Georges-Henri Meylan, is patriarch of the Meylan family, Chairman of MELB Holdings and CEO of independent watchmaking maestro Hautlence. After starting his career in the watchmaking industry at Jaeger-LeCoultre, Mr. Meylan was best known as the CEO of Audemars Piguet, a role he played for over 20 years. A graduate in Mechanical Engineering and holder of an Exceutive MBA from IMD In Lausanne, Mr. Meylan talks to Karishma Karer about his plans for the brands in the Meylan Group. Since taking the helm of cutting-edge carrer des horlogers Hautlence and H. Moser et Cie, a historical watchmaking Manufacture in 2012, the Meylan Group has carved a niche for itself in the world of haute horlogerie.
Can you give me a little background about the Meylan Group? Where you started and where you are today? How many brands do you have?
Sure. We started about 5 years ago with Hautlence first and then Moser a bit later, just before bankruptcy. It was quite difficult to rebuild and create a new collection and also to change our way of working, to reorganize and find the market. Really, to build the market. It was hard work for the last 5 years, and now we are seeing very good results. Specially with Moser more than with Hautlence. We are very satisfied with what is happening. We work as a family. The Group belongs to the family and Edouard is the head of Moser and Bertrand is the head of sales for Asia and the Middle East region. We also have a company in Hong Kong and now a company in Dubai and we work with different partners around the world.
Do you plan to increase your portfolio with more brands?
I think we now have to consolidate what we do. I think it will be a bit too early to expand. We have to put more emphasis on these two brands. You have to reach a certain level to be sure that even if the economy goes down it is not so difficult. When you only have your head out of the water, you have to be careful!
Last year the economy was a bit difficult…
It was bit difficult but we increased our sales by 20%. I think the work the brands have done is quite good.
It was a challenging year, but is it more challenging for independent watch brands than it is for a Manufacture?
I think. Of course, in all businesses it depends on the level you reach. The first years are the most difficult and then after that, you know you need money, of course, for your business because you need working capital and things like that but when you reach a certain level, where you really make money, you can reinvest. Not reinvest all our own money but invest in the company. Until now we have always reinvested all our money to develop. Now, we are just at the level where we are starting to be self-sufficient and we now have to consolidate that before thinking of making something else.
What are the challenges you face as an independent watch brand?
Not too much space in retailers’ windows because all these big guys try to push us out! To have good products at a good price. When you make very small quantities, it increases the price. The competition is bigger, so their price is lower. We have to have a margin to make money and now we are starting to be at a level where we can compete really.
In terms of Moser, you have watches that are affordable and people can buy, but with Hautlence, the pricing is much higher…
It is different. Hautlence does very some special things. Very expensive, maybe 150,000 CHF and others that are more affordable are now between 15,000 -30,000 CHF and we are working on this segment.
We are working, for example we have made a watch that is linked to the Moser Flying Hours. We make the same, with the same movement and concept in Hautlence and we are working on one or two products in this segment for Basel. On the other side then, we have the Vortex where we say to customers that it is made from a special material with colours. If you like red and black, we will make you a watch in red and black or in black and red with the lines black and the watch red. You have customers that are in the segment of very very wealthy people who like to have something different from others.
What’s new at Hautlence this year? You have the Vortex Gamma, and what else?
We have three things at this show. One is the Invictus which is the same shape with a coloured bezel and special strap and dials. 4 colours, but I think one or two are better than the others. I don’t think the yellow and green will stay, the khaki and red will stay. That is the first thing. The second thing is the concept of saying to the customer that you can have your colour for the Vortex at the high level and in between we have made the Vagabonde. Vagabonde in French, is traveler and it can travel with you anywhere. These are the three things we are launching.
And for Moser?
For Moser you have more things than that. You have the Flying Hours, you have the Tourbillon in blue, in grey, gold and steel. You have the completely empty dial with only two hands and that is very successful. You have different colours of dials on the Endeavour and…
Is this all on the Fumé dial?
Yes, of course. The fumé dial is a darker exterior and the interior is lighter.
What are your views on SIHH and BaselWorld?
I think business seems to not too bad. I meet people and they are quite happy. One or two years which were difficult are behind us and I hope that this trend is stable and we are growing a little bit again. A little bit better than before.
With bespoke customization, technological innovation par excellence and a range of timepieces for every personality, 2018 promises to be a year that devotees of Hautlence and Moser, and watch aficionados everywhere will find hard to forget.