Robb Interview: Lionel a Marca, Breguet CEO
We sat down with CEO Lionel a Marca to discuss the new Type XX, and explore a manufacture that happily stands apart after nearly 250 years.
Robb Report: History and heritage are key elements when speaking about Breguet’s longstanding excellence. Is it difficult to align such iconic brand components with a forward-looking, future-oriented strategy?
Lionel a Marca: This is a relevant and complex question. I think our great assets are our history and our expertise. The question we ask ourselves every time we start a new project is, ‘What would Abraham-Louis Breguet do today?’ Our mission is to perpetuate the history of this beautiful house while integrating the ‘innovation’ factor that is necessary to ensuring our founder’s heritage endures. Take for example our new perpetual calendar, Reference 7327: we wanted to create a dial design similar to those created by our founder and hence featuring the brand’s aesthetic codes, such as Breguet hands, an offset dial and extremely fine guilloché work. This watch is a perfect example of how we could easily have opted to take short cuts: we might have chosen a less-refined guilloché motif, which would save a lot of work time for the artisans and hence increase productivity. On the contrary, we went for a complex and extremely fine guilloché reflecting Breguet’s vision of excellence. We prefer to produce fewer timepieces, but be 100 percent proud of each one.
Another term often used to talk about Breguet is savoir-faire. How do you personally define this term in relation to the brand?
Breguet’s expertise, in addition to that of our watchmakers, is linked to our artistic crafts. When Nicolas G. Hayek acquired the brand in 1999, he wanted to perpetuate what had been the essence of the brand since its creation. The guilloché, engraving and bevelling professions were no longer in fashion. He wished to invest in order to continue cultivating these skills that were verging on extinction. Today we continue writing this history and providing in-house training, for artisans who passionately handcraft each component. Nicolas G. Hayek was a visionary, because for us the term expertise not only refers to the professions relating to the finishing and assembly of our timepieces, but also the capacity for invention characterising our founder. For this reason, Nicolas G. Hayek also invested in the purchase of high-tech tools and in the R&D department. We strive daily to keep this expertise alive.
What are some of your key plans for the brand in 2023 and 2024?
As far as upcoming projects are concerned, I prefer to let you discover them as they are released—otherwise the surprise element would be missing… When it comes to what I’m especially excited about, I have to mention my core training, as I am basically a watchmaker. I have always enjoyed handling movements, understanding mechanisms, and drawing inspiration from the timepieces made by the brand over our almost 250-year history. I would thus say that what drives me most is product development: thinking about what’s next, working as a team to find ideas and solutions. I am lucky enough to know this job and therefore to understand the needs of a brand such as Breguet.
It’s here we need to discuss the return of the iconic Type XX. Why release it now, this piece that really has a robust and daily-wear spirit about it?
Whether we are talking about a watch or a collection, we release products once we are 100 percent satisfied with them. The movement of the new Type XX was entirely developed in our manufacture. It involved more than four years of work and the filing of several patents. We launched these timepieces simply because we were ready to do so. Moreover, a reinterpretation of this iconic collection had been eagerly awaited for several years and we are happy with the work done by the teams as well as with the highly positive feedback from our customers. Robustness is certainly what guided us in the development of this new calibre—and as for the “all-purpose” spirit of this model, I’ll let you judge for yourself.
For anyone who is not yet aware of its background, what does the Type XX represent for Breguet? And can you tell us more about the new and exciting Calibre 728?
The Type XX has been an emblematic brand collection for 70 years. This model was created according to specifications established by the French Air Force. Although Breguet did not have exclusive rights to it at the time, it quickly became one of the brand’s most iconic models. The new self-winding Calibre 728 powers the civilian version, while the military model is equipped with Calibre 7281. We wanted a robust and innovative movement. It does indeed feature all the characteristics of a modern chronograph: column wheel, vertical clutch, 5 Hz frequency and an innovative zero-resetting system. We naturally had to integrate the flyback function into both models, enabling zero-resetting and instant restarting of a new timing operation without losing track of the overall-time indication. Pressing the 2 o’clock pusher activates the timing, while the one at 4 o’clock zero-resets the chronograph and upon release ensures an immediate restart from zero for a new time measurement. This function is a precious asset for pilots, as three manoeuvres were previously required for the same purpose. Evaluating various durations and directions is thus easily done using the flyback function. Finally, its vertical clutch mechanism was chosen for its accurate activation, as the chronograph hand starts immediately without any initial jumps. As the devil is also in the details, we have also devoted particular care to the aesthetic appeal of the movement, and these two models feature sunburst and snailed patterns as well as circular graining and bevelling. Fans will also appreciate the blackened gold oscillating weight evoking the shape of an aircraft seen from the front and engraved with the Breguet logo.
Whether one likes them or not, watch fairs are a means of increasing brand awareness and sales. Can you explain why Breguet avoids large exhibitions such as Watches and Wonders? Does the fact that this fair’s program now enables the public to learn more about watch brands change your view of the show—and would you consider attending in future years?
We respect the existence of these events as well as those who wish to participate. However, after years of participating in Baselworld we have changed our strategy. We now prefer to enjoy a closer relationship with our markets by spending time in them. As mentioned earlier, our product development is a lengthy process and we prefer to launch our new products throughout the year, doing so when the time is right for us rather than based on a given trade fair’s calendar constraints in which we have no say. This is done through worldwide launches, collaborations (we are partners of the Frieze contemporary art fair) and roadshows. This approach involving regular travel to specific countries is more personalised and enables us to take time with our partners and to discuss the challenges each faces in terms of various market imperatives. We have noticed that this modus operandi is very popular, and we prefer to continue in this direction that more accurately reflects our current vision.
How does immediate product availability that can be used as a sales tool affect or hinder the brand?
We live in an age where people admittedly tend to want everything all at once. Our brand is not a trendy brand that releases a massive number of new models per year: such an attitude is not part of the company values, nor do our customers expect it. The scale of our manufacturing facilities, as well as the fact that all our components are hand-finished, would not permit us to increase our production quantities overnight. We do however attach great importance to being capable of satisfying our customers’ requests within a reasonable timeframe and this seems to be appreciated.
August marks two years for you as CEO of Breguet. What have been some of the most rewarding achievements, as well as the challenging lessons, during this time?
Two years have passed, in a fraction of a second. When I arrived, I realised that our production flow was not optimal and so one of my first tasks was to increase the smooth operation of our workshop processes. I think that we are now both more productive and more consistent. In terms of projects, I immersed myself in the archives and the history of the brand, which inspired me enormously. I am quite proud of the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat 5365 which has “my touch”. It is on this timepiece that I introduced the very fine guilloché work (hand-engraving on a rose engine) done back in the day by Abraham-Louis Breguet. Otherwise, of course, I would say that for us the launch of the Type XX represents the culmination of a project that is both ambitious and essential to the brand. It is an honour for me to be serving as CEO of Breguet at the time of the relaunch of this iconic collection.
Where do you see the future of Breguet, both in the Australian market and at a global level?
Australia is a geographically large market and we want to engage more closely with our customers by developing our point-of-sale network across the country. After the Type XX, we are committed to another ambitious undertaking: the brand’s upcoming 250th anniversary. We have been working on it since I took office and our ambition is to pay tribute to our brand founder while focusing on future innovation.
Subscribe to the Newsletter
Recommended for you
Celebs pulled out all the horological stops for the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
November 27, 2023
The timepieces have a romance and history to them that few others can match.
By Bryan Hood
November 21, 2023