When Omega launched the Dark Side of the Moon in Sydney recently, Time+Tide was invited to interview President Stephen Urquhart. We took this opportunity to open things up to our readers and asked for questions that they would like put to the President of not only one of the watch world’s powerhouse brands, but of the luxury industry in general. Omega are the envy of everyone from Louis Vuitton to Lanvin. And even by their own lofty standards, they’re currently on a roll.
Data from the latest World Watch Report (by the Digital Luxury Group) places them as the top brand in China and with the two most popular watch lines, being the De Ville and the Constellation. In a recent interview, actor John Cusack joked that he should bankroll his future films by selling watches in China. The world has twigged to the extraordinary opportunities in the region. But Omega were there very early in the game. And it’s paying off now.
The questions Time+Tide readers and followers had for Mr Urquhart were thoughtful, educated, surprising and in some cases searing. Over the following two exclusive feature articles, we asked as many of them as time would allow. Urquhart took all – even the most controversial – comfortably in his stride, covering here the move to Master Co-Axial movements across the board, the outrageous growth in China and a concession that ‘Omega Seamaster Master Coaxial’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. We spoke before the event that we covered here.
You have travelled all your life, do you have any travel tips to share? Do you behave on long haul flights?
By behave, you mean drink? Sure, I have a drink, you can’t help it. I’ve got to take a little pill to sleep on the plane. I probably sleep better on a plane than I do in the hotel room. I’m lucky if I can travel first class, but now even business class airlines have a sort of flatbed. When I fly, I don’t need to be pampered or fancy, just flat. I’ve flown all my life and up until 15 years ago, even first class was never flat. It was nice seats, but you were still sitting up and I can never sleep sitting up. The difference is that in the old days when I travelled it was much longer trips, time wise. I’d go for one week, two weeks minimum into Asia. Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan. Whereas today it’s two days.
When I fly, I don’t need to be pampered or fancy, just flat.
These questions are from Time+Tide followers, are you ok to open the conversation up to them?
Sure, let’s see what they have to say….
Is it true that all Omega watches are going to be antimagnetic by 2016?
There’s no fixed date. We introduced the 15,000 Gauss last year, we did a big PR program worldwide where we said we’ll roll anti-magnetic movements out for all the in-house calibres. Obviously the 9300 is little bit more challenging because of the chronograph, there are more parts involved but we are on the right track. We’re fine. We are sort of in between at the moment because we’re still deciding how we get the message out. Because it won’t happen overnight, it’s going to take two years. We said that we’d put 15,000 gauss on the dial, like you put 500m or something. And then we thought… but Gauss is an awful word… We then put anti-magnetic. I mean in the old days a lot of Omegas were written anti-magnetic on the dial.
What messaging have you decided on?
We chose the word Master, because we felt so many people could relate to and understand it. Added to the word Co-Axial it’s a little bit more, more sexy in a way, you know? Because the word Co-Axial by itself is sort of stale. Technical. People understand what it means, but at the same time it doesn’t really convey anything. ‘Co-Axial’, it means two axis so ‘Master Co-Axial’ works for both aspects.
Do you think consumers will be interested in the difference?
We just had a case of a guy before actually in this boutique. He came in to buy an Aqua Terra. One was a Co-Axial the other was Master Co-Axial and he obviously just was, just concerned by the price difference, which is minute by the way, it’s not even 10%, it’s nothing. But he wanted to know what the difference was. It’s the same movement but with added 15,000 Gauss and we don’t tell people this but the aim is that they will all become this way. So we are little bit in the moment in-between. But I would say 2016-17 all our in-house watches will be Master Co-Axial. We also have something else, but I cannot tell you what it is now. A little bit in addition. It’s not a technical thing, we’ll just have a way to express it that may be a bit more meaningful, that people can relate to than just a name on the dial, you know what I mean? So we were working on this, I think it is important, because we will have a period, for two years for the sales staff, they have to explain why, you know what I mean so it’s a transition.
One of our followers wants to know if you think that ‘Omega Seamaster Master Co-Axial’ is too wordy?
Yeah, I see what he means. I don’t think we’d call it an Omega Seamaster Master Co-Axial, I thinks it’s an Omega Seamaster, then in a different sentence, it has a Master Co-Axial movement. But he’s right, we have all these words with ‘master’ in them: Railmaster, Flightmaster, Speedmaster, Seamaster, our friends in the business use the word too. Even our sister company Longines has the Master collection. It’s a word that is used a lot in watches, we know that, but is also word that has a connotation of quality and seriousness about something. But there’s a good point that he has there. And I’m going to make sure our people avoid ever saying that, so please thank that person for me.
I don’t think we’d call it an Omega Seamaster Master Co-Axial, I thinks it’s an Omega Seamaster, then in a different sentence, it has a Master Co-Axial movement.
Omega is the number one watch brand in China and you have two of the top three models (De Ville and Constellation), what are some of the hidden challenges in that market?
The challenge that nobody ever talks about in China is the after sales service and maintenance of these incredible amount of watches, nearly all mechanical that have to be maintained. We have an enormous after-sales set up in China, in Shanghai we have a school. I don’t want to give out the figure but how many mechanical watches are purchased by the Chinese per year? I mean, I know how many we sell, we’re the number one brand, but there are a lot of other brands doing that too and the mechanical watch needs some sort of intervention within five years, maximum 10. And the Chinese are very conscientious people and they won’t throw it away or put it in the attic and buy a new watch like some people maybe. So that is a big big, thing and I know that we are very well prepared for that.
The challenge that nobody ever talks about in China is the after sales service and maintenance of these incredible amount of watches, nearly all mechanical that have to be maintained.
How has the presence of power of watch blogs and online watch magazines changed the media for watch brands?
Things have changed completely. We are still present in traditional media, because we feel we have to be, but I’m sure if we used a real rational approach we would probably cut down even more because at the end of the day, we can see the quick return of connecting with an online audience. It’s immediate, just like this morning we were looking at Instagram and all of the different social media covering last night’s event. It’s unbelievable, it’s out there and you can count the people who have already seen it. People who count have already seen it and we live in this sort of world today, social media and digital media is so important and China is, contrary to what many people think, it’s very far advanced in this.
Time+Tide were guests of Omega in Sydney.