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Fabian has over 20 years experience marketing luxury watches. He started his career as a product manager in Germany for Cartier before moving to Richemont when the company purchased luxury watchmaker IWC in 2001. At Richemont, Fabian was the Marketing Director for IWC where he was responsible for the international marketing strategy over 7 years. He then spent 2 years running Burberry Watches at the Fossil Group and is now a luxury market consultant. Read moreView Profile Page
That’s a very good question because IWC at the time when we started was so much smaller than both Rolex and Cartier. Just to give you an idea, we’d say if Rolex at the time was building a million watches a year, which is probably about the quantity that it was, we would be building about 50,000. There’s a huge difference in size.
Cartier also being a huge company, but completely different positioning. Rolex was always a relatively masculine brand, but never neglected the women. Always a brand making a lot of gold watches, watches with diamonds with a big appeal to ladies, as well. IWC had almost no female models. Instead of saying, okay, we’re going to make female watches, as well. We said, we’re going to drop it entirely. We’re going to focus on men’s watches. Which doesn’t mean that women wouldn’t buy them. On the contrary, because the fashion for women wearing men’s watches just came up 20 years ago and has never gone away since. We still marketed it all towards men. Cartier on the other hand is a jewelry-oriented brands. Cartier was at that time at least not too much focused-on watchmaking, but focused on jewels, on design, on precious materials.
On diamonds, on other precious materials, which was never important for IWC. For IWC, it was the movement, the technology, and the design. For Cartier, it was the material, the preciousness, the design, the link to the jewelry. A completely different positioning and very feminine. If IWC had 80 percent masculine clients, Cartier would have had 80 percent female clients. Completely different. Rolex is somewhere in between. More or less 50/50.
Also, Rolex being focused essentially on one watch model in different iterations. The Oyster. It’s always that divers’ watch. If it’s a Daytona or a submarine or whatever, it’s always the same basic shape. IWC was very different. It had families. The Portuguese watch is completely different to the pilots watch. It’s completely different to the engineer or the aqua timer or the Davinci even. Each of these families had a distinct identity with a slightly different customer base. That was our strength, that we had five strong, almost equally strong product lines, whereas, the design of both Cartier and Rolex tended to focus on two iconic shapes, the tank in Cartier and very different iterations. Française the classic tank, the tank American, whatever, but always that square tank shape. Of course, it was Pasha and others, but the bulk of the business was always the square tank shape. For Rolex, always the Oyster model. That’s the key difference.
Cartier basically never used a lot of storytelling. They kept very close to their purity. I was once product manager for Cartier watches, do I remember very well. The messaging for Cartier watches was always the product. The advertising of a Cartier watch was always the logo, the watch and that’s it. Based purely on design, materials, and look. There was never anything about the technology. Or storytelling about it. It’s really Cartier is a super brand, everyone knows it. It’s the most famous jeweler in the world. That was very focused and enough to promote this brand. That’s the reason why it’s so big. Rolex is slightly different. They’ve always had their cultural messages and their sporting messages. They two lines of communication, but those have never changed over the years either. Rolex is about Wimbledon, about iconic sporting events, about golfing events, and about opera and classical music. That’s it. They never branched out into any other messaging. Of course, those messages are always the same and they tend to get a little bit boring. At IWC, we reinvented every product line. We added new partnerships, new stories, so there was more to say about the brand. That helped us enormously.
It makes completely sense because the Cartier heritage is absolutely superior design. The tank shape is iconic. It’s what has transcended hundreds of years and it’s here to stay. It just makes sense to focus on that. I think there’s no need to tell stories around that because this central message is so strong. Rolex would probably be just as successful if they did not have these messages. Rolex, of course, needs some sort of communication, as well, but I think personally, would Rolex only focus on their iconic designs, the brand would be just as successful. Don’t forget, Rolex isn’t owned by anyone, it’s a foundation. They support a lot of sporting events and a lot of cultural events because they have these enormous resources that they can use for it because there are no shareholders that take money out of this company. They give back to the society in their way in terms of supporting technological and cultural events, which is great.