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‘There Is A Gifting Heritage In India Like Nowhere Else’

Baume & Mercier has been in India for 165 years of its 186-year history. It re-entered India in 2003 and is chalking out a ‘long-term strategy’ tailoring its luxury watches and marketing tactics to Indian preferences. The Swiss watchmaker identifies India among its top five markets in the Asia-Pacific region

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Baume & Mercier, part of the Richemont Group, is one of the oldest watchmakers, going back 186 years. Globally, it has created a niche for itself as it is associated with gifting during special occasions like weddings, birthdays or graduation. Thanks to the gifting culture in India, the country is an important market for the brand. Stanislas Rambaud has been the brand manager for Baume & Mercier in the Middle East and India since 2014. His career began at IWC, another Richemont brand in the UK in 2007. By 2013 he was the head of sales for both IWC and Baume & Mercier in the Middle East.

Excerpts of an interview:

How important is India for you?

We have a very long history with India. India is a part of the heritage of Baume & Mercier. We have been present in India for 165 years, since 1851. Once we opened our London office we started exporting watches to India. So India is a part of the DNA of Baume & Mercier.

We re-entered the market in 2003. Till now the strategy of the brand was to restrict the number of points of sale and remain focused on a few. So we have 11 points of sale in the country, but we will now expand more aggressively. We have a strong expansion plan with Ethos. Over the next five years we will open 15 more points of sale. We recently opened another point of sale in Mumbai as well as in Bangalore. We are opening in Chandigarh soon. So expansion is starting.

In the Baume & Mercier universe, where does India stand? Which are your top five markets?
If I talk about the territory that I cover, which is the Asia Pacific, India is part of the top five markets and is a focus country for us. The UAE, Kuwait and Lebanon are the top markets for us.

Globally, historically, we have been a very European and American brand. We are popular in France, Switzerland, and in French-speaking countries where we are seen as a very French brand. We have been present in America because of the origin of our founder.

Today we are putting a lot of efforts into China and the Middle East. The Middle East is the only region where the brand has its own boutiques. We wish to open a boutique in India too. It’s just a matter of time and finding the right opportunities. It’s part of our long-term strategy.

We have a strong Indian clientele, buying both in India and abroad. A large number of our clients in Dubai are Indians. We have administrative challenges in India that have made our growth a bit slower. But we have a good response in India. I think we have good products for Indian clients. We have classic products at a good price point. The response is good and that’s why today we want to go to the next level.

How is the Indian consumer different from say, a consumer in the Middle-East or Europe?

For me, the Asia-Pacific region is quite fascinating because we deal with around 15 countries and they are all very different. The tastes vary a lot. Emirati, for instance, are attracted by sporty products. In India, there is a preference for classics.

The celebrations and the way of buying are also different. There is this gifting heritage in India that we don’t find anywhere else. We fit into that very well, as our main communication is about celebration.

Are you doing anything special to cater to the gifting market in India?
Yes. For one, all our watches can be engraved at the back and that makes them perfect gifts. Then, we are also planning to launch a special edition watch for Diwali for the India market later and conduct special events around the celebrations. Now that we have a solid retail partner in Ethos, we can start thinking about the next step.

Which are the most popular watches for India and are they different for other countries in the Asia-Pacific region?
The core collections of Baume & Mercier, such as Classima, Capeland and Promesse, are global bestsellers. In some markets we see that the Classima collection, which is the entry level collection, does the best. In India, it is the Clifton collection that we launched a few years ago, which is the number one. Indians have a sense of aesthetics of watch-making that translates into the Clifton collection.

There is also a difference in the mechanics of the watches. In China, for instance, ladies prefer the automatic watch, while in India they prefer the quartz watch as they don’t want to be bothered with setting the time again.

How does Baume & Mercier ensure that it stays timeless in a very competitive market?
We are a very classic brand. By definition, classic is usually timeless. The watches themselves are timeless because of their design. We are also one of the few brands that promise to service any watch that is a creation of the brand, irrespective of when it was purchased.

So, you could have bought a watch anytime in our 186-year-old history, and we will service it. If you get us a watch made in 1850, we will recreate the parts in case they are broken and service it. So, it is a commitment on our part to enable you to pass on the watch to the next generation. If there is any after-sales issue, it will be taken care of.

What about smart watches? Do you think they will impact the luxury watch market?

I get asked this question all the time nowadays. I think everyone has a different opinion on the subject. I think technology is not timeless. It is very if-and-now. You have to update your smart watch after a year or two, because the technology behind it will change. So, that is something very different from what we do.

A luxury watch is timeless. Once you buy a Baume & Mercier you can keep it for years. As I said before, you can pass it on to your next generation. You can never pass on a smart watch to your son 15 years later. He is going to look at it and say what do you want me to do with it. It doesn’t connect to my phone anymore.

The good thing about the smart watch is that it encourages and educates the younger generation to wear a watch on their wrist. A lot of the young people don’t wear watches on their wrists as they end up looking at the time on their phones. So, smart watches are good for a brand like us.

The younger generation will get used to wearing a watch and the day they want to have a status recognition that everyone wants, they will upgrade to a luxury watch. A smart watch doesn’t provide status recognition. It’s a fun object. So, I’m not too worried about smart watches, to be honest.

There has been a lull in the Swiss luxury watch market over the past few years. What are different brands doing to fight it?
Recession has a different impact on different brands. Most of the high-end brands are affected more than our segment of watches. For Baume & Mercier, the recession presents an opportunity. We have an opportunity to offer good value for money products. That’s what people are looking for in a crisis. They are looking for a safe choice and we offer them that.

Most of our watches are in the $1,500 to $4,000 range. At that price range, we really have an opportunity to grow. We don’t have a tie-up with any other brand. We are sticking to our strategy of being the best watch for gifting purposes and to celebrate different moments of life, whether it is graduation, or your first job. We want to remain in the affordable luxury segment and offer qualitative products.

Of course, we could grow much faster without recession, but it also presents us with an opportunity to gain market share.

Are the Baume & Mercier watches priced at the same rate here as in other countries in the Asia Pacific region?
Yes. It is very important for us that the prices are aligned. There may be some differences due to currency fluctuations, but otherwise, they are more or less the same. We don’t revise prices every day, but we do so every six months to ensure that the prices are aligned. We want people to buy locally.

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