It was a great and pleasant surprise to us when the announcement came to finalise the take over of De Bethune by Pierre Jacques recently. Though we have been hearing rumours of the same for a while, the confirmation via the Press Release was a a good measure of joy. Joy because the incredibly innovative De Bethune is given a new lease of life to prove herself once again in the world of high and ultra high horology. But also, a good and old friend, Pierre Jacques has been instrumental in engineering the take over and will lead the company. We caught up with him just before Dubai Watch Week, and did this interview. A world’s first of the new CEO of De Bethune.
In the interest of time to transcribe, instead of our usual prose style “In Conversation” article. Even though the author is relatively familiar with Pierre Jacques, having known and followed his career for the best part of the last decade, we decide to use a question and answer format. We typically reserve for this format for interviewees whom we are not familiar with, but do so with Pierre, to ensure we get this discussion out to you as soon as we possibly can.
Brief Bio: Pierre Jacques
Pierre’s bio is rather interesting, and quite unlike most CEOs of watch brands. Pierre was the Publisher of the rather large format horology magazine GmT, where several of your author’s photographs have been published. He then went on to become the Managing Director of the Grand Prix d’Horogerie Geneva (GPHG) and later as Branch Manager of Les Ambassadors, a leading watch retailer, before becoming CEO of De Bethune in 2011. He stayed as CEO for 5 years before leaving to head MCT in 2016. Under his leadership, we saw great advances in both the product as well as communications of MCT. The crowing glory, in our view is the MCT Dodekal which was revealed in Basel 2017, and which we reviewed. Unfortunately the investors of MCT pulled out in mid 2017. By then, Pierre was already deep in the throes of engineering a comeback to De Bethune, as the founding investor, David Zaneta had expressed his wishes to divest his shares in the company earlier.
Heroically, Pierre garnered the support of private equity investor Giovanni Perin and bought out a majority stake in De Bethune. He was smart enough to keep the brilliant watchmaker, Denis Flageollet as the COO.
The questions and answer session: Pierre Jacques
Deployant: Tell us about how you managed to pull off your return to De Bethune. A historical account would be very interesting for our readers. Also, if you have encountered significant hurdles during the acquisition, and how you overcame them.
PJ: As I’ve always had this blue blood flowing through my veins since the day I left De Bethune, I knew that I was going to come back someday. This interest was kept burning, and rekindled somewhat in September 2016, when David Zenetta began to talk about divesting his investments in the company. I reached out to Denis Flageollet to discuss about the brand’s future.
As the interest was strong, I started to look at possible investors, and after a lot of discussions, in August 2017, things started to heat up and the events came fast and furious.
Needless to say, I have encountered many difficulties along the way. But prospects was so powerful that I stuck to my guns, and was able to overcome all these small obstacles to achieve my goal.
“Success is a journey not a destination. The doing is usually more important than the outcome.”
From one side, I had to convince the existing investors by showing them how this project that I truly care about was the most realistic one, while respecting at the same time the philosophy, the integrity and all the goals achieved since the Manufacture was founded. It was not an easy task at all.
From the other side, it took hell of an effort to persuade potential new investors and show them how promising this project was.
Deployant: Now that you have control of De Bethune, what are you keeping unchanged from the old company, and what changes you are going to make.
PJ: The most important thing from the company that will remain the same is the philosophy. Builder of 21st century horology and custodian of the grand tradition ; with its feet firmly planted in history and its head resolutely turned towards the future.
De Bethune’s tradition is to follow this famous motto « Less is more ». Because we are a small Manufacture on a human scale and we rather focus on the quality of our products more than the quantities.
Of course, there will be some few changes to do, such as reorganizing the collections in order to make it easier to understand, focusing on both DB25 and DB28 collections at one side while developing the unique pieces part, on the other side.
There will also be a re-position of the brand in the market place, so it could allow some lower prices of our products. (Editor’s note: PJ elaborates below)
Deployant: What are your immediate plans for De Bethune? Will you be focussing on product, on distribution, or another aspect?
PJ: The immediate plan is to complement the team already established.
The second thing would be to stay focus on the new products and get ready for SIHH 2018 in Geneva during which we will be back at the Four Seasons from January 15th to 19th.
And last but not least, to strengthen ties with our major distributors and with all the current collectors.
Deployant: De Bethune products have always been extremely innovative and beautiful, but the pricing has always reflected the top tier status. Will you keep the super premium level, or will you be offering entry level products?
PJ: As I mentioned above, one of the main immediate changes will be about the pricing. Aware that it’s really important to attract new De Bethune buyers, we will soon be offering an entry level below CHF 40’000 while keeping our products very innovative and beautiful.
Deployant: If you are able to share with us some new products, we would be extremely delighted.
PJ: We currently have new interesting on-going developments and I can even spoil you with two of them. In confidence with you, we will soon come with a sporty watch and a striking watch.
This concludes the Q&A session. We look forward to visiting De Bethune in Geneva, and will be reporting on the novelties live on our Instagram @Deployant as well as detailed hands-on reviews after the event.