It’s hard to believe that ten years have already gone by. Earlier this week in Neuchâtel, I had the pleasure of taking part in the Hautlence 10th Anniversary celebration and press conference.


The event kicked off at the “Case à Chocs” club in Neuchatel, an old brewery-turned-nightclub right off the shores of lake Neuchâtel. The theme and dress code for the night was “gentleman rebel”, a concept the brand has been conveying since Baselworld this year with their “Cross the Line” campaign.



The next day at the Centre Dürrenmatt gallery, Hautlence Co-Founder and CEO Guillaume Tetu took us through the ups and downs that have been Hautlence’s story thus far. Originally met by much enthusiasm among watch connoisseurs when the brand first entered the scene in 2004, Hautlence was pretty much an overnight success. Keep in mind that a decade ago, Hautlence was one of a very select few brands that dared to venture out of the conformities of traditional Swiss watchmaking and offer an alternative way of telling time. Like many independent watch brands at the time however, Hautlence were in for a rude awakening.


The economic crisis of 2009-2010 certainly left its mark on the global watch industry, though no one felt its wrath as much as the independent niche brands like Hautlence. On the brink of bankruptcy, Hautlence was acquired by ex-Audemars Piguet CEO George-Henri Meylan’s MELB Holding company in 2012. For the next two years, the brand would restructure and redefine its business. At that point change was a necessity rather than a commercial strategy.

When MELB Holding took over, they realised a few things had to change with Hautlence. First, the average price point was far too high. The solution was to not only bring down prices across the board, but also create simpler watches at a much more competitive price point. As George-Henri Meylan stated during the press conference, he wanted to take Hautlence from a niche watchmaker catering to collectors to a global watch brand.

They also felt that something was missing in Hautlence’s marketing and overall message. For a brand that has always been daring since the get-go, the communication was far too tame. Shortly after the acquisition, George-Henri Meylan and MELB Holding’s CEO Bill Muirhead sat down with Guillaume Tetu to brainstorm possible directions the brand should take from a marketing perspective. They loved the bad-boy image associated with Harley Davidson and the way the iconic bike manufacturer created a feeling of belonging and nonconformity its riders felt. Thus the Hautlence Gentlemen Rebels Club of owners was born.

With a bold concept in my mind, Hautlence needed an ambassador who could convey that rebellious spirit. And who better than the inimitable Eric Cantona?


Apart from being a living football legend, Eric Cantona is all about artistic expression. One of his biggest passions is modern art and particularly street art, which he compares to Hautlence as being “the bastard child of art”, reflecting Hautlence’s position as a young, alternative watchmaker.

Now, I’ll admit that I was quite skeptical about this partnership when I first heard the rumors at Baselworld 2014. I just didn’t see the added value of bringing on board an ex-football player. But then again Eric Cantona is far more than just a retired footballer. This isn’t a partnership just to have an ambassador to stick on full-page magazine ads. This is a collaboration in the truest sense, incorporating not only marketing but also product design.

The first fruit of this collaboration happens to be the first model in the brand’s new “INVICTUS” chronograph line, the “Morphos” limited edition. Eric Cantona took inspiration from the vibrant blue morphos butterfly, which he considers a symbol of change and transformation; something Hautlence can totally relate to in what has been a period of transition. I don’t want to get into too many details, but the INVICTUS Morphos comes with a butterfly pattern dial done in blue mother-of-pearl with a blue luminescent base, and features a Soprod movement with a Dubois Deprez chronograph module. Sticker price is CHF 22’500.




The event also kicked off the “CROSS THE LINE” world tour, where Hautlence watches are displayed alongside artworks from Eric Canton’s personal collection, including pieces from Bansky, Shepard Fairey and Jef Aerosol. The 10th anniversary “CROSS THE LINE”  world tour will be heading to the following confirmed destinations:

Neuchâtel: September 1-2 2014

Singapore: November 5-6 2014

Hong Kong: December 11-12 2014

Manchester – London: March 2015

Mexico: October 2015






So, is an edgier marketing approach what it will take to keep Hautlence afloat and secure its position as a leading “alternative horology” brand? Are more reasonably priced watches the way to go for more market share?

You can look forward to my short interview with MELB Holding chairman and industry veteran George-Henri Meylan in the coming days.

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