Paolo Marai, is president and chief executive officer of Timex Group Luxury Division, Vertime, which creates licensed watches on behalf of Versace, Versus, Salvatore Ferragamo and Nautica. WatchPro editor James Buttery sat down with him at Baselworld to discuss points of difference, smart watches and working with fashion giants.
It’s not often that fashion watch brands, no matter how premium, invest time and money in developing new complications. But that’s precisely what Salvatore Ferragamo did at Baselworld last month with its Cuore Ferragamo.
Depressing the crown of this glamorous, confident ladies watch will put on a display of affection, its metal heart will beat on the dial, once a second for 60 seconds. The pulsation is realised using two hinged, metal sections which are set in motion by the bespoke quartz movement from Soprod. As neat as the effect is, Vertime could have just as easily produced a less novel novelty, so I asked Marai why Vertime produced this watch for Salvatore Ferragamo.
“As of today there is a very clear trend that people need motivation to buy a watch,” he said. “We all know that we don’t need a watch, we have plenty of watches and we don’t need the timekeeping functionality because of our phones. So what is the reason for the end consumer to buy a watch, it must be something different and because 65% of watches are given as gifts it must be an idea suitable for a gift. This is how we arrived at the new movement. You might like it, you might not, but it is certainly interesting.
“It gives the retailer a point of interest to push to the end consumer and also allows the end consumer to give an expression of their sentiment with the gift. The heart is the symbol of love but not a specific type of love, so it could be the mother to the daughter, the daughter to the mother, the husband to the wife. So we thought that it was an interesting idea, giving motivation to people who need to sell and for people who need to buy.”
Festina Group-owned movement manufacturer Soprod developed the ‘beating heart’ quartz movement exclusively for Vertime and Salvatore Ferragamo.
“They [Soprod] came up with something that was really interesting, something that had not been developed in the watch industry before and proved that there is a lot of interest around that kind of watch. It’s a patent that we have acquired and we bought the idea and developed it with Soprod and as soon as they saw the idea they were very enthusiastic, they thought it could be something that works really well in the watch industry, which needs something new, something creative. Two years ago everybody was talking about the smart watches, today everybody is presenting a smart watch but nobody is talking about smart watches because they are not sure if they are hotcakes.”
Hotcakes might just be the right word. TAG Heuer is making waves after selling a reported 100,000 of its Android Wear Connected watches while Frederique Constant is crediting sales of its own Horological Smartwatch for keeping the company growing throughout 2015 while its Swiss competitors lost ground.
As such Salvatore Ferragamo dipped its toe in waters smart for the first time at Baselworld with its F-80 Motion, based around Frederique Constant Group’s MotionX platform.
“We are using an analogue watch, not a digital watch, so you put on your wrist what I consider a very nice watch, one that you are proud to wear, plus we have some smart functionality that’s not extreme, that doesn’t bring the cost of the watch out of price range. So you pay for a watch that has 90% watch functionality plus on top there’s some additional functionality. Just the same as you have the choice of buying a three-hand watch or a chronograph. Nobody buys a chronograph so they can use the chronograph, they buy because it is a nice design that they prefer to the three-hand.”
But Marai is cautious of smart watches in general, he doesn’t feel the product is mature enough to offer enough to consumers while he is wary of the end result of partnerships with tech giants saying: “Smart watches are based on a technology and that technology is not driven by any of the watch industry. So any of the brands presenting a smart watch is basically working on somebody else’s technology. For example, I use Samsung products a lot, why should Samsung give their own technology to another brand, it’s simply because they are trying to establish their own platform, but then they want to sell their own watches.
“I feel like [the technology companies] are trying to find followers that are pushing out their technologies, so that they can then be successful with their technologies. So is that the right direction to take? I doubt it. Second, this type of technology needs very frequent, accelerated renewal where every six months things are changing. In the watch industry the mentality is that we make an investment to make a new movement that lasts for the next 20 years. So there is a disconnection between technology and the watch industry and I don’t think any of these marriages between watch brands and technology has a clear understanding of what the future should be.”
Marai also questions the current functionality of smart watches saying: “In my opinion we are trying to create a need in the consumer that is not needed. But when different technology will be available that could spot my blood pressure is too high and then transmit that information to my doctor, that will be more interesting. But that’s a different device.
“I’m convinced that this will be a segment for watches but we are not yet there. It’s good that a lot of people are trying to understand and invest money, but I believe we are still in the gimmick era, not on the real product.”
Marai goes on to explain that Vertime was established 11 years ago to represent the most premium aspect of the Timex group and give the group a Swiss made offer.
“We started with Versace, then we had Valentino and then Salvatore Ferragamo, and two of those brands are still with us. Then things evolved because Versace decided to also launch the Versus line which is the younger line of Versace and which is a non-Swiss made product. Then, since we were quite successful of managing licensed product within the Timex Group we also decided that Nautica products were to be brought inside Vertime. So as of today Vertime represents the licensed soul of the Timex Group.”
Trust has very little to do with any form of commercial agreement, that’s what lawyers are for. But even so, entrusting another company to interpret your brand and IP through licensed products must leave corporate hearts in corporate mouths in board rooms around the world. I ask how close the working relationship is between Vertime and its client brands.
“It’s a constant back and forth between us and our licensed partners,” he says as he gestures to a well-dressed group of people outside of our plush meeting room. “The gentleman out there for instance is the chairman of Versace, which gives you some indication of how closely we co-operate with them.
“We get our initial inspiration from Donatella Versace, which is not a specific watch inspiration because we don’t pretend that Donatella is a watch designer, but she gives her ideas based on size, materials, colours and then we start designing watches and she approves the initial sketches, she will also check the final design and the prototypes. Of course I have a team of designers and Donatella has a team of designers, so she might not be involved in every single design but she likes watches enough to have a personal involvement.”