Valuing good design, designing good value

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Valuing good design, designing good value
Louis Erard Sport Chrono (watch with metal bracelet) -- BRIAN M. AFUANG

By Brian M. Afuang
Visual Editor

ALAIN Spinedi, CEO of Louis Erard, is in the best position to talk about the company and its products. “I’m the guy who knows the collection best, I know all the reference numbers,” he said in an Aug. 22 presentation marking the Swiss watch brand’s reentry into the Philippines.

Valuing good design, designing good value
Louis Erard Sport Chrono (watch with metal bracelet) — BRIAN M. AFUANG

“I am intimate with the brand.”

Such familiarity allows Mr. Spinedi to be honest about Louis Erard’s strategy in the Philippines, admitting he “made a mistake” in positioning the brand upon its initial foray in the country. He said: “We came in with ‘me-too’ products that one can find in many other brands. And then we didn’t do anything — we thought only about prices. Twenty years ago, you just put a product in the window. Today’s buyers are different. They are not buying the product; they are buying into the whole brand.

“This time, we have chosen a completely different approach through some very unique designs… to bring in sophisticated products to the Philippines,” Mr. Spinedi said regarding Louis Erard’s comeback through Lucerne Luxe, retailer of the Swiss watch industry’s best wares. “Together with Lucerne’s ideas, we can always tell a story around the product.”

At Louis Erard that story is premised on what the company chief describes as “accessible luxury,” typified by timepieces lavished with complications but which are tagged with mid-tier prices. Headlining the list is the brand’s Regulator & Power Reserve model that belongs to the Excellence collection.

As its name identifies it, this watch has separate dials for the hour, minute, and second readout. The top subdial tells the hour, the bottom one sweeps the seconds, and minutes are counted on the watch’s main dial. Located at nine o’clock is a power reserve meter, a handy touch since the watch relies on a hand-wound ETA Peseux 7001 movement that has been tweaked in-house. Besides details like a sapphire crystal and an engraved case back, the watch also flaunts blue finishing for each of its four hands. Such touches approximate high horology stuff while sticking to a price tag that does not breach mid-tier levels.

“This is how we develop our haute horlogerie image for Louis Erard. Differentiating us from our competitors in the same price range are watches like the Regulator,” Mr. Spinedi explained.

The Regulator actually goes deeper into Louis Erard’s history. Mr. Spinedi said the watch’s module (“not the movement,” he was quick to clarify) was developed by the man after whom the brand is named. (Louis Erard watches first came out in 1931, but like most Swiss watch companies, fell quiet in later decades. Mr. Spinedi headed its rebirth in 2003.)

“The Regulator is a signature for Louis Erard,” he said.

Design is inherent in the brand as well, influenced by Mr. Spinedi himself as he points the direction the design of the company’s produce takes.

“I give a brief to the designers. I tell them we buy this movement, use a skeleton… we discuss; do we use steel, or blue screws, or a gray or a black dial? And they do the rest,” he said, noting he has only rejected one watch design so far.

“It was a little bit of a crisis,” he recalled. “But a couple of years later they said I was right.”

Mr. Spinedi bared he also prefers working with a small team, bringing with him only three people “on the table” to discuss a new product, and dealing with a sole designer for a project. “I tried once to work with two designers. It was a disaster.”

Recent discussions have led to the introduction of a new model intended to expand Louis Erard’s appeal to younger buyers — the Sportive Sport Chrono collection. Aimed at people 35 years old or younger, the pieces go against the traditionally classical designs for which Louis Erard has been known since its 2003 resurrection. The Sport Chrono mixes together elements that make chronographs popular (a three-subdial layout and black bezel on a substantial 44-millimeter case) with a legendary movement — the ETA Valjoux 7750. This means the watch looks back at tradition but is also contemporary enough.

“Classic design is always a part of our strategy. But the Sport Chrono has [the kind of] classic design that’s also modern, not old-looking,” according to Mr. Spinedi.

What is also a part of the company’s plans is to keep its watches’ prices reasonable; Mr. Spinedi said he restarted Louis Erard because of the dearth of mechanical timepieces on offer that cost between $600 and $2,000. Though some models are now priced markedly higher over the range — the result of a stronger Swiss franc and the supply crimp in ETA movements — Mr. Spinedi argued these watches still represent good value.

“We have lost a little bit of our USP of extremely affordable watches. But it’s very difficult to find this kind of quality product from other brands,” he said.

In its return to the Philippines, Louis Erard is banking on the merits of its higher-end models, positioning these as more affordable but equally competent alternatives to the established European brands. Plus, it is also keen on offering value rather than focusing on volume.

“It is true that Louis Erard has very little brand awareness in the Philippines today,” Mr. Spinedi admitted. “So we need to communicate the value [inherent] in our watches.

“I believe the end users of Louis Erard in this country do not want mass-produced products. Our buyers are people who will say ‘I want to be unique.’”