When we first met Jean-Marc Pontroué early 2012, he was a man full of vitality and a mane of black hair. Over the years, the energy levels of the indefatigable Chief Executive has remained while his crowning glory earned its Clooney-esque salt and pepper stripes. Appointed to the top position at Roger Dubuis, Pontroue inherited a retinue of challenges which he has since, in true Arthurian fashion, surmounted and slain. Jewel in crown, there’s no greater victory than a milestone, history changing event – a noble marriage like those of old.
Sensing the need to create an easily understood icon without the baggage of lengthy explanations, Pontroue’s strategy of deep partnership between Lamborghini and Roger Dubuis elevates the commitment beyond mere arranged marriage but instead heralds a new dawn for the realm while keeping familiar trappings of lineage and legacy.
Behold New Avalon: Roger Dubuis CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué discusses the Future for the makers of Excalibur
If you need to write two pages on why the partnership works, you should forget it. It’s like getting married, if you need to explain why you’re in love with a lady, you should forget it. – Pontroue on why Roger Dubuis worked with Lamborghinii
Why did Roger Dubuis choose Beijing to launch?
It is important to choose countries where the brand has depth and significance; we were working with FFF, a Chinese racing team for Lamborghini and we decided to use the underground parking space of SKP, the leading departmental store in Beijing to do a cool party. The beauty is to find venues which aren’t the usual areas, we hate restaurants and hotels, Roger Dubuis is positioned to be unpredictable. It also follows our huge launch event in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Emilia-Romagna where we had cleared the machines to place tables, so that over 100 people could dine on the factory floor with the supercars.
There’s a clear direction towards motorsports for the brand, how did this become an important angle for Roger Dubuis?
It has been a strategy of envy. We were doing dinners with customers where they revealed to us that their favourite cars were Lamborghinis. This revelation was coming up repeatedly, so we decided to have a meeting with the carmaker to see what we could do together. At the time, we weren’t aiming for a partnership, we have never had one so far. First, we learnt about the FFF, one of the leading Chinese teams in the Super Trofeo championship and we partnered with them in 2016, our foot in the door of motorsports. Second, we partnered with Pirelli and finally, Lamborghini. These are the three key ingredients to build a genuine motorsport collaboration: specific editions of Lamborghini for inspiration on specific calibres and models, Pirelli for the straps on certain models and finally, an authentic culture of racing, backed by racing professionals.
Have you met Lamborghini enthusiasts who are not yet owners of Roger Dubuis watches and do you see any specific characteristics in them?
We have done 15 events with Lamborghini in places like US, Japan, Switzerland, UK and France and we found that the Lamborghini owner is the same kind of animal. The profile is mainly male, young and people who want to live an exceptional life. For them, a car is not about going from point A to B. If they want to tell time, they’re going to go with something cool like a Roger Dubuis. They have a heart and mind for something special and unique and not informed by advertising like the “most-seen” brands; Roger Dubuis is not a mainstream watch and Lamborghini is not a mainstream car.
We are two small brands in two corporate giants, Lamborghini in Volkswagen and Roger Dubuis in Richemont, we are very agile, very creative and extreme forward thinking, without barriers of history. There are no rules. We create things which do not exist in the industry. We don’t care about the price, we just want to know that it hasn’t been done before. We are not in a price competitive environment. For us, the prime directive is creating something which doesn’t exist in cars and watches. The typology of our two audiences are very close together – a love for crazy products and lots of personalisation and to meet others with similar drive and passion.
When you’re a young brand, one year of development counts as a lot of history. When you’re 300 years old, what’s one year? Roger Dubuis always wanted to breed a new generation of watchmakers, he didn’t want to create yet another classic high-end brand, the market is saturated; the successful brands today are high end and disruptive. – Pontroue on shaping Roger Dubuis’ strategy and message
Roger Dubuis himself was known for his Sympathie Bi-retrograde calendar and now we see many watchmakers tying up with carmakers to do collaborations, so for the people who don’t understand what the brand is about, there might be a sensation that there’s too much emphasis on design, do you feel that this distracts from the efforts and the advances that the brand is making?
