Men with Mettle
Meet the scion of the Swarovski Empire, Robert Buchbauer, who wears his legacy with élan. Taking Swarovski to another level with his embracing of the digital age, as well as taking on the competitive watch making industry, Robert has proved that he is indeed, a man with mettle. Read about his exciting and challenging journey and his plans for the highly popular Swarovski brand as he shares exclusive tidbits with Editor-In-Chief , Priyanka Sippy.
Q:How challenging is it to live up to the Swarovski legacy as the 4th generation?
A: I’d like to say that it is a privilege. I have been handed a business that is more than 120 years old with a possibility to develop it further into the future. It’s a huge responsibility to live up to. Pushing it forward and taking it to the next level is what we have done.
Q: In 2009 Swarovski entered the watchmaking universe. What prompted the move? Was it your initiative?
A: At that point, I had been involved in the business for 8 years and we had a few fashion watches that complemented our jewellery collections. And those watches, they sold pretty well. So we thought we would take the watch category seriously and make it a really substantial business. We devised a plan, hired the best man for the watch collection, Peter. We launched in 2009 and made an appearance at BaselWorld where we told a story. It was difficult time for the watch industry, but we did it nonetheless. No Guts No Glory and we never regretted it
Q: The first automatic watch from Swarovski was introduced in 2016, going on to win an award. How did that make you feel? A: Very nice. We won 3 awards in the last 9 years. It has to do with the approach. Why would you launch another watch brand when there are so many around already? We thought we had something to add to a watch design. Many people license out their brand, but we decided not to
Q: Tell us about the Crystal lake Collection that was unveiled at BaselWorld 2018
A: We have the crystal to add in a way that makes the watch a proprietary Swarovski design. We did not give a license. We wanted to create and manufacture our own product so we decided to make the crystal pieces according to the aesthetics and the design of the watches. The latest achievement in that direction is the Crystal Lake collection. A single crystal, with 60 facets, it took us almost 3 years to make it thin enough to fit into the small watch case. The elegant lines designed for the watch made it a challenge. If you strive for excellence, it is worth spending the time to achieve it.We own the patent on this. It comes in many variations. It’s the right size. Very iconic. Very Swarovski.
We have another example too. The 5th generation of a watch family, first launched in 2009. Octa Sport with a crystal bracelet. The 5th generation of it is a masterpiece. It took 5 generations of watches to perfect it. We celebrate the Octa Lux.
We are also very excited about the colour themes across the various product categories. We have a matching watch, mobile case, pen, rings, and bangles and more, all colour coordinated and matched. These are extremely popular.
Q: How has the response been to the various watch collections since you launched them?
A: Two models sold out completely- Stella and Cosmic Rock. We are reproducing the lots. This gave us quite a boost.
Q: How does Swarovski stand apart from the other brands and collections in the competitive watch market?
A: We have a big advantage. We have a way to make it our own, to look unique. It is not just a decorated watch. We make the crystal an integral part of the watch. We have a lot of sparkle, since that is what people expect, that is our DNA. From a technology point of view, there is always some innovation included in the design and the mix, along with the price points and the right distribution strategy, makes it a success. It is at present 10% of our business.
Q: what are the plans going forward for Swarovski, worldwide?
A: We have a strong strategy in place. We are focusing on the distribution, development, the balance between offline and ecommerce, the embracing of the digital media (there is no way around it), and different ways of communicating faster with the consumer, almost like in a live environment. We keep them happy wherever they are. What we see is the interlink between a physical store, a mobile site and a smart phone. People come; hold the phone in front of the sales staff, saying, “I want that!” We have to have it available. “I need a gift, my friend lives in another town”, so you have to make use of your ecommerce infrastructure to deliver it. We still have a lot to learn, to build up. We had two digital pop ups as a test during Christmas season in Toronto, Canada and another in Milan, in the Galleria. These are stores that do not have any physical products inside, they only have screens, and you can navigate your Swarovski only by means of screens and there are assistants inside to help you. What happened? A lot of people came into contact with our brand for the first time. The new technology and exciting possibilities got them interested. We guided them to the physical store round the corner, where they bought things for the first time. This was a great way to approach new customers.
Q: What are the top markets for Swarovski globally?
A: Size wise China is number 1, followed by the USA. The three big European markets are Italy, France and UK, followed by Germany and Spain. From the growth perspective we have Korea. Emerging markets are India and Latin America with high growth rates involved. South East Asia too
Q: What inspires you?
A: If I see the sparkle in a product reflected in the eye of a happy consumer, that is the most inspiring thing for me
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A: I am on duty 24 hours a day. I cannot take Swarovski away from my life. I enjoy travelling, I am a private pilot, and I enjoy flying. I undertake all my European travels in my own plane. I am interested in foreign cultures. My travel overlaps with the business. I travel a lot and therefore I get the chance to see and know new people, things, places and I realize how small the world has become.
Q: Does your plane have Swarovski elements?
A: We have some decoration for the catering!
Q: Your favorite motto?
A: Everything that is positive, I would say. I am an optimist by nature. I embrace the motto of my company; we want to bring sparkle into people’s lives!