Favre-Leuba is the world’s second-oldest watch brand in production today. Its executives appreciate it is not the household name it should be, but Vijesh Rajan, business head of the watchmaker, is aiming to put that right. Since 2011, the company has been owned by India’s Tata Group, which last year had global turnover of $111 billion — that’s the sort of financial backing that should make everybody sit up and take notice.
Watchpro: Tell us about the history of Favre-Leuba?
Vijesh Rajan: Favre-Leuba is the second oldest Swiss watch brand that has been known for achieving various successful benchmarks in the watch industry. Started in 1737 by Abraham Favre, Favre-Leuba was managed by the family for over 8 generations. A history not known to many, but indeed one that makes for an eye opener of the yesteryear’s of the watch industry, Favre-Leuba was one of the very few brands to reach shores as far as USA, India, Cuba, Chile, Russia, and many more across Europe, Asia, and Americas in the early 1900s.
They collaborated with many other brands to also manage distribution for them in these markets. In the 1960s, the brand was known to be one of the pioneers in product design and engineering, production and supply chain, and also in distribution and marketing. With watches such as Bivouac, the world’s first altimeter-barometer watch, Water Deep & Deep Blue as the first dive watch and watch with water resistant to 200m, and Bathy which was the first wristwatch with a depth gauge, the brand won many accolades.
With the ‘quartz crises’ the brand then changed ownership to have finally been acquired by the Tata group in 2011. Represented to the global audience in October 2016, the brand is now once again available across many global markets.
Watchpro: What makes Favre-Leuba different from all other watch brands?
Vijesh Rajan: Favre-Leuba has always been a pioneer in the industry, particularly in watch engineering. While many brands carry a rich history, the one of Favre-Leuba is distinct.
Even today, the brand has not rested on its laurels.
Since 2016, the brand has launched ingenious watches such as the Harpoon, which has a single hand and corotating hour ring that tells divers of the precise dive time while ensuring simple and clear display of critical information, the 2017 edition of Bivouac 9000, which is the only watch in the world to measure altitude using a mechanical barometer technology to 9000m or put it another way above the roof of the world, as well the Bathy 120 MemoDepth launched in 2018, which is the only watch to not only show dive time and dive depth but also to record and store information of the maximum dive depth, and all of this is measured purely mechanical.
Such technically advanced watches launched year after year itself speaks volumes of the brands differentiation on the product front. Furthermore, the design language of the brand also stems from the past wherein the iconic elements are carried forward today so that a connoisseur can see the history of the brand continuing into the present day.
Adding to this, Favre-Leuba is the only watch brand that is today securing the watch authenticity and traceability via blockchain. We have had two cases of a watch being reported as missing, and been able to trace and retrieve these back. The expert team of detectives from UK were very helpful to trace and retrieve the pieces, one of which that had gone missing belonged to our ambassador and explorer, Pen Hadow.
Watchpro: How difficult is it to be noticed and recognised in such a saturated market?
Vijesh Rajan: With the cluttered market space, it surely is a challenge to make a mark for a watch brand today. Even though the brand is the second oldest in the Swiss watch industry, the hiatus of 40 years means the awareness of the brand is extremely low.
Building this from the scratch needs heavy investments and a strong differentiation. With the communication approach that is distinct and unique, Favre-Leuba has been able to make a mark for itself in the serious outdoor and adventure community.
With leading mountaineers and divers relying on its tool watches, it has been able to show to the buyers how worthy instruments the new watches are.
Nevertheless, the task is far from over. The emphasis for the brand is to grow itself in the minds of the consumers and become their friend, their reliable companion.
Watchpro: How important is your relationship with your retail partners?
Vijesh Rajan: No matter what a brand does on the product or communication front, there is no way to reach the results without the right retail partners. They are extremely important to present the brand in the right environment to the buyers.
This is why we want to ensure we develop a trusting and growing relationship with our retail partners. We value their association, and also their feedback. We have hence also been very particular about who we partner with in the various markets. Going fast and far with many is not the idea, but rather being sure that the partnership is mutually valued is more important.
Watchpro: How have you reacted to changing shopping habits and how that is affecting high streets?
Vijesh Rajan: The connected world of today means the customers are well aware of what they want to buy, and what are the different options available and each of their features and functions. No longer do they depend on only the advice and details that a sales representative has to share, but reach the retail counters with a lot more knowledge.
Once there, and with their prior awareness of many details, they are still curious and open to learning above and beyond the features of the watch or the glory of the brand name. Experimenting with new styles, new names (or old ones like Favre-Leuba) is not something they shy away from.
In addition, there is also the reality of E-commerce, omnichannel purchasing, and therefore a lot more flexibility is available today to the customers. They appreciate quick and sharp service with such multitude of channels for shopping, but also want to be indulged with the purchase experience to enable pride of ownership.
Watchpro: What has Favre-Leuba done to adapt changing market conditions?
Vijesh Rajan: Favre-Leuba ensures that up-to-date and detailed information is available to the customers across various platforms. The customer representative at the retail front is not seen as a salesman but a brand ambassador and this allows us to plan our support to them. Training is vital in this information age, which we ensure is available in easy to use documents and tools, at any point of time.
For ease of buying touch points, we leverage our retail partners to fulfill opportunities when they come. While we do have our E-commerce site for the US market, and we are exploring opening them out for a few more markets too, we do not undermine but rather appreciate the need to balance this with the retail experience. Having said this, we also know that many opportunities exist to make this experience more enriching and seamless, which is what the focus of 2019 is.
Watchpro: What is the most important thing to the brand when designing a new watch?
Vijesh Rajan: In the early stages of the brand, creating a unique identity for Favre-Leuba is vital. Hence ensuring the continuity of the design DNA across all its watches and not making it one that is easily substitutable and staying true to express the brand’s engineering excellence with highly functional and reliable instruments is what dominated the making of the new collection. 2018 was when we initiated the mix of more commercial variants, such as the Sea King or smaller size of the Deep Blue divers watch, that have been successful.
The unmistakable designs is what appeals the most to the customers and this available in smaller sizes has triggered greater interest in buying. In 2019, the diversity of options in the existing line is what the highlight is. Customer feedback has been taken in for the launch of the new collection. In addition, our engineers have been challenged further, and by end of 2019 and going into 2020 too, introducing mechanical technology that is unlike one available in the watch industry will also be given paramount importance.
Watchpro: What can we expect to see from Favre-Leuba’s launches this year?
Vijesh Rajan: 2019 is going to be a year of more diverse offerings from the brand. More choices will be available in the existing collection, as well as smaller sizes for some of the watches the buyers and media have loved and asked for will be introduced. With over 50 new SKUs, there will be plenty that our partners and friends can choose from.