In conversation with Walter Von Känel President Longines watches
About Quartz Technology, V.H.P. technology, price point and future of the brand
The opportunity to talk with Longines' President, Walter Von Känel, is always very tasty. He is a nice person with a very strong personality, who listens carefully to all the questions that are put to him, and remembers all the interlocutors he has met over the years. I spoke to him only once a few years ago, during the visit to the Saint Imier museum and to the manufacture and, when we met on the occasion of the Longines Global Champions Tour in Rome, I had the opportunity to speak to him for a second time, and ask him all the questions I wanted about the Conquest V.H.P., sport timing and the future of the brand.
Mr Von Känel accepts every question willingly, even the most provocative ones, even when one touches hot topics, such as the legacy of the famous hand-wound chronographs, which are nowadays sold at stellar prices at auctions; but he can also quickly bring your feet back to earth, explaining what the ingredients of the current brand policy are; a policy that has ensured constant success, even through volatile market conditions.
From this point of view, the Longines Conquest V.H.P. represents the first great Longines's innovation of modern times, but it is also a recovery operation, updated, of the great digital chronometric tradition.
A long tradition in precision chronometry
Those who know the history of Longines and have visited the museum, can testify to what the brand has achieved in the field of sports chronometry. Those over the age of forty, have often seen their logo on television during the Formula One grand prix of the '80s, when it stood on the Formula 1 Ferrari of Alboreto, or at the base of the starting points of alpine skiing competitions.
Forget about Formula 1 for good, because the Conquest V.H.P. will not open the doors of the brand to a return to motorsports. Today the spirit of the brand is oriented towards classicism, traditional sports and historical collaborations, such as horse riding (a collaboration that began even in 1871), tennis, skiing and all sports where the human factor is predominant.
If you notice, the brand ambassadors are linked to Longines by long-lasting relationships (I think the brand boasts the longest and most enduring partnerships in watchmaking), and the ambassadors that it chooses, like Simon Baker and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, are extremely classic figures and always out of the gossip scene: never a word out of place, or cases of gossip that could undermine their image. The "Elegance is an attitude" claim sums up Longines' global approach in this field.
The Conquest V.H.P. collection: because the advanced quartz is Longines, but the connected watch is not.
One of Von Känel's greatest personal satisfactions, was that he never abandoned quartz technology, and history proved him right. For example, Longines sells many women's watches, and a quartz caliber is a must on a modern, high-volume woman's watch. When the quartz crisis broke out in the early '70s, Longines was ready: in 1969, he presented the first quartz watch in conjunction with Seiko. The Conquest V.H.P. of the time has therefore been the natural evolution to that project. The new Conquest V.H.P. collection therefore rests on very solid foundations, and has a credibility that other traditional brands, that suddenly launched themselves on the Connected Watch sector, do not have.
Another aspect that Von Känel is proud of, is that of not having succumbed to the creation of a product that is easy to obsolescence and which basically aims to bring millennials closer together. The Conquest V.H.P. has the whole class of a Longines, but all the complicated functions that you would never expect from one, remaining 100% a Longines' product in terms of price and image, with the plus of offering a simplicity of use that its Japanese competitor does not possess. Try using, for example, a Conquest V.H.P. GMT Flash Setting.
The Conquest V.H.P. brings the brand closer to clients who recognize themselves in the elegance of Longines, but would want something more technological and suitable to their lifestyle: it is a collection that seems to be sewn on middle and top managers who travel the world, who would not buy an Apple Watch or a Samsung Gear and who want a long-lasting product, aesthetically and technologically. This is the niche in which Longines has entered with the Conquest V.H.P..
In the round table with other journalists of the field, in Rome, Mr. Von Känel has repeatedly emphasized the importance of correct price segmentation; it is a mantra and a topic that he often stresses upon. It is easy to understand his way of thinking if we look at the portfolio of brands of the Swatch Group, if we are familiar with the Longines range, and if we study its pricing. This logic also explains why it was possible to create a quartz perpetual calendar, while it is unlikely that we will ever see a perpetual mechanical calendar, because its price may not be recognized, or overlap with that proposed by other brands of the Swatch Group. In the first case, the effect would be an immediate negative reaction on volumes and profits, in the second, a field invasion and a failure to respect clear logics of pure segmentation.
The Heritage collection: 5% of sales that fuels the passion for the brand and could become a Flagship collection
We conclude with a Q & A on the Heritage collection which represents, from Von Känel's own admission, 5% of Longines' world sales. From my point of view, it is a collection that has not yet reached its full potential, but which Longines continues to feed with products more and more faithful to tradition, and this is a pleasure.
Have you seen the Skin Diver re-edition? It is proposed without date, exactly as the original. Considering the marginal impact on volumes, it could grow in price, representing the brand's flagship collection. In my opinion there is a margin, it would give a boost to the brand's perception, but would indeed force it to partially overlap with the access collections of other brands of the Group, such as Omega for example. The only current concession is that all the new Heritage are reproposed without date, exactly as the original versions. I believe that the case of the first Legend Diver and its quotation on the second-hand market have created a precedent.
However, I asked Von Känel another question: considering the appeal of some vintage bi-compax chronos with manual winding, why not propose a manual wound mechanical chrono with a transparent case back? I am sure it would be a huge success, and I am sure that the ETA capability would allow it to be made at a reasonable price, but unfortunately it is not a project that is currently under evaluation.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C. @Horbiter®