It’s hard to imagine interviewing Montblanc’s Managing Director without asking the Watchmaker-in-Chief about the company’s strategy to combat the twin threats of Coronageddon and the Apple Watch. COVID-19 didn’t make the cut in luxurylaunches.com’s highly edited and no doubt Montblanc-approved question-and-answer session. But the threat posed by the smartwatch did. Kinda. The interchange with Davide Cerrato went like this . . .
LL: You were among the first luxury brands to start with smartwatches, are you still looking to develop that segment?
Davide: Yeah! Yeah! It is working very well. It has nothing to do with the mechanical watches and it is now been handled by a part of an organization, a different one that handles everything which is technology-based, the Augmented paper, and the Summit.
LL: The Summit was launched I think 2 years back?
LL: You didn’t launch any new watch after that?
Davide: Nope, perhaps something new could come (laughs) stay tuned.
Someone should tell both LL and Mr. Cerrato that it’s already here. The $1k Summit 2+ launched in April, offering a 1.5mm bigger screen, Verizon-only LTE connectivity (via Google’s kludgy Wear OS), a speaker, a microphone and 30 percent longer battery life.
As for Montblanc’s smartwatch “working well,” the Summit 2+ landed with just as much of a thud as the Summit 2– as you’d expect for a $1,170 smartwatch that’s no more capable than ye olde Fossil Sport (for $750 more).
Marketing-wise, there’s no direct link to the Montblanc Summit 2+ on the company’s website. And no wonder – they’re still trying to sell God knows how many Summit 2’s sitting around somewhere.
Of course, all that’s “being handled by a part of an organization.” Which is Mr. Cerrato’s way of saying it’s not his job to unload Montblanc’s DOA Summits and devise a credible Apple Watch fighter.
Mr. Cerrato is responsible for Montblanc’s traditional horology, with the $5600 “inspired by Minerva” 1858 Geosphere leading the charge. And the rest of the brand’s $995 to $4,900 lineup pulling up the rear.
With the smartwatch eating Switzerland’s breakfast, lunch and dinner, that’s not a price point where a Swiss watchmaker wants to be. It puts Montblanc well above smartwatches and just below entry-level models from “real” luxury brands like Rolex and OMEGA.
With traditional watches cratering in that segment, Montblanc needs to wake up and smell the coffee. They need younger buyers. Lots of ’em. Soon.
Mr. Cerrato is chill. He believes his brand is perfectly positioned to win their business – assuming (as he does) that there’s a big “back to nature” trend, and that his watches have natural appeal.
The dream of being outdoors and re-appropriation of relationship with nature is now growing since at least 6 years.
So I saw this coming. We at core Montblanc, we have this beautiful past from Minerva military pieces, they have always been used for exploration, because of their functional characteristic, be it resistant to shock, reliability and so on.
So we put all of them together and we thought we would do a product line dedicated to this work, to this story which is 1858.
I’m G-SHOCKed that Mr. Cerrato considers Montblanc – the company best known for expensive fountain pens – an outdoorsy brand. But here’s something even more shocking: Montblanc’s MD has only the vaguest idea of his company’s customer demographics, either current or target.
LL: So do the younger buyers make up for a significant chunk of your total sales?
Davide: It’s very difficult to say but in watches to simplify it – half of the market is sports watches, so with all the new sport watches that we are proposing in the last 4 years, we have doubled our potential market and young people are a very considerable part. I don’t know the exact number, never looked at it but perhaps 30-40%, something like that.
Doubling a “potential market” for younger buyers is a far cry from doubling sales to younger buyers. I’m not the MD of a major luxury goods manufacturer/retailer, but if you don’t have reliable information on a given topic it’s probably best not to pull a statistic out of your ass.
Hang on. What sport watches? Of Montblanc’s five current collections – 1858, Heritage, Star Legacy, Bohème and Summit 2 (excluding the defunct Tradition, which is still on their website) – only the Summit could be considered a sports watch. Again, fuhgeddaboutit.
I can’t say I’m surprised at Mr. Cerrato’s perspective on Montblanc’s fortunes in general, and the Summit smartwatch in specific. Unless luxurylaunch.com’s transcriber and editors are heavy drinkers, Montblanc is run by a man who calls the Tudor Black Bay the “Tudor Blackberry.”
HoDinkee recently added Montblanc to their online store. For some strange reason all their Montblanc reviews are positive. But sleeping with a whore is no defense against Coronageddon and the smartwatch crisis. When making a list of brands likely to fail in their aftermath, save a place for Montblanc.