Interview: Nicolas Baretzki, CEO of Montblanc
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Interview: Nicolas Baretzki, CEO of Montblanc

Interview: Nicolas Baretzki, CEO of Montblanc

Montblanc recently partnered with one of the world’s most recognisable luxury brands, Ferrari. Here’s where that partnership, and the German company as well, is headed next

Nicolas Baretzki, CEO of Montblanc

As far as iconic personalities who shaped the 20th century’s auto industry go, Enzo Ferrari ranks at the very top alongside the likes of Henry Ford and Ferruccio Lamborghini. Ferrari became a larger-than-life personality, a brand unto himself, with an outsized aura in motorsports and by way of its production cars too which were always exotic, expensive and rare. It’s a marque that has managed to retain its positioning as one of the world’s most coveted and aspirational brands. This year, Hamburg-headquartered Montblanc, one of the world’s foremost manufacturers of luxury writing instruments, decided to partner with Ferrari on a new collection. “It’s a story that started many years ago,” explains Nicolas Baretzki, CEO of Montblanc, of the genesis of the collaboration between the Italian and German powerhouses. “We started to talk and understand, from a Montblanc point of view, how we can approach this so that we have a story to tell together. Obviously, going through the Great Characters [collection], [highlighting] the individual and the founder behind the carmaker, I thought was the best way to approach it.”

Montblanc Great Characters Enzo Ferrari Edition

The Great Characters Enzo Ferrari Special Edition has a cone engraved with two dates: 1898 and 1923. The former is Enzo’s birth year and the latter is the one in which he won his first victory on a racetrack. The Great Characters Enzo Ferrari Limited Edition 1898 features metal used on the cap and barrel that resembles the grille of a Ferrari 125S engine, and is available as both a rollerball and fountain pen, with the Au750 solid gold rhodium-coated nib embellished with the wheel of a Ferrari 250 GTO.

The Great Characters Enzo Ferrari Limited Edition 98 meanwhile, of which there are only 98 to be had, has design elements of the bodywork of the 1952 Ferrari 500 F2 which bagged the first F1 Championship win for Scuderia, replicated on the pen.

Montblanc Great Characters Enzo Ferrari Edition LE98

As Baretzki says, the collaboration between Montblanc and Ferrari has seen feverish interest. He cites the example of an Italian client who couldn’t find the product in his home country and so travelled to a boutique in Switzerland and put a EUR25,000 down payment to secure the pieces. He emailed Baretzki to tell him of it, only to hear back from the CEO that he was being returned his down payment as there were no more of those pieces to go around.

The collaboration with Ferrari isn’t ending with this collection. The two brands have announced a multi-year partnership, although the scope of it and the products that will result from it are still under wraps. “I didn’t want to do just one collaboration. When I was talking to Flavio Manzoni, the head of design at Ferrari, he told me that for him as an Italian, as a lover of design, a lover of stories, he feels the same way about Montblanc as he does about Ferrari. It was really putting us at the exact same level.”

Montblanc Great Characters Enzo Ferrari Edition LE1898

Outside of the collaboration, business is starting to boom. “Covid is over from a business point of view, and pre-Covid is not even a reference anymore,” Baretzki declares triumphantly. Recent research by Bain & Company may bolster these claims. According to a Bain report released last month, the personal luxury goods industry has witnessed a V-shaped recovery this year. It grew 29 per cent to reach EUR283bn, increasing the size of the market by 1 per cent compared to 2019. And while Omicron could well throw a spanner in the works for Bain’s predictions made in the weeks before the new variant was identified, it nonetheless estimates that the personal luxury goods market could reach EUR360bn-380bn by 2025, with an annual growth of around 6-8 per cent.

Montblanc’s parent, Richemont, doesn’t share individual performance figures of the brands within its portfolio, but a gauge of the robustness of its business can be ascertained from its overall levels of product rollouts and physical expansion. In April this year, for example, Montblanc opened a new flagship boutique in Madison Avenue – a stark contrast to the other luxury brands that were calling it quits at one of New York’s most coveted retail addresses. Baretzki’s decision to swim against the tide seemed prescient, as Bain in its most recent report noted that the Americas are now the largest global market for luxury representing EUR89bn or 31 per cent of the worldwide market, ahead of China which accounts for approximately EUR60bn or 21 per cent of the pie.

