Thiébaut Bentz of Maurice Lacroix
Angus Davies asks Thiébaut Bentz of Maurice Lacroix a series of questions about the brand, its products and his role as International Marketing & Product Director.
Avid followers of watch trends will have noticed that Maurice Lacroix is on a roll. The Swiss brand has been enjoying the sweet taste of success ever since it launched its suitably named AIKON model back in 2016.
Having witnessed the popularity of the model, the Maison has continuously enlarged the AIKON collection and today it encompasses a broad array of models, some of which are incredibly innovative e.g. the AIKON Mercury.
However, despite the commercial success of the AIKON, the Swiss firm has not abandoned its other collections. In particular, the Masterpiece collection, the finest expression of Maurice Lacroix ownership, continues to grow in size. Recently, the luxury firm unveiled the Masterpiece Embrace, the first Masterpiece model for ladies, pairing Swiss craftsmanship with overtly feminine aesthetics.
Over the years, the brand has conceived an array of ingenious time indications, some featuring square wheels or levitating hands. However, irrespective of the model, the firm has shown an uncanny knack of making products with a notably impressive quality-price ratio.
Prior to my interview with Thiébaut Bentz, I prepared numerous questions as I was eager to learn more about the Swiss brand and discover its secret recipe for success.
Interview with Thiébaut Bentz of Maurice Lacroix
Can you outline what you do?
TB: I’m Product & Marketing Director, leading the Product Development Department as well as global marketing activities.
The Maurice Lacroix Manufacture is based in Saignelégier in the Swiss Jura, a region that is synonymous with watchmaking. Does your location have any influence on the design of your timepieces?
TB: The Swiss Jura is known for its watchmaking know-how with many artisans and manufactures located within the region. Many employees of the company come from this area and their independent spirit and strong character have always provided inspiration for the brand. The AIKON is a perfect illustration of these personality traits with its strong design, sharp angles and six arms adorning its bezel.
Another example is where we have successfully incorporated a pattern for the first time, called VAGUES DU JURA. This pattern was developed in collaboration with a local artisan and pays tribute to the countless idyllic settings within the Swiss Jura. It features on the upper plate of the Gravity and we have subsequently employed it on the case back of the AIKON VENTURER. The motif provides an amusing nod to the popular Côtes de Genève decoration.
I have followed Maurice Lacroix for a long time and I have noticed that the brand and its products have changed significantly over the years. In the past, I associated the brand with classical watches, probably targeting someone of my age (52 years), or perhaps even older. However, with the advent of the AIKON collection, the models seem to target a younger audience, albeit the company watches still appeal to me. Do you have the results of quantitative research, showing the age of your customers, demonstrating that Maurice Lacroix’s average client is now younger?
TB: Yes, indeed. And you’re right, the AIKON has been a game-changer. Between 2000 and 2014, the brand has changed its product strategy and positioning several times, causing confusion in the market. In 2014, Maurice Lacroix decided to return to its origins by creating a face for the brand, the AIKON. Actually, the face was already in existence as the AIKON was inspired by the CALYPSO, the best-selling ML model in the 90s. However, the CALYPSO was reinterpreted, encompassing a modern design and created to appeal to a younger generation. Good design combined with a good price makes the product very appealing to potential young customers.
To support the AIKON launch, we’ve adapted the communication strategy using digital campaigns since 2018: Chase Your Watch and TIMECODE. Another campaign was planned for 2020, but due to the current situation, we’ve decided to postpone it until 2021. Together with the New City Campaign launched in 2017, we’ve engaged with a much younger audience. We can see this from our social media fan base as well as the physical customers visiting retailers.
The AIKON Mercury is a very innovative model. What provided the inspiration for this watch?
TB: At the heart of the AIKON Mercury concept is the retrograde mechanism. Since launching our first retrograde displays in 1999, we have enjoyed playing with this type of dial animation. Within the Product Development team, we have a watchmaker who likes to push the limits and after three years of work, the AIKON Mercury was born.
Since its launch in 2016, the AIKON collection has grown in size and now encompasses numerous references.
- How many references are there in the collection?
TB: Following the launch of the AIKON quartz in 2016 and the Automatic in 2018, we’ve never stopped extending the collection, offering as much choice as possible. Today, there are various models, ranging in size from 30mm to 45mm, with quartz, automatic or genuine manufacture movements. The range also encompasses time only, chronographs, skeleton models and other complications. Now, over half of our references belong to the AIKON family.
- In the future, do you envisage offering more complications?
TB: Yes, we do. In 2021, we’ll introduce a new manufacture movement that will feature in the AIKON. In fact, we already have plans for the next 5 years!
While I have talked about the AIKON up to now, I don’t want to overlook your Masterpiece collection. These models often feature innovative ways of imparting the time and also include a palpable sense of quality. Whilst these models represent the pinnacle of Maurice Lacroix ownership, they remain keenly priced. Put simply, how do you deliver such value?
TB: Offering such value at such prices is a process which starts at the watch conception phase and only concludes when the model is delivered to the market. At Maurice Lacroix, our key motto is focus and consistency. First, we have employees who have worked with us for decades and who have perfectly mastered the development process of a new watch or a new movement. We know what we can do to remain in our price category and we know what we can’t.