Roger created the brand with two principles: first, to create crazy movements within crazy designs. When Richemont acquired the brand, we worked on redeveloping the brand and improving the efficiency of the movements. Now, we believe its time to re-inject more creativity into our events and products. I believe it’s still the same brand that Roger Dubuis has created, and while he focused on movements and case shapes, we have added materials to the equation. When you’re a young brand, one year of development counts as a lot of history. When you’re 300 years old, what’s one year? Roger Dubuis always wanted to breed a new generation of watchmakers, he didn’t want to create yet another classic high-end brand, the market is saturated; the successful brands today are high end and disruptive. Lamborghini is globally selling out 3-4 years in advance, we are in the same business, Geneva (manufacture) cannot produce 10,000 pieces tomorrow. We produce 4,000 annually, this makes us exclusive.
Before deciding to collaborate with Lamborghini, did you go and study the other failed partnerships, like the one with Ferrari? Did you learn something from their mistakes?
In the realm of corporate partnerships, there are more failure than successes. We studied many across industries and learnt that a partnership only makes sense if you don’t have to explain it. If you need to write two pages on why the partnership works, you should forget it. It’s like getting married, if you need to explain why you’re in love with a lady, you should forget it. The same principle applies – it’s a love story.
First, customer experience – we wanted to give Roger Dubuis customers added value by giving them something unusual. For the Lamborghini customers, what could we give them beyond the thrill of a new car? A watch launch is pretty much like any other watch launch but if you add the supercar touch, it brings a different perspective. For Lamborghini, a new complication intimately associated with supercar architecture brings something new to the equation.
Second, we also didn’t want to have a branded product. The watches are not branded Lamborghini, what the other failed collaborations have done is taken an existing product and merely dressed them with a logo and then write two pages to justify the partnership. For Roger Dubuis, we have no identifiable brand markings other than the innovations we have on the Aventador edition specific to the collection, you will not find this movement in any other Roger Dubuis product – if you want this calibre, you will only find it on the Aventador S edition. The innovations found on the Huracan edition launched at SIHH 2018, will only be found in that line. It’s creating the ultimate customer experience and the combination of creative applications from the same materials used in motorsport engineering to inspire concept and creation of our watches.
A great partnership is something you don’t have to explain. I have met customers worldwide who tell me it all makes sense, even without knowing our brand before. There are over 700 watch brands in Switzerland and only two to three brands by typology, architecture and price-point which fit the level of Lamborghini.
Can you tell us more about how the original idea for the watch came about and what is the appeal to a Lamborghini driver?
When we first started the discussion, we had approached Lamborghini engineers to see what the roots, ingredients and specifications are for the Lamborghini. The sound was obviously difficult to inject in a watch and so we turned to what are the principles and values of a Lamborghini. We found the engine bars, the structural supports, the inclined balance wheels like a V12, the materials from Sant’Agata, all combine to show a unique blend of materials which define its roots in supercar manufacture rather than something like planes or yachting. We will work deeper in the future with the Lamborghini team to see how we can create future calibres with even deeper association with all things Lamborghini. Even today, we have access to all the new Lamborghini products planned for the next 5 years so we will be planning our collections much in the same line. Having access to all this information allows us to prepare our assortment for the future.
Surely not all your brand strategies will be on motor-inspired watches?
The partnership business will represent less than 50% of the brands’ assortment but the communication will be 100% on the partnership because these touches create impact in the minds of people. We want to communicate research and development, avant garde calibres which communicate specific values for our brand and Lamborghini – that said, these values can be found across the brand.
From a Lamborghini standpoint, what is the brief in designing a Roger Dubuis timepiece?
First, it should be spectacular and leverage on all the assets of Roger Dubuis, like the design codes of the Excalibur. This range is the leading collection for the brand and for the next three years, will be the focus and icon for the family. Second, the movement has to be spectacular, it’s not just the mechanism to tell time but it has to be part of the design, the movement is the added value of the product, it has no dial. Most of our products today have no dial. Finally, it has to be special by limited edition and through the use of exclusive materials. Ultimately, each new watch has to be a world premiere.
Does this mean a departure from the Swords and Sorcery type of story telling associated with the Excalibur?
Excalibur is by far our number one family. It is not so much as an end to the fantasy element but instead, it will be one better defined by motorsports. You can expect 100 new products in the Excalibur line encompassing women’s, high end, high jewellery and motorsport editions.
With the passing of Mr Dubuis, is there consideration of having heritage re-issues to celebrate his legacy?
We don’t intend to have a limited edition associated with Roger, but we have many customers asking us for this type of product and we are currently studying how we can develop something for the market. That said, no definite plans for the next SIHH.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Jean-Marc Pontroué has assumed the position CEO of Panerai effective April 2018