Peter Stas and his wife Aletta Stas-Bax are the founders of watch company Frédérique Constant, which created the Accessible Luxury positioning that enabled it to grab significant market during the economic crisis. Here, Peter Stas talks to OPEN about how his strategy clicked and his plans for the Horological Smartwatch
You were a qualified business econo mist, with a good job at Royal Philips Electronics. You could have been a high- flying corporate executive. What made you want to start making watches?
My wife and I were always passionate about watches and saw an opportunity to create classical Swiss watches at accessible luxury prices. We also wanted to be independent and start our own company.
What was, and is, your core philosophy when it comes to your products?
From the beginning, it has been acces- sible luxury: beautiful classical watches at reasonable prices. We make most watches in the CHF 1000-3000 segment, they can be bought by younger watch enthusiasts.
Entrepreneurship is never easy. Being a first generation entrepreneur, what were the early challenges you faced?
Creating the first products; getting first distribution; managing finances...
Fashion trends come and go, but the classics are timeless. What is your design philosophy?
We always liked classical watches best. Also, classical designs change less fast, which creates stable business.
Your watches were seen as affordable, high quality, classic timepieces. How would you like your brand and products to be perceived today?
That’s perfect: Beautiful classical watches at accessible luxury prices.
Tell us a little about what prompted you to launch the Horological Smartwatch? What was the objective and has it been achieved?
Three years ago, we were working to- ward adding an altimeter to a movement for our sports watch brand Alpina. We studied different solutions with some movement makers and the competition, and concluded that we did not have the in-house capability to create the product we wanted to. That project was more or less abandoned, and we did a second, deeper analysis on Android Wear when it came out. Google was offering this technology open source, which gave us the ability to reach the technology we desired. eventually, our external development team was ready to start but I pulled the plug because it was going to be screen- based only, and most of the time the screen would have to be off because, otherwise, the battery wouldn’t last. The piece would have to be charged every night. In addition, we could not get good quality, round screens at a good price. So, that project too was abandoned. After this, we visited a sub-contractor in Switzerland who was working with a university to display connected information via the hands of the watch. This is when the project went into overdrive. We had a proof-of-concept prototype but nothing more than that. I found a strong technology partner in Silicon Valley, Full- power, who had done significant work on collecting information via bracelet devices and delivering that information to smartphones.
We started an extremely intense collaboration where we further devel- oped the possibilities to mostly work on solutions displaying information via the hands of the watch. Fullpower also worked more on the firmware side to port their technology to wristwatches. We now have the watch and move- ment-building expertise, and our part- ner brings in the technological aspects. That combination allows us to go faster than the rest of the industry.
The first generation Horological Smartwatches have a high accuracy ac- celerometer and advanced circuitry to enable ultra-long battery life and accurate analysis of sleep and activ- ity, leveraging the advanced MotionX sensor-fusion engine.
How does the smart watch fit into your brand story?
It is one of our collections. We will con- tinue to develop mechanical watches as well.
Are there any smarter ideas up your sleeve?
our policy is not to pre-announce future products. We like to keep it a surprise. We have been working for several years on new solutions. Currently, we are only announcing the upcoming availability of the first watches. But our roadmap follows our vision: The beautiful Swiss watch that you love to wear is now smart and connected. We expect to roll out additional features at appropriate times.
From making watches to writing about them, how were the two experiences? What made you write Live your Passion, Building a Watch Manufacture?
Writing the book has been a reward- ing experience. It was very nice to recall the history of the development of our company. The book with almost 500 pages has become an important tool to explain our philosophy.
You started out with your wife to help and have remained a family-run business. What would you say are the key advantages and strengths of this?
It makes us very flexible and fast. Working with my wife has always been a pleasure. Aletta is responsible for the supply chain and I concentrate on mar- keting. It is a good combination.
Will your children join the family profession?
Too early to tell….
How do you see the watch industry evolving?
We do not want to speculate on that. Frédérique Constant is in the business of leading the Horological Smartwatch segment with the MotionX platform.
We are not in the business of arguing what share other brands will have. What we know is that with six billion humans, there will be tens of millions that will want a beautiful Horological Smartwatch that never needs to be recharged, and that has “eternal beauty and value”. We are focused on the tremendous growth opportunity of this brand and on making Alpina and Frédérique Constant great successes. It’s a very exciting, high- growth opportunity.
What in your view are the design trends for 2016?
We expect that main direction will remain classical in view of the economic climate for the watch industry. This suits us well, as Frédérique Constant’s strength is classical.
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