Robb Interview: Frédéric Arnault, TAG Heuer CEO
The TAG Heuer CEO explains the exclusive buzz he’s brought to the brand after three years at the helm.
Frédéric Arnault is happy to admit he’s a geek. Well, after all, who rules the world (sorry Beyoncé)? Arnault is a geek (“I come from tech”) just as he’s an heir—see that surname—just as he is, at the age of 28, a determined and focused CEO leading TAG Heuer into areas of newfound elevation and excitement. Necessary moves, given it had—for a while there—become a little too ubiquitous.
“I think that’s fair to say, yes,” Arnault tells Robb Report ANZ over a bottle of sparkling water in Geneva. “I feel that five, six years ago, the product was probably not as strong as the brand. It was really a key priority for us to reposition that.”
And so he has. See the Solargraph and this year’s exceptional Glassbox. See too TAG Heuer’s most expensive ever piece, the half-million-dollar Carrera Plasma and what it represents, especially as there’s an alleged two years’ worth of orders for it. “We started thinking about jewellery. Well, why not also look at more jewellery segments on the watches? But if we go there, we need an angle. Because we’re not just going to put diamonds on our watches and make them more feminine. It needs to be on-brand, an innovation angle. And that’s how we came to lab-grown diamonds. And this new vision, which is using lab-grown diamonds to create new shapes and new textures, would be impossible to do with natural diamonds.
The price point, Arnault explains, is “a consequence of the innovation. There’s a lot of manual work that goes on after the diamond is grown, to fine-tune it in the right shape. It’s an exceptional timepiece.”The Plasma escalates the exclusivity factor at TAG Heuer, a rise in brand presence that aligns to some of Arnault’s hires, notably Cartier’s high complication specialist Carole Forestier-Kasapi and Rolex’s movement director Emmanuel Dupas.
“When I joined, exclusivity was not a word that I was hearing much. But to position as a strong luxury brand, it’s extremely important… I think it’s also important that we have pieces on which we control the production. We give that stability to the customers because the customers, on high price [pieces] especially, want to make sure they’re making a good investment. Yes, they want to wear the piece, but they want to make sure that it’s going to keep growing in value. And that comes with exclusivity and the management of the product. So yes, that’s a new thing at TAG Heuer.”
Of what propels Arnault—beyond product, innovation, heightened brand plays—the youthful boss points to problem solving and challenges. It’s an answer that comes framed by the pandemic and the fact he took the top seat in June 2020.
“I like difficulty. I look for difficulty. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I like challenges in life. And the brand was extremely strong, but it needed to be transformed. And I think that’s really what I enjoyed about it. Yes, it was during difficult times, but what attracted me the most was the brand challenge at TAG Heuer.
“We had to enter a journey of repositioning—the products, investment of quality, value, the icons. We were stuck in a mentality where we said, ‘We have to dominate in the price point,’ and we were talking far too much about the price. Not enough about the product design, exclusivity, value.
“So we changed the whole mindset in the company in that regard and started with products, then distribution and with huge changes there as well. We went from 4,000 doors to 2,500 with a business that continues to grow.”
As for the near future, “the year that excites me the most is 2026 and the products and the plans that are going to come then. I mean, the brand will be close to my heart my whole life. And I want it to be strong and desirable now, but of course, in 10, 20, 30 years.”
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