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VIEW FROM THE TOP: Stéphane Waser, managing director of Maurice Lacroix

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Swiss watchmaker Maurice Lacroix is owned by DKSH, a CHF 12 billion conglomerate with interests ranging from pharmaceuticals to precision healthcare technology; not a bad place to be during the current Coronavirus crisis. After a solid 2019, the brand was on track for another successful year when the industry hit a well in March. How has the business fared since, and what does the future hold? WatchPro spoke to Maurice Lacroix’s managing director Stéphane Waser to find out.

WatchPro: How was 2019 for Maurice Lacroix and what were your ambitions for 2020?

Stéphane Waser: We closed 2019 with good results as announced by DKSH during the annual result presentation and didn’t feel any effects from the pandemic until late February. We will continue to follow the strategy started with the launch of the AIKON: to produce affordable, sport-chic and urban lifestyle watches that correspond to millennial consumers’ needs, centred around the “playful”, sporty side.

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Finally, in terms of our 2020 novelties, fortunately we had already presented 70% of them prior to the outbreak of the virus. First of all, we presented the 2020 launches at our event in Paris, then at the Inhorgenta fair and finally during visits in key Asian markets before the lockdowns.

The launch strategy for the second part of our new products has been moved to September onwards. We remain very flexible in the face of an unprecedented situation. In short, nine months of the watchmaking calendar will be condensed to just three.

WatchPro: How has lock down been for the company, and what do you think the remainder of 2020 and into 2021 will be like?

Stéphane Waser: I do not want to extrapolate to the year 2021 as we are still in the middle of the pandemic and it’s not easy to get clarity currently, only the future will give us answers. As far as the current situation is concerned, our strengths are our agility and responsiveness. Therefore, we quickly adopted a two-pronged strategy.

Firstly, it was essential that we ensured the health and safety of our employees. For this reason, our non-production staff started working from home and for the others we introduced short-term work selectively supported by the Swiss government.

The second strategy relates to the concept of service, because as a luxury goods company it is key that we are available for our customers and still able to answer their requests for services or orders in times of pandemic. For this reason, our production was not closed and we delivered all orders received, the same for servicing and repairs. This allows us to meet demand now but also to easily ramp up capacity when business picks up. Of course, we are currently behind schedule as we are waiting for some components from suppliers who have also been adversely affected by COVID-19.

WatchPro: What are your launch plans this year? Are they scaled back because manufacturing is disrupted and retail partners are not buying?

Stéphane Waser: We still have  one third of our launches to present and originally our plan was to present them at Baselworld. Since the start of the pandemic, we have already revised our marketing and launch plans three times. As mentioned, agility and responsiveness are key to navigating these uncertain times currently, as the environment changes fast with low transparency ahead.

We will participate in the Geneva Watch Days at the end of August and also present some products digitally throughout the year. In other words, we are maintaining our programme but have rethought the execution.

WatchPro: What are the highlights of your 2020 launches?

Stéphane Waser: The AIKON Chronograph Skeleton is certainly the highlight from the start of this year: a contemporary and sculptural creation that combines the powerful, angular and masculine lines of the AIKON Automatic with one of Maurice Lacroix’s most iconic movements.

We’re continuing to expand this line with different range levels and complications. For example, during Inhorgenta, we also presented a number of AIKONs, including the 39mm with a stunning anthracite dial and pink-gold indexes. Another key area of focus this year at Maurice Lacroix is our women’s watch range with the Masterpiece Embrace. This timepiece is an illustration of the Masterpiece concept in a feminine interpretation at the top end of our portfolio.

Maurice Lacroix AIKON Automatic Chronographs come with the option of a skeletonized dial.

WatchPro: What are you hearing from your wholesale partners around the world? Is there any optimism returning as lock down measures begin to ease in Asia, some European countries and parts of America?

Stéphane Waser: The situation changes every day as some markets are lifting the confinements and others are introducing lock downs. When and how long this pandemic will last, experts don’t seem to be aligned these days. Business seems to be restarting in China, South Korea and Europe as well as Switzerland have just lifted their lock downs, let’s hope this trend continues and other markets follow.

WatchPro: How much have you switched to selling directly to consumers via your own website during the lockdown, and do you think this will continue?

Stéphane Waser: We have been pursuing our distribution strategy based on brick-and-mortar retail stores as well as ecommerce. As said before, it was key as a luxury brand to also serve our customers during this pandemic, so we kept on fulfilling all orders and supplying our customers. Of course, due to the lockdown imposed on stockists, it was mostly retailers with online stores that kept businesses running. With the lift of the lockdowns, we are seeing the offline business slowly growing once again.

WatchPro: How does the long term plan for Maurice Lacroix look?

Stéphane Waser: We pursue our strategy for the coming years. We intend to stick to our plan of developing our collection in a rational and coherent way. We will continue to grow and build our emblematic AIKON collection. The Masterpiece collection showcases much of our craftsmanship and several innovations with different novelties are in the pipeline.

It is by continuously employing the skills of our expert watchmakers that we can successfully meet future challenges and fulfil the needs of our customers. Our goal is to continue to surprise them while offering them a consistent and high–quality collection of models.

WatchPro: Do you think there is anything you are doing now that will help you emerge from the crisis ahead of your nearest competitors?

Stéphane Waser: Our brand has always made a difference by being very attentive to consumers’ needs. Our best example is the launch of the AIKON. Before launching it, we wanted to know our consumers’ needs. So we did some market research and the answer to their needs was AIKON: a good choice because today the collection represents 50% of our sales. Observing what the competition is doing is important, but listening to our customers’ needs is even more important. So we’re going to continue on that path.

A radical new direction for Marice Lacroix, the Eliros Rainbow.

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder