Guillaume Tetu, CEO of Hautlence.

Cut and Thrust

These days, one really gets the feeling that trust and harmony has been restored between you.

Laurent Picciotto:
Yes, that’s true. Hautlence is a very fine brand that had a very fuzzy positioning for a good number of years. The watch itself met with immediate approval, although we had to explain its price and added value. We’re used to having to educate people in this way. That being said, HLs are at the meeting point of a number of segments, so much so that it took the brand a while to find its target.
Guillaume Tetu:
The trust between Laurent and myself has been built up gradually. To be perfectly honest, it took us a while to convince him! His clients already had lots of toys in their collections and Laurent had the ability to push them a step further if they were so inclined. Our task was to convince him that we too were able to provide something new.

So what was it? 

Laurent Picciotto:
Technically speaking, there was no problem with the watch. It was solid, right from the start. But a client buys a watch not only for what it is but also for the universe it portrays. That was more complicated: it was harder to match it to a clear positioning.
Guillaume Tetu (continues):
…until quite recently when a key shareholder, Georges-Henri Meylan (ed: the former CEO of Audemars Piguet), came in and got us to think about our own identity. Six months later, it was clear that our positioning should be that of the gateway into independent watchmaking. With that came price changes and a far more precisely targeted clientele.
Laurent Picciotto:
At the end of the day, the actual launch of Hautlence is happening now!
Guillaume Tetu:
yes (laughter)! But we’ve come a long way – we were on the edge of disaster. The arrival of MELB (ed: G-H Meylan’s company) brought us financial input, as well as plenty of credibility – you can’t put a price on that.

Are you saying that some things could have been done differently?

Guillaume Tetu:
There have been some outstanding accomplishments – our watches first and foremost. I suppose I would have liked to have been able to spend more time with people like Laurent, so as to reposition more quickly. But I’m a watch designer, not a marketing manager (laughter)!
Laurent Picciotto:
Paradoxically, I find it’s quite cool to be starting off with Guillaume now. At least I know where he’s coming from. In the final analysis, you have to bear in mind that it’s a manufacture with plenty of resilience. It struggled for almost five years and came out on top – in a situation where so many others would have been swept away.

What’s going to change from now on? 

Guillaume Tetu:
Structured collections. Clear positioning. Established credibility. And quite simply, almost ten years’ worth of creations: that really helps put a brand on the map.
Laurent Picciotto:
Hautlence had the great idea of relaunching the brand without throwing away everything it had gained in earlier years. It’s kept the same philosophy and the same creativity. Moreover, the fact that it now offers round cases offers some reassurance. At the same time, there’s no change to certain fundamentals that are important to many customers.
Guillaume Tetu:
But we’ll still be bringing out really original haute horlogerie creations from time to time – at much less affordable prices!

You’re going to end up going schizophrenic – getting back to affordable independent watches at the same time as dabbling in top-end watchmaking!

Guillaume Tetu (laughter):
Not at all: there are plenty of brands doing a balancing act involving complicated limited editions side by side with more affordable collections.

Talking about limited editions – is that an option you’re both looking at? 

Laurent Picciotto (coyly):
We’re having conversations about it…
Guillaume Tetu:
It’s early days yet. We’ve just tried that out in Venezuela. It’s working well. It’s definitely a way forward for the future.
Journalist : Olivier Müller (01/2013)