? I know (Cindy Crawford’s children) Presley Gerber and Kaia Gerber well, and they share our Omega values. When we designed this new ladies line Cindy and Kaia wanted to understand it in great detail.
How does Omega handle e-commerce?
As a complementary way of reaching the people. We are inspiring our customers. We have a lot of people come into our stores and, for example, they saw a watch on the (online only) Speedy Tuesday.
We want to open e-commerce the Omega way. Not just pictures with discounts. You go to the Omega site and you stay on the same page, and then you can buy that watch. Some of the buyers on Speedy Tuesday lived hundreds of miles away from the nearest store. We keep it complementary to what we already have done. And, some of our partners are internet retailers. The biggest watch retailer in the United Kingdom is online selling our watches because they are also brick and mortar official retailers. And without a discount.
We have plans for certified pre-owned, but I will talk more about that when we have our plans prepared. And we have already been doing this for ten years in one location. We do monitor the prices around the world.
All of these concerns are why we have a presence on the Internet. It is why we have our own e-commerce, and why we have our partners that can also work on e-commerce. And it is also why we are working on certified pre-owned.
How do you see Omega in the future?
Well, we have twenty-five years of the James Bond watch. But we are doing the third generation because we wanted to put the Master Chronometer certification into it. In addition to all of the lines we already have, Trésor shows the world that we understand our customers and have a watch that is for ladies. Not that such a line was missing, but after discussing this with our customers and in our boutiques, we decided we needed a new feminine, quite elegant and fashionable watch. That’s why we worked carefully with the small details like having all with diamonds. It’s not about redoing—it is about creating.
Also, we are continuing to put Master Chronometer certification in all Omega watches. In two to three years I want to have every single mechanical Omega watch to have a Master Chronometer certification. It is not easy. It cost time and it costs money. Fortunately, our new factory helps with production.
Vasken Chokarian is director of iW Middle East.