FREDERIQUE CONSTANT: This “Mister 100,000 watches” doesn’t do anything like everyone else – maybe that’s his secret….
20 June 2011 – article from businessmontres.com/
Honestly, looking back a few years, who would have put their money on an independent Swiss watch group founded by a Dutch couple working the (supposedly impossible) affordable watch segment?
Yet by reinventing their market, Peter and Aletta Stas have finally managed to turn their different vision into reality.
1) ••• “LIVE YOUR PASSION”:
FRÉDÉRIQUE CONSTANT + ALPINA + ATELIERS dEMONACO…
Peter Stas is one of those watchmakers known for his rare equanimity: doesn’t he ever get carried away? Even time doesn’t seem to alter his smile and courtesy: this placid Dutchman personifies discreet watchmaking, piling up the successes without media hype, with a clear vision buoyed by passion and borne out by results. His wife Aletta also wears the same imperturbable smile: together, the two of them have written one of the prettiest watchmaking stories of recent years.
••• A story that has developed so smoothly it is hard to put a finger on how it happened, moving forward in a sort of permanent crossfade, driven by strong convictions continuously checked by reality. Peter and Aletta Stas have chosen to advance at a realistic pace, without a lot of fanfare: like their Dutch compatriots, they have been able to make fertile polders out of the marshlands of the watchmaking lowlands – territories once presumed lost to Asian cloners.
••• Indeed, with hindsight, we might well ask whether this disinformation concerning the unstoppable upscaling of Swiss brands was not some red herring intended to isolate Tissot, a brand that had never done so well until everybody else moved up market! Peter and Aletta Stas had the sense to resist these siren calls and stay true to their initial concept of “affordable luxury”. In any case, they have built their success by stages:
• 1988: launch of the first Frédérique Constant collection (quartz), a critical success that encouraged them to continue the adventure of the “quality watch to suit the younger person’s budget”.
• 1992: slowly but surely, output rose to 300 pieces per year.
• 1994: creation (without patent) of the Heart Beat collection, pioneer in a whole new generation of “open heart” dials [the Zenith ones were to follow much later].
• 2001-2004: development of the Manufacture’s first movement, designed to suit the logic of the “Heart Beat” aesthetic (with visible hairspring and escapement wheel).
• 2002: buyout of Alpina, an old Swiss brand founded in 1883 and positioning of its collections in the sports design niche.
• 2006: building of the Manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates, just as Frédérique Constant’s total production reached 48,000 watches.
• 2009: launch of an in-house calibre (FC-700) and a silicon escapement, entirely made in-house.
• 2010: Frédérique Constant’s production reached 100,000 watches
• 2009: creation of the brand Ateliers deMonaco in Monaco, a high end manufacture of the Frédérique Constant Group .
• 2011: the Frédérique Constant brand expected to put 125,000 watches on the market (including 10,000 Alpina and some tens of watches from the Ateliers deMonaco). Frédérique Constant watches are distributed in 2,500 sales outlets and over 90 countries worldwide.
2) ••• PETER STAS:
“CONSISTENCY, COHERENCE, PRAGMATISM AND PERSEVERANCE”…
••• Business Watches: This watch adventure: for money or for love?
••• Peter Stas: “A true passion – since 1988, we have given our all for watches – and a true vision of what we wanted to do: create watches worthy of the great Swiss tradition, but at affordable prices to reach a younger generation of aficionados. We were able to fulfil our dreams and launch Frédérique Constant, to establish it as a real Manufacture, in line with our original plan.”
••• Business Watches: The secret of this success?
••• Peter Stas: “It is precisely this strategic consistency: we kept to the same guidelines from the days we were selling a few hundred pieces right up to when we reached 125,000 by the end of 2011. Another secret: pragmatism and perseverance in moving the project forward. Everything we did was done with economy of means, without bank loans and keeping nearly 95 % of the capital in our own hands [Peter et Aletta Stas]. This taste for independence and concern for consistency have always been our guiding principles.”
••• Business Watches: What missions have you in mind for Alpina and Ateliers deMonaco?
••• Peter Stas: “The original idea was to buy out Alpina (established in 1883) in order to provide an affordable alternative in sports watches with quality design and standards. We thus positioned the brand slightly higher, without realising that on this higher segment, heavy artillery was needed to fight the competition on equal terms. Since then the market has hardened! In order to avoid running out of steam and topping out at a level of 10,000 watches per year, we will reposition Alpina at even more affordable price levels, very close to those of Frédérique Constant (1,000-2,000 euros) in order to up sales to 25,000 watches per year. We will also put the accent on everything to do with aviation, thanks to our partnerships with Cessna and PrivatAir, but without giving up on our other established market areas (sailing and adventure).
• “Ateliers deMonaco is a brand we developed to stay ‘consistent’ and ‘coherent’. The success of the Frédérique Constant tourbillon called for other high-end complications, but the risk of cluttering our image made the choice clear: no way would we bring out a Frédérique Constant minute repeater. Rather than buying out another ‘Sleeping Beauty’, we decided to create Ateliers deMonaco for the high-end watches, setting it up from the word go in Monaco, the international byword in luxury. Negotiations with the Monegasque government were long but decisive. We work the complications with the Netherlands school of watchmaking, but the strength of our design makes us very exclusive.”
••• Business Watches: And your logistical independence?
••• Peter Stas: “When we sensed the danger of decreased deliveries of ETA movements from the Swatch Group we decided to develop our own Manufacture, also with the idea of getting a better handle on costs to be able to stay in the affordable watches segment. Over the years, we have been progressively replacing our ETA movements with Sellita calibres. As regards balance-springs, I seem to recall that the Swatch Group’s current monopoly (Nivarox + FAR) was only accepted by the competition authorities on condition the group undertake to supply all the Swiss watch industry without restriction. A new Comco inquiry is under way, but, as far as we are concerned, we are already working in collaboration on total mastery of the escapement (wheel, pallet, balance, balance-spring).”
3) ••• THREE SPECIAL EDITIONS
FOR THE 5TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MANUFACTURE IN PLAN-LES-OUATES
One group, three brands, one Manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates (between Piaget, Harry Winston, Vacheron Constantin, Rolex and Patek Philippe!), a collection of in-house calibres, high-end watch workshops (from the tourbillon to the minute repeater) and 125,000 watches announced for the end of 2011: bit by bit the Frédérique Constant project has grown in size – still without affecting Peter Stas’s mood. To celebrate the fifth year of setting up shop alongside the big boys, he asked his three brands to come up with a commemorative watch:
• Frédérique Constant came up with a self-winding tourbillon (calibre FC-980: silicon escapement) with grand feu enamelled dial, in a 42 mm pink gold case (see image above): with a day/night hand indication. But it is a shame the dial of this limited edition of 188 pieces is so cluttered with unnecessary markings (“tourbillon – grand feu – série limitée”).
• Alpina launched a very effective limited edition of 888 pieces of a pink gold automatic Startimer (44 mm).
• Ateliers deMonaco unveiled its first ladies watch, La Sirène, a piece of fine watchmaking set with gems evoking the King Protea, the national flower of South Africa, home country of the future princess of
Monaco (it was a BusinessWatches revelation in the 10th April issue).
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