Chaos meets tradition
Montblanc's young collection is growing in stature
When Wolf Heinrichsdorff took control of Montblanc 14 years ago, the company was a far cry from the high-profile international brand it is today.
Mr Heinrichsdorff recalls how the headhunter persuaded him to become the company's managing director.
'He said to me: 'Montblanc is a diamond, but it is uncut. What they need is someone to shake it up',' he said. When the brand's management asked him what he would bring to the post, his answer was simple: chaos.
'I meant that in a positive sense,' Mr Heinrichsdorff said. 'Chaos is what the world was made of at the beginning. Chaos is movement, chaos is friction. Chaos is something that can make sleeping people wake up.'
He has certainly woken the company up - modernising its marketing strategies and diversifying its product line into a wide range of accessories and leather goods. Montblanc launched its first watch seven years ago, and the collection has blossomed ever since.
Mr Heinrichsdorff said the emphasis for the watches was on the highest quality, in line with the brand's other products.
'Haute horlogerie means the upper part of watchmaking, and we are proud to be part of that,' he said.
A sense of brand loyalty was one of the strongest attractors customers felt.
'Everybody who wears a Montblanc is doing that because it fits his lifestyle,' he said. People also felt comforted by Montblanc's strong sense of tradition. In this throwaway culture, people no longer expected products to last, and when things broke they simply bought a new one.
'That is creating a super-trend for products that don't change and are reliable,' he said. 'Our customers want products that can be passed down from father to son.'
This dictates the conservative, old-school design philosophy adopted by the brand, and which can be seen throughout the watches and pens.
The brand's biggest release this year, and not just in size, is the Timewalker GMT. At the first meeting with the designer, the management requested he create a watch with an exceptionally large dial.
''You mean you want a Chinese wok?' he replied,' said Mr Heinrichsdorff. 'It's very interesting, because this will become a classic for Montblanc.'
The large watch features a second time zone, represented by a long hour-hand that makes one revolution every 24 hours.
Another large watch the brand is releasing this year is the Summit Chrono, a weighty chronograph with a typically Montblanc classic look.
'This is a watch for the elegant gentleman,' he said. 'It goes very well with executive dress to give it a slightly trendy touch.'
Montblanc may be perceived as a masculine brand, but a good proportion of its products are bought and worn by women.
To try to build up this side of its business the brand is extending its collection of ladies' watches this year. The brand's glamour quotient is increased considerably with the Lady Profile Elegance jewellery watches.
Although the brand remains first and foremost a maker of writing instruments and accessories, watches account for close to 20 per cent of its turnover in terms of value, and that figure is growing.
'There are two mechanisms for that growth,' Mr Heinrichsdorff said. 'We are selling more and more watches, but also we are selling more and more expensive watches.'
Montblanc has recently renovated and expanded its manufacture, Villa Le Locle, in Hamburg, Germany. Mr Heinrichsdorff said the new facility was a 'mixture of an old traditional building and a very modern manufacturing process'.
The villa's original structure dates back to 1906, but Montblanc excavated part of the grounds to add an ultra-modern factory underneath it.
'We have a maximum production of 200,000 watches per year,' he said. 'That gives us room for the next three to five years' growth without needing to extend.'