Over 70-years ago in Charquemont, France in the heart of the Jura mountains – the home of watchmaking since the 18th century – Michel Herbelin set up his own company with the stated intention of making watches of the highest quality.
This family tradition began in 1947, when Michel Herbelin – a passionate believer in traditional fine watchmaking – decided to make a stand against the new mass production techniques that were looming large and threatening to displace true artisan craftsmanship.
In 1972, Michel’s son, Jean-Claude Herbelin joined the company. He took over as head of the company upon his father’s retirement and steered the brand into a new direction, developing an image based on creativity and attention to detail. He was later joined by his brother, Pierre-Michel who helped steer the brand into becoming one of the only truly Independent watch manufacturers of note in existence.
The international brand – exported to over 50 countries worldwide – is moving to the next phase when Pierre-Michel retires next year. The third generation of the family will take over the business in the form of Pierre-Michel’s son, Maxime Herbelin (Marketing Director), who will run the company with his Cousin, Mathieu Herbelin (Creative Director). They will be joined by their childhood friend, Benjamin Theurillat (Export Director) and Cédric Gomez-Montiel (General Manager).
For the first time, we are delighted to exclusively share the views and insights, on working together in a family run business, of both Pierre-Michel and Maxime together.
MWM: What are the benefits and challenges of working in a long established family business?
MH: The main benefit is the pride of being involved in a story ignited by my grand-father and pursued by my father. I am not working for a random company. Everything I am doing is a tribute to our family legacy. It lives in my heart. On the other side, working with family members is not always easy given the fact we know each other so well and sometimes the border between personal and professional life is very thin!
P-MH: We are proud to follow the way initiated by the founder and we are free to do it, nobody except the market, can twist our wrist to do it.
MWM: How important is the location of your Atelier and the relationships with supplier and specialist?
MH: There are two main points, being located in France is very important because we are really proud of being certified ‘Made In France’.
P-MH: The second point is that we are located in the ‘nest’ of the ‘Haute Horlogerie’, even though we are on the French side of the border, we are extremely close to to the most exclusive suppliers.
MWM: Michel Herbelin is a major brand in France with significant success in the Ladies watch sector. What was the reason for this and where do you see the future of the brand?
MH: There are several things that explain this success. First of all, we are one of the pioneers in the ‘dedicated’ lady’s watch industry. When the quartz movement arrived in the 70’s we saw that as a new way of creating watches instead of a threat and cheap competition to traditional watchmaking. The size of the movement allowed us to shape creative watches in a different way from before.
P-MH: We were very fortunate to have very creative people in the family and in the company at that time. We’ve improved our leading position during the decades by always being creative and providing long lasting watches with high standards of quality.
MWM: Tell us something we don’t know about Michel Herbelin
MH: We are the only French watchmaker to have been in business continuously for more than 70-years.
P-MH: I agree wholeheartedly.
MWM: Apart from your watches, which watch(es) would you like to own?
MH: Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time Regatta & Zenith Chronomaster El Primero.
P-MH: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak & Cartier Caliber de Cartier.
MWM: What do you like the most about the watch industry?
MH: What attracts me the most is the ability of the industry to transform a useful accessory into an iconic one.
P-MH: I truly admire the technical prowess in having a small engine on your wrist which is working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
MWM: What don’t you like about the watch industry?
MH: Nothing that really springs to mind.
P-MH: Brands are becoming less independent and similar to many other businesses it seems that customers are losing their personalities by choosing watches reflecting an image of the product and the way the brand is perceived and not necessarily because the watch and the brand matches their personality.
MWM: Tell us your views on how the selling of watches is changing
MH: A lot of things have changed in the last decades. People are willing to have and seek out more and more information about the product they are proposing to buy. I see also that selling is now across a multitude of channels, there is no opposition between offline and online.
P-MH: People buy from wherever they want but they feel more confident once they compare and gather enough information.
You can find out more about Michel Herbelin watches by visiting www.michelherbelin.com