More recently, Montblanc opened its first standalone boutique in Nigeria. “The success of Montblanc was built by very often being one of the first luxury maisons to enter a new market. We were the first one to enter India officially 25 years ago. We were one of the first maisons to enter the Brazilian market, we were also one of the first ones to enter the Chinese market with our own subsidiary that is more than 20 years old,” observes Baretzki.

Regionally, last month, Montblanc opened its new boutique in Muscat’s Mall of Oman that will be managed by Rivoli Group, the 13th Montblanc boutique operated by Rivoli in the region over a partnership spanning 26 years. Here in the UAE, Montblanc unveiled a special limited-edition timepiece, the Star Legacy Orbis Terrarum LE 71, to mark the 50th founding anniversary of the country. It also produced a short film titled, In my Time, which explored the relationship that six prominent Emiratis including Salah Tahlak, executive vice president of Dubai Duty Free as well as marine conservationist Mohammad Al Falasi, share with their home country. “I don’t know one country in the world that has a vision for 50 years. And when you can see what’s happening and why we can be confident, that indeed is a market where we usually invest,” says Baretzki of the UAE.

On the day that we meet at the brand’s boutique in The Dubai Mall last month, he is keen to point out that the maison has re-launched its website, now with an Arabic version, and also revamped its e-commerce offering to offer same-day delivery. As Bain noted in its report, following a 50 per cent increase from 2019 to 2020, online channels continued growing by 27 per cent from 2020 to 2021, reaching an estimated EUR62bn in market value this year. Importantly, it finds that brand-controlled websites currently make up for around 40 per cent of the online segment, up from 30 per cent in 2019 which means brands have to make sure they double down on their own e-commerce efforts rather than rely on external e-commerce sites to turn the wheels for them.

At Montblanc, Baretzki says e-commerce has significantly magnified its reach with the CEO citing the example of China. “In China, we have standalone boutiques in 70 cities. Last year, through our e-commerce in China, we delivered to 360 cities. [E-commerce] is a completely different vocabulary, it’s a completely different understanding on what is the future,” he says.

Montblanc Star Legacy Orbis Terrarum LE 71
Montblanc Star Legacy Orbis Terrarum LE 71

While writing instruments and accessories remain core at Montblanc, its watchmaking is among one of the biggest components of its business too. Laurent Lecamp became the managing director of this division earlier this year. Montblanc will be back with a physical presence at Watches & Wonders exhibition in March next year. Baretzki sees an evolved model for watch fairs going forward. “We really need one moment in the year, a watch week. It’s a point where the world knows that there is a focus on watchmaking and it is where you bring together reference brands in watchmaking,” he says, dismissing the notion that watch fairs are no longer relevant, stressing though that strong digital content will be necessary to accompany the physical event on ground in Geneva. However, it is the format and positioning of the physical event that Baretzki now wants to be less transactional and more experiential. “It is not anymore a wholesale event, and not anymore a place to welcome all your retailers and sell products. It’s about talking about the maison and showing the novelties. You will still have a few rooms in the back to see some of the clients, but that’s not the main role anymore. If you enter the Montblanc booth, you’ll see 80 per cent of the space dedicated to showcasing the collections.”

From a creative standpoint, the next few months at Montblanc will also be revelatory with Marco Tomasetta having taken the artistic reins of the brand only a few months ago and pushing forward at full throttle. “His whole first collection for Montblanc was done in six weeks, because he’s used to the speed of [working in] the fashion world,” says Baretzki of Tomasetta who was the former creative director at Givenchy. “The first thing I [look for in a creative director] is to have someone that I believe can have a real creative vision of what Montblanc is. And not his creative vision, but an understanding of Montblanc and translating that into products and a global plan. What was really amazing [of his new collection] is that he managed to define codes that can not only be used for this one collection, but are codes that can define meaningful elements for the Montblanc of tomorrow.”

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