For an executive heading one of the Richemont Group’s biggest brands, Montblanc CEO Jerome Lambert is a pretty low-key guy. Serious but unassuming and affable, he is not one for brash pronouncements or slick statements. On the day The Peak meets him at the Montblanc boutique at Ngee Ann City, the Frenchman – who is here on a regular market visit – is dressed in a dark blue suit (a look he is often photographed in) topped with a quietly elegant Montblanc 4810 ExoTourbillon Slim watch.
Lambert’s bluster-free demeanour reflects the way he goes about his business. After all, there is no need to shout when your achievements garner attention aplenty. Over a decade ago in 2002, industry watchers took note when he took the reins at Jaeger-LeCoultre at the age of 33, making him the youngest CEO in the Richemont Group then. Over the next decade, he paved the way for the respected niche watchmaker to effectively harness its technical know-how, and led its transformation into a well-known name that even laymen associate with high horology, tripling its business along the way. Having helmed Montblanc since 2013, Lambert is now looking to further the house’s 110-year-old story in a similar way – making the most of its capabilities, and staying true to its DNA.
One of the largest brands in the Richemont stable, the Hamburg-headquartered company has four production sites in three countries, and three key product pillars. Writing instruments, leather goods, and watches. With Lambert’s background in horology, it is no surprise that his presence has seen swift changes in Montblanc’s watch portfolio, although he maintains, justifiably, that his “passion for products” encompasses the brand’s categories.
In recent years, value has been the key buzzword associated with Montblanc’s horological offerings, which include premium features at unprecedentedly accessible prices: In 2014, for instance, it debuted a perpetual calendar retailing for US$12,800 (S$17,500), which was then the most affordable mechanical perpetual calendar watch. And even though they are pricey in absolute terms, Montblanc’s most high-end timepieces, made at its Villeret facility – a renowned watchmaking workshop formerly known as Minerva – also offer highly competitive value in the haute horlogerie category.
While “value for money” isn’t exactly the sexiest marketing angle, it’s one that works well when it comes to technically driven luxury items. At the premium end of the market, watch aficionados do not mind paying top dollar for timepieces – but they want to know that they are getting plenty of watch for that dollar. Sharing his thoughts on the pragmatic positioning of Montblanc’s timepieces, Lambert notes: “First of all, it’s good to stand for something. That’s important in creating a base. Value means (positive) perception and user experience, and this is something very meaningful.”
Once that base is in place, loftier goals can be built upon it. “More and more, Montblanc watches will be known for technical performance,” he says, adding emphatically: “Real technical performance – not things that are useless.” As examples, he cites the 500-hour quality test that all Heritage Chronometrie watches have to pass (revealing that we will soon see “an evolution” of this test), as well as the useful functions that distinguish the brand’s latest releases, such as the day/night disc of the world-time display of the Orbis Terrarum and the TwinFly Chronograph’s dual-time function.
Function, indeed, is integral to how Lambert is bringing the 110-year-old brand into the future. Consider the growth of Montblanc’s catalogue of tech accessories, which includes pens that can also be used as styluses, as well as the e-Strap, a smart device that can be attached to the strap of a (presumably mechanical) watch. These digital developments appear to be a departure for Montblanc if one views the company only as a pen/watch/leather goods-maker. But if you understand the brand as one that has always “revolved around a luxury business lifestyle”, as Lambert explains, then the move into tech products seems like a natural evolution.
Elegantly serving the needs of Montblanc’s audience – a vast group that Lambert simply sums up as “achievers” – is not the brand’s only unchanging core value. When we quiz him about whether the recent flashes of colour in the leather goods collection – such as a vibrant red document case – might signal the adoption of a more flamboyant aesthetic moving forward, Lambert demurs with a thoughtfully poetic reference: “Our core colour is black. (French artist, Pierre) Soulages has expressed himself using black for more than 50 years, and he is one of the most highly regarded artists today. We find that there are many variations of black that we can express ourselves with.”