Secondly, we push our designers to work on details which bring a lot of value to the watch without impacting too much on the production process. We also have reliable suppliers who continuously help us to optimise our product development, making everything as efficient as possible. When it’s time to make final decisions for the next collection, we have a product committee who have only one thing in mind: offering customers the highest perceived value. We don’t launch a watch because we like it, we launch a watch because we know our distributors and customers will like it.
Finally, we have a production line which has been reorganised in order to optimise the product flow and deliver the best quality within the shortest time frame. Some elements may have a small impact, but collectively this approach makes a big difference.
Returning to the AIKON, you offer a steel, automatic watch with three hands and a date for just €1690 and yet there are some costly details on this watch. For example, the case features numerous highly polished surfaces in close proximity to brushed surfaces. They are discrete from each other with crisply defined demarcation between both types of finish. This involves significant cost and time. Why did you not restrict these costly details to your more expensive AIKON models?
TB: Because, €1690 is still a lot for a watch! And when a customer pays a lot, he expects impeccable product quality. Also, at Maurice Lacroix we like to offer the same quality on our quartz models as we do with our Masterpieces. When you look at the ELIROS collection or AIKON Quartz, you will notice how we have incorporated numerous fine details, providing the customer with the best value.
The ‘Easy Change System’ allows the wearer to easily swap a strap for a bracelet without the need for tools. I think it is a fabulous feature and it appears on several Maurice Lacroix models. Do you envisage offering differently coloured aftermarket straps at some point?
TB: The Easy Change System has proved very successful. More and more customers are buying the watch already with the second strap. We have multiple projects in the future and we will offer customers a wider choice soon.
A few years ago, blue watch dials burst onto the watch scene and proved very popular. At the time, I thought it was a passing trend, however, I have since been proven wrong. Blue dials remain very popular. What colours should we look out for in the future?
TB: Our best-selling model today is the AIKON Automatic 3-hands with a blue dial. It’s true to say that blue is the new black. Looking at the trend in the fashion industry and also some recent launches in the watch industry, we can clearly see that green is becoming very popular. This year we’ve launched a very attractive and elegant ELIROS with a green dial and matching strap, and we will be revealing more watches with green dials very soon. However, it’s too early to say whether green dials will prove as successful as blue.
Stainless steel has always been, and remains, very popular. However, in recent times PVD and DLC treatments have found favour with many watch buyers. In addition, an increasing number of buyers have fallen for the charms of titanium, forged carbon and bronze. What types of materials/treatments do you expect to see in the future? And, more pertinently, will we see Maurice Lacroix watches made from such materials or endowed with any new coatings?
TB: Maurice Lacroix mainly produces stainless steel watches as this material best suits our price category. However, for a long time, we have combined steel with a PVD coating, especially on our quartz models. This year we’ve launched two AIKON models featuring an attractive combination of steel and black PVD on their bezels.
Materials also means innovation. We once developed a special material for our Pontos collection termed Powerlite. This material was a combination of aluminium, magnesium, titanium zirconium and ceramic. We’re are now working with this material for a future project.
Size is always a contentious issue in the watch industry. A few years ago, the ‘oversized’ watch was de rigueur, while today it seems watches with a sub-40mm diameter are en vogue. Personally, I prefer watches 41mm – 44mm.
- How do you view the current trend?
TB: We clearly see a trend for smaller sizes for men, and bigger sizes for women. These opposing trends are quite interesting. At present, cases between 39mm and 41mm are proving a popular size for men, while women are tending to favour watches between 35mm and 39mm. However, preferences vary from one market to another.
- How do you meet the wishes of various markets wishes when tastes are continuously changing?
TB: Maurice Lacroix has strong partners in each key market and has always been able to rely on their feedback. Indeed, these partners have specialist knowledge of their territories and regularly share with us the latest trends in their regions. Also, returning to the decision-making process when launching new collections, we like to involve our partners when making final decisions to ensure we are as close as possible to reality and the consumer needs within a specific market.
Can you summarise what makes Maurice Lacroix special?
TB: We offer high perceived value, expressed by craftsmanship, design and innovation.
Despite his youthful appearance, Thiébaut Bentz is a veteran of the watchmaking industry, having held senior roles at a number of brands. It is clear both Thiébaut and Stephane Waser, the Managing Director of Maurice Lacroix, understand the desires of their target audience and conceive products which sate the desires of their consumers.
Thiébaut is clearly aware of what the brand can deliver in terms of materials, functions and complexity within the firm’s price segment. Moreover, having worn several Maurice Lacroix watches, it is evident that this decision-making process pays due consideration to the issue of quality. Indeed, the phrase that Thiébaut often uses, a phrase which is obviously part of the Maurice Lacroix’s vernacular, is ‘high-perceived value’. The Swiss marque obsesses over the smallest details, imbuing surfaces with delightful touches that enrich the ownership experience. Indeed, a close examination of the AIKON reveals a degree of refinement seldom seen in this market segment.
The mistake many watch firms make is that they become increasingly detached from the consumer. I have often viewed products which have been made, not because the market desires them, but merely because the firm is technically able to produce them.
Maurice Lacroix repeatedly engages in market research, talks to its overseas partners, monitors social media activity and observes what is happening at its authorised retailers. It is only by adopting this approach that any watch firm can hope to remain relevant to its target audience.
Prior to this interview, I knew Maurice Lacroix offered products with a high quality-price ratio, however, I did not understand how it achieved this. Having spoken to Thiébaut, I have gained an insight into the brand’s strategy when creating new products. I now look forward to seeing the brand’s future creations in years to come.