At SIHH 2014, Watch Brands Pursue Opposing Price Strategies

At the 24th Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, the high-end watch show that concluded its five-day run in Geneva on Jan. 24, new collections targeting different segments of the market underscored the luxury sector’s opposing views on price positioning.

Montblanc drew attention for its new Meisterstück Heritage Collection, which includes a handful of complicated models priced to reach a wider market.

“The overall strategy we are following is that we would like to share our passion for fine watchmaking,” Jens Henning Koch, executive vice president of marketing for Montblanc International, told JCK.

As he spoke, he showed off a perpetual calendar in a stainless steel case that will be available in June. At a retail price of $12,800, the timepiece is remarkably affordable compared to most perpetual calendars.

The new Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar from Montblanc (photo courtesy of Montblanc)

The revamped pricing strategy is the brainchild of Jérôme Lambert, who assumed the role of Montblanc chief executive in mid-2013, after leaving Jaeger-LeCoultre.

“The name of the game is definitely to further the maison, to grow it and develop the activities, some of which are blossoming,” Lambert told the Financial Times. “With leather goods and [watches], we are still in a fundamental period, even though we started doing leather goods in 1926.”

Elsewhere at SIHH—home to 16 brands, most of them owned by the Richemont luxury group—accessibly priced watches were a major focus. Baume & Mercier expanded its Clifton collection of classic, slender men’s timepieces; Cartier introduced its first diver’s watch, the much anticipated Calibre de Cartier Diver, which retails for 5,550 euros (about $7,600) in stainless steel and rubber; and Ralph Lauren Timepieces introduced a handful of ladies’ styles starting at around $2,300.

The Calibre de Cartier Diver is the brand’s first diving model (photo courtesy of Cartier).

But not everyone at SIHH played by the same rule book. “At IWC, we follow a reverse strategy, which is to upgrade our products and to increase our average price, which we have done dramatically in the last couple years,” IWC president Georges Kern told JCK.

He said the redesigned Aquatimer collection, the brand’s focus for 2014, saw an average price increase of 25 percent, “not just because we increase prices, but because we have much more technical content, more manufacture movements.”

“This is the strategy we have been following for the last 12 years,” Kern said.

IWC feted its revamped Aquatimer collection at a splashy party featuring a performance by Cirque du Soleil, backed by the vocals of Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson (photo courtesy of IWC).

At Roger Dubuis, CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué struck an unapologetic tone when discussing the brand’s latest introductions, a series of pricey and exclusive tourbillons in a new Hommage collection paying tribute to the brand’s founder.

“We are a brand where nothing is made to be an affordable product,” he told JCK. “The cheapest watch we have in our assortment is about $15,000; we cannot do below this price level.”

While some brands are betting that appealing to the super rich is the best approach to an uncertain economy, and others are reaching down to the premium segment to increase sales, it’s clear that they will define their success in relative terms.

“The only thing that matters,” said Kern, “is that we outperform our competitors.”