At first blush Montblanc seems hellbent on establishing horological bona fides, churning out complications designed to impress other watchmakers but Montblanc CEO Jerome Lambert explains it’s ultimately all for the consumers.
Montblanc CEO Jerome Lambert on Whether the Maison is “Trying too hard to Impress”
When one considers the superlative Vasco de Gamma, it’s almost too easy to tar the maison with some ill-considered perspective that the company is trying to bootstrap their way into the position of a major watchmaker. But the fact is that a maison largely built on a foundation of being the “Rolls Royce of pens” is in essence asking the consumer to consider that Montblanc watches are able to withstand the same scrutiny as their acetate products.
Consider also, as a business, Richemont operates in four pillars (jewellery, specialist watchmaker, others, etc) of which Montblanc stands as a lone maison, a unique position considering each of its sister brands finds itself pigeonholed, probably by corporate necessity, whereas the 109 year old manufactory stands apart as a triumvirate of artisan pen, leather and watchmaker. History remembers 1997 when they debuted their first watch but if CEO Jerome Lambert had his way, you’d remember the name to be a lifelong companion, one which lives in your pockets and on your wrist.
When you first took helm of the brand, you described Montblanc as a life-long companion, how close are you to that vision?
I want to believe that it’s a long term vision and it’s a point of reference which drives us. The way our clients use our in their lives provides us with strong direction in what we do and Montblanc has capably captured these dimensions. What astounds me is the creativity of the maison, all the activities are driven by inventiveness.
What were some of the challenges faced in preparation for closer integration between Villeret and Le Locle facilities?
One of the biggest challenges was that guys familiar working in one environment would experience a change of culture even if the facility was just 15 minutes away. These two worlds operating independently before and to get them to recognise the best of what each had to offer was a challenge as well. In Villeret, we kept production and the execution of grand complications untouched. The teams collaborate on the development level for now. But eventually, we hope they will be able to function together. Ultimately, it’s my job to ensure our passion meets desire of our clients while keeping the brand’s DNA consistent.
Was it your intention to blur the lines between manufactures focused on haute horlogerie and main production and raise the bar to show what true watchmaking is?
When you work on a grand complication, it takes at 5 to 8 years to see your product coming to life. For others, you see production in 2 – 3 years. I think it’s very important for the whole team to have an ambition. Shared passion for fine watching isn’t just a message for fans and clients, it’s an expression of ambition.
The heritage collection has been a success, what do you think is the reason of its success?
I believe the strong element of originality was a deciding factor. The perpetual calendar benefited from strong price positioning but the other timepieces enjoyed function and in the case of the skeleton version, keen aesthetics, uniqueness and good value make them standout. The entire line was provided from inside out where functionality was placed first rather than deciding a design and then working inward. Form follows function.
Some collectors feel that as CEOs go, you are the sort who leaves his mark on the brand, do you ever fear too much of your DNA influences what the maison does?
I’m not worried at all but you’re right. A CEO has to be very aware of what his taste is and what is accurately the brand’s; How both perspectives combine is critical. That’s why 3 years ago, when Richemont proposed that I joined Montblanc I agreed; after 10 years at Jaeger LeCoultre, people were joking that the JL was short-form for Jerome Lambert and the influence was becoming obvious. The people who work for you will also become more attuned to what you want and what you expect and start calculating how to please you rather than what works for the brand. A CEO needs to be a servant for the brand and not there to express themselves through the brand, especially one with over 100 years of history.
So some of the resemblance, as in the case of the heritage series, to timepieces from other maisons is purely coincidence?
This is more of an issue with classical fine watchmaking. There’s only so many permutations between a 50s era Patek and a Vacheron. The spirit and design ethos has many shared elements of Swiss fine-watchmaking. I know how to use these codes as do many others, so therefore, each classical expression will find similarities between each true watchmaking brand all in accordance to strict definitions of classic watchmaking.
Is it hard to juggle the three roles as artisan of fine pens, fine leather and fine watches?
On one hand, its a challenge of 3 dimensions. On the other hand, it’s interesting to work on complementary products with such close integration. The maison has an interesting heritage to share. From the creation of the leather straps to the birth of the movement, each item produced is meaningful to the other products within the maison so the brand is richer for it by the end of the day