Interview: Christian Lattmann, Jaquet Droz CEO

He holds the reins of a 281-year-old watchmaking brand that knows exactly what it needs to do to secure its future

Jaquet droz christian lattmann

When it comes to pedigree, few other Swiss watch brands can claim to have one comparable to the 281-year-old Jaquet Droz. Add to that an absolute mastery over automatons – credit for which it can trace back to its earliest days, where the watchmaker’s founder Pierre Jaquet-Droz mesmerized royals from Europe to the Far East with his creations – and you’ve narrowed down to a number of watchmakers you can count on one hand.

Gulf Business met the brand’s CEO and longtime Swatch Group employee, Christian Lattmann, at the Jaquet Droz boutique in Dubai earlier this year. The boutique, one of only 12 in the world, opened in 2018.

To mark the brand’s presence in the region, Jaquet Droz recently unveiled two timepieces inspired by the UAE. The first is the Dhs1.9m Bird Repeater Falcon automaton wristwatch that celebrates the culture of Bedouins and the art of falconry. The second wristwatch, the Grande Seconde Moon Limited Edition Dubai, has a green disc with red flecks on the dial that is also inspired by the UAE.

Here, Lattmann discusses his strategy for the brand and the direction that he intends to steer this venerable watchmaking house.

Jaquet droz

How important is the UAE for Jaquet Droz?

It’s very important in terms of potential. Today we aren’t at a level where we should be, because the awareness of our brand is not at the level it should be. Jaquet Droz is a high-end brand with a lot of know-how, a long history and a lot of creativity. We are experts in craftsmanship and automatons. When we decided to open our boutique in Dubai it was an important sign that the region is very important. For the first time, we are able to present all our complications, all our collections and all our pieces of jewellery.

Talk us through the two new timepieces that you have introduced specifically for the UAE.

Following the opening of this boutique, we discussed with our colleagues at Rivoli and agreed that we need something unique – something that is a part of the culture and tradition of the UAE. The Bird Repeater Falcon is a minute repeater, which means it is the highest level of complication in the watch industry. The landscape takes inspiration from the desert, with a father and son training the falcon. There is only one [example of this timepiece] in the world and it is available here at The Dubai Mall boutique.

The other timepiece is a Grande Seconde Moon [Limited Edition Dubai]. The Grande Seconde is one of our iconic models. The moon and stars are in gold, and in the background we’ve used a special stone called Blood Stone which is green and pays tribute to the flag of the UAE. It is a limited edition in steel and so the price is more affordable.

As a 281-year-old brand, do you find yourself at times locked into heritage and tradition, unable to innovate without upsetting the purists?

We are one of the oldest Swiss watch brands. What we take from our past is our values – automatons and craftsmanship have always been a part of our history. We use this as the inspiration for new products, but we don’t stay in the past. It would be wrong for us to just copy what has been done in the past. Specifically, we didn’t have a long production of wristwatches – earlier it was pocketwatches, or clocks or big automatons. Today, we use our values to create wristwatches that have a contemporary style.

We take the know-how from the past, but use it in a new way. For example, transparent enamel was used 600 years ago but never in the watchmaking industry and never this way with complete transparency. So there is still room to innovate using antique knowhow.

We took the opportunity of our 280th anniversary not to look back, but to look to the future – what we are going to do, what we are going to create always respecting our values.

What’s the most memorable piece of advice Swatch co-founder Nicolas Hayek Sr ever gave you?

He was a genius. He always said, ‘speed is one of the key factors in success’. It is a sentence I still repeat and use even today. If today we have some watches that tell time and some that tell a story, it is also linked to what we learnt from him. He would always repeat that, ‘A brand does not have an image, it has a message. The difference is that an image is static and a message is dynamic’. It is the brand that has to talk to the people and not the people that have to imagine what the brand has to say.

When I was working for Breguet he decided to recreate the Marie Antoinette watch. When I learnt from the newspaper that they were going to cut the Marie Antoinette’s oak – the Queen’s favourite tree in the garden of Versailles – due to a storm, I contacted the gardener and negotiated a fee of €3,000 to purchase some of that oak so that we could use it to make the box for that watch. But he [Hayek Sr] instead decided to restore the entire Petit Trianon castle for €5m.

While I was thinking about how to negotiate a lower price, he was thinking about the story to tell – about the oak, about the restoration of the Petit Trianon castle where Marie Antoinette lived. He was crafting a story. His vision was incredible. For me, it was a lesson.

Jaquet droz

What role does e-commerce play in your business model?

We don’t directly sell via e-commerce, but we are present via e-commerce through a few of our retailers, with our agreement. With automatons, for example, it’s quite impossible to realise what it is on the web – you need to feel and touch the product. For sure we are thinking about e-commerce, and perhaps one day we will develop it, but it is not on our short-term list.

How important is China to Jaquet Droz?

China is very important due to our history with the country. Jaquet Droz was the first watch brand to be imported into the Forbidden City. Emperor Qianlong would collect Jacquet Droz clocks and he translated the Jaquet Droz name into Chinese.

Today, we invest a lot in China because we have this historical link to China. Also, our style that is inspired by nature and automatons is an aesthetic that Chinese people really like. Chinese people travel a lot to places like Dubai or Switzerland or Hong Kong and so we need to be present in all those places.

What’s the most difficult part of your role?

My role as a CEO is to increase awareness as a long-term vision, not a short-term one. For example, we could have an ambassador for the brand. But one of our ambassadors in the past was the Emperor Qianlong. Now in China, who could you choose as the ambassador of Jaquet Droz that is higher than Emperor Qianlong?

How will you future-proof Jaquet Droz?

Everything we do every day is for the future. We do things with a long-term vision and this is thanks to the Swatch Group and the Hayek family who is managing the group. Every year we add a new brick to the wall. The foundation is very strong.