Q&A with Longines’ Charles Villoz

On June 5th, Swiss watchmaker Longines launched the new Conquest Classic women’s collection with five different dials designed to appeal to modern women who are looking for a watch that is at once refined, sleek, feminine and sporty. The debut of these Conquest Classic models was the first official event held at The Shed, located at Hudson Yards, and it was celebrated with a panel of outstanding women such as Mikaela Shiffrin, Longines Ambassador of Elegance, two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup alpine skier, acclaimed screen and stage Carla Gugino and Shyla Raghav, Climate Change Lead at Conservation International. On this occasion, I had the pleasure and honor to sit down with Charles Villoz, Longines Vice President and Head of International Sales, who spoke about the new Conquest Classic, the veteran brand’s history in the manufacturing of ladies’ watches, about the watch shopping preferences of women in New York and elsewhere, and the fact that Longines takes great pride in having always supported women’s rights and in being the only watchmaker that dedicates half of its production to female customers.

What is the brand’s history in terms of women’s watches?

It’s an interesting question because when we started to do wrist watches there were only ladies’ pendants. Then there was a need to wear the watches on the wrist, so in 1894 we started to created ladies’ watches, 100 years before we gave the right to vote to women in Switzerland. Watches were obviously made to tell time, but while for men a timepiece was maybe more about technology and engineering, for women a timepiece has been more of a piece of jewelry, an addition to regular jewelry. I don’t know if at the time women needed to know the time, but definitely not as much as men.

How are women different in various parts of the world in terms of the watches they buy? How are women in NY in that sense?

There are differences in taste, in the colors of dials, the materials used, not so much in the inner life of timepieces, although there are women who are interested in the technology part, but a little less than men. For women it’s about color and size. So in NY women go for larger sizes, the small watches are not so much in fashion right now, although trends come and go and then come back, but in general, even in Asia, women now wear larger sizes than 20, 30 years ago. But in Asia there is still a trend for smaller watches. In Italy, South of Europe, women are wearing big watches, for sure, just like in NY. Then there are the colors. For example, mother of pearl that has a bit of a pinkish tint is very difficult to sell in NY, but it’s much easier to sell in Japan for example. Here the material that sells best is stainless steel, followed by gold. What has been interesting also in the last years has been the use of pink color. It started with men, with watches in pink gold, which have existed for a long time. But ladies preferred the yellow color jewelry as well as the watch. This has changed in recent years and now there is a trend for pink gold.

Why did you choose these specific materials (mother-of-pearl, diamonds)?

The main material is stainless steel, but it’s more about the style. The Classic Conquest has a very, very sleek case, which is sporty but it can really go with everything and can be worn on any occasion: it can take you throughout the day at work, but can also be worn at a social event. It’s really chic yet a little bit sporty. It’s also very easy to use because it houses a quartz movement and you don’t have to bother adjusting it. It also has a very pretty element in my opinion, the pink index hands on the dial of the watch, which is still a very classical watch.

What is Longines’ history with the world of skiing?

The brand’s involvement in the world of skiing goes back a long time, to 1923. Back in the ‘20s we were the time keepers because time is very important in this sport, but we didn’t have an ambassador like Mikaela Shiffrin at the time. She has been an ambassador for us for 5 years and we also have a male skier as ambassador, Aksel Lund Svindal, who is going to retire this year. We are experts in time keeping and it’s very nice to have ambassadors who personify this.

What made you choose Mikaela Shiffrin as a Longines ambassador and how has the collaboration with her been for the brand?

We were very, very lucky with Mikaela, she was already very good and accomplished but we didn’t know that she would be the No. 1 female skier in the world, and she has been very consistent in a very tough sport.

How is the brand committed to women’s issues?

You have to remember that throughout history in our factories there were always women working. We needed workforce, it was basically the beginning of industrialization, and there are certain jobs in watch manufacturing which maybe are a little tougher for men than for women, and also at the time the salaries were lower for women than for men so it was cheaper labor. I think that was the case all over the world, also in the U.S. manufactures. But since then, in the Swatch group I think we have adjusted pretty well in terms of pay equality.

What would you say characterizes the year 2019 in terms of the watch industry and where Longines is heading?

It’s an year of transition for us when it comes to our long-term vision, to where we want to go, I definitely believe that we will invest even more in R&D and mechanical timepieces, that’s where there is a future, we will continue to manufacture beautiful watches for women, as we already have a 50% share of women’s watches, which I think is the highest share in the Swatch group. It’s also a year of transition in terms of renewing our corporate identity when it comes to our boutiques.

In terms of the industry, I think there has been a revolution related to electronically connected devices and watches, but I think that’s already over. At the beginning, it was considered a sort of a threat to our industry but that’s not the case anymore because that is a totally different dimension, which brings us back to the origins of why women were wearing watches, and the fact that watches are also pieces of jewelry, something beautiful and something that one will keep for a very long time and that can be passed on to the next generation if one wants. So that is not a concern anymore, but what is a little bit concerning are the trade wars and that could be a threat for the business but in this country that’s not really an issue- Switzerland is very good friends with the U.S.

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