Becoming a CEO of a global luxury brand at a young age may seem like a daunting concept to most, but for Frédéric Arnault it was a dream he had been working towards since he was a young boy.
Frédéric is the fourth child of Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the group under which TAG Heuer falls. A watch enthusiast at heart, Frédéric has always been fascinated with the world of watchmaking and his age has not held him back when it comes to driving the Swiss brand into the future.
The CEO of TAG Heuer seems to have effortlessly made his mark since joining TAG Heuer in 2017. He was a key player in the development of the brand’s first connected watch, and since becoming CEO in 2020, he has been driving the repositioning of TAG Heuer under his new vision and moving it into the future. This journey has so far seen the introduction of new products, partners, brand ambassadors and most recently, the reimagination of retail spaces and there’s much more to come.
On a recent visit to the UAE as TAG Heuer opens its latest retail concept in Dubai, we caught up with Frédéric Arnault to discuss the newest developments at the company, as well as how he is bringing the brand into the future through innovation and creativity.
Tell us about where TAG Heuer is as a brand today and what is your vision for the future of the company?
That is a very vast question! We started the exercise of repositioning the brand three years ago and building on our strength, starting with the products. We looked at redefining our pillars and our collections, revamping them to make the offering much stronger. Firstly, we completely revamped our Carrera collection beginning with the Chronograph and introducing a new elegant, sporty design. We worked on the design of the watch but also on the universe, repositioning this collection closer to the motorsport world and its history and connection to Porsche. Carrera is an icon and the story of the link to Porsche was never told.
Then secondly, we have TAG Heuer Aquaracer. This journey started last year with the introduction of a new reference, and we are complementing it this year with a new addition to the line in the form of the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200. Aquaracer is a very deep collection and it’s time to talk about it. So, we have identified two territories: the first is the diving watch, but Aquaracer is more than just a diving watch, it’s also a professional sports watch so that’s why we have these new editions.
What we also wanted to do is to reinvigorate and make the brand stronger in its expression, so we have redefined the brand purpose and its values. Now we are redefining our retail concept which I think is very important in the whole brand expression as it allows our customers to experience our universe. We began with the website where we invested a lot into the brand image and the storytelling, and now we are investing in the retail stores which is very important. It’s a long journey and we are just at the beginning as we have many more stories to tell in the future.
We know you work closely with partners and brand ambassadors – what are the pre-requisites of the ambassadors you choose and how do they serve you in today’s world?
It’s still very important for us to work with ambassadors and friends of the brand who will help us to express the brand in the right way. Firstly, they need to fit with the brand’s values and we are much stricter about this today than we were in the past. It’s not just about choosing someone famous; it’s about selecting people who can represent very well what we stand for and then we need to build a personal relationship and connection with them. We take time to do this and to make them true ambassadors, not just when they must be but through every aspect of their lives and I think this is very important for it to be authentic. Nowadays consumers can see through things that aren’t authentic, so it’s very important for our customers to feel this personal connection.
What is a challenge that you face today?
There are a lot of challenges of course! The first was to define and explain the vision internally and embark everyone on it, and as there were many changes and shifts in the way we wanted the business to be: investing more, increasing the average price point, but gradually, all of this has huge implications. And to get everyone on board takes time. We needed to see what was successful and what was unsuccessful, and I think we’ve now reached a point where the vision is understood by the market, by our people, our retailers, and our customers. Now that we have this foundation it’s a case of building on it and continuing to go further. The biggest challenge that we have currently is time. Because in the watch industry, things take time. I think in the past sometimes we didn’t take enough time to get things right so moving forward we need to take things slowly, which can be a little frustrating!
One topic we are actively working on is how to reposition ourselves in the high watchmaking segment. We have in our portfolio, for example, the TAG Heuer Mikrograph, which is a complication we invented 100 years ago and we’ve had many innovations in the past and while it plays a small role in the brand, we would like to come back stronger in the future in this segment.
TAG Heuer has some of the most iconic watches in its portfolio – what in your opinion makes an iconic design today and how do you as a brand ensure you preserve these icons but also continue to appeal to today’s customers?
Thanks to the extraordinary heritage of our Manufacture created in 1860, we are very lucky to have in our collections some of the most iconic watches in the world such as the Monaco, the TAG Heuer Carrera and the TAG Heuer Aquaracer. It is also a heritage that we perpetuate by continuing to create outstanding watches which ally great performance, quality, and timeless design. We preserve our icons, but we also continuously innovate to appeal to our clients. TAG Heuer is also a brand that has a state of mind of the perfect mix of heritage and avant-garde. Today, I think that the customers expect brands to be authentic and to stand for something. It is the combination of the two dimensions, the emotion of the brand and the product appeal, that makes our customers buy our products and love our brand.
What kind of client you are now touching base with as you reintroduce the brand?
Overall, we are targeting a younger and richer clientele with an age range of between 25 and 35 and a certain level of income. We are focusing worldwide but The United States is a very strong region for us, and we’re also targeting Chinese customers. And here in the Middle East, we believe there is great potential. In Dubai of course, but also in Saudi Arabia. We are investing a lot there; we have just opened some new boutiques and we will be opening more. We see developments and many changes; we know the population is very young and there is a will to spend and experience. I also know that sports play a major role in the 20-30 age group as well as the vision of the Crown Prince, so we believe there is a huge opportunity for us there.
How important is it to you to honour the history of the brand and its founders today?
Our heritage is key. We have a department dedicated to our history and a museum located in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, where our Manufacture is located. Also, innovation is part of our heritage, thanks to Jack Heuer, who was a real visionary and a pioneer, TAG Heuer is at the origin of some of the most important innovations in the watch industry. Today, through our constant desire to innovate, we perpetuate the heritage of Jack Heuer and we continue to bring to life the avant-garde spirit that is an essential part of the brand’s DNA.
What can we expect to see from the brand moving forward this year?
We had an amazing edition of LVMH Watch Week in January, but we kept our strongest novelties that will talk to the watchmaking community for the upcoming edition of Watches & Wonders. There are new additions to the TAG Heuer Aquaracer collection, but we are talking about movements, quality, reliability, innovation. There are very strong stories around these products. Firstly, we have the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Diving watch. It is a Super Diver of 1,000 metres and we also included a new movement. It has up to a five-year warranty and is of the best quality you can find. The second product is on the outdoor line, and we believe strongly that Quartz watches still play a role that we can be proud of. We can also innovate with Quartz watches and so we are introducing TAG Heuer Aquaracer with new technology that will last for 15 years due to solar energy.
Which watch are you wearing on your wrist today?
Today I am wearing my TAG Heuer Carrera x Porsche Limited Edition; the stunning co-creation that launched with our partner Porsche. But I often change during the day and use my TAG Heuer Connected Calibre E4 if I go to work out for example.
If you had to summarise, what can the customers expect from TAG Heuer?
They can expect innovation and creativity in our watchmaking.