Raynald Aeschlimann, Member of the Extended Group Management Board of the Swatch Group, and President of Omega is also Group Coordinator for the Swatch Group’s Indian subsidiary since 2010. Over a video call, he spoke to Fortune India about the challenges for the watch business, Omega’s plans for the year ahead and lessons from recent times. Edited excerpts.
How has the pandemic affected Omega?
There was a personal side to it with it affecting all our 160 stores across the world and seeing how everyone was doing there. Last year we had the Olympics and the James Bond watches so there were big plans and we had to adapt but new products we launched last year such as the Silver Snoopy and the new Speedmaster allowed us to be dynamic and put our best forward.
How was 2020 for sales—given that the entire industry was under pressure?
We certainly had some losses, as some countries were totally blocked, like Switzerland which had no tourists but then models like the Speedmaster had its best results last year. China and the U.S. had very good sales and we are waiting for all the countries to open up. We realised that the most important thing is to maintain connectivity, reach everyone on their cell phones or emails and talk to them. We just opened in Switzerland ten days ago and there’s been more traffic there than anywhere at all.
On the ongoing policy on tech, sustainability, and new materials ...
Our founder created some incredible ideas and projects and there are millions that he sank into new materials and ideas. I have to be honest that we are too Swiss in the time and effort we put in how we source materials. Our rules are very strict but we are the first brand to have a recycled bracelet. We also have to see what customers want. On sustainability, this building I am in is mainly made of wood and our vision is very clear. In terms of sourcing any kind of materials are from a tested firm—gold from UBS and so on. E-commerce is something we have been developing and is an interesting way to sell. It's not just a place to click. I believe in the concept of, sorry if it sounds like Uber Eats, but the click and collect bit if it's a white-gloved experience and can be home delivered, it can work.
Modern re-issues of classics are de rigueur now. While you’ve done that with the Speedmaster multiple times will you consider the same with a classic chronograph like the 1969 flightmaster?
When I do too many relaunches people say we are too commercial but I will tell you that the flightmaster is one of my dreams and the thing is that I need to find a way to have continuity for it. So, if the flightmaster ever comes back as a product it has to have its own ongoing world. So let me work on that structure of that. If it comes back it will be one of the most inspiring relaunches.
Any plans for a new brand ambassador for Omega in India?
We have some of the best ambassadors in the world (Cindy Crawford and George Clooney ) and maybe we have missed someone in Bollywood but we have lots of friends of the brand there for now.
What watch are you wearing, and do you see the retail channel disappearing?
I'm wearing the world timer. It shows the whole world and in today's era we are all living on the same planet and need to find peace with each other. This world timer also goes to remind us of all that. The digital landscape is expanding and I have no doubt that commerce and communications will continue in this direction. We already have strong, high-profile social channels and a strong e-commerce platform. That said, we are not abandoning our network of boutiques. There is still a huge demand for the hands-on, personal, physical interaction when purchasing a watch.
Young buyers see costs of service as a potential hurdle- any chance of offering a long term repair and service package to allay those concerns (like Mercedes or BMW does) ?
Well, we already offer a global five-year warranty on all of our watches and that is a rare thing in this industry. In addition to backing the quality of our products with a half-decade guarantee, I can personally assure young buyers that we are on their side and always open to hear concerns and to rectify any problems within our control as quickly and as efficiently as possible.