Frédérique Constant: a new chapter

Text Olivier Müller
Date of publication 26.09.2018

Having started out, rather improbably, in the Netherlands, Frédérique Constant has now become a leading Swiss Made watchmaking brand; the group has just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. And on the eve of his departure, founding CEO Peter Stas is now taking on connected watches. 

It all began in 1988 with the founding of a tiny family firm, Frédérique Constant. In watchmaking terms, that’s virtually yesterday. But today, the firm is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary – and a truly exceptional journey.

Flying the Japanese flag
The family business chose Paris as the venue for an event which some saw as a swan song: Peter Stas, the brand’s founding CEO, will be leaving subsequent anniversary celebrations to others, having sold his group two years ago to the Japanese company Citizen.

None of his children wanted to take over the business. “We’ve always encouraged our kids to go their own way – and they’ve done just that!” he says with a smile. “To secure the group’s future and growth, and facilitate technology transfers, the best solution was to join a larger group.” Peter Stas will remain at the helm during a handover period through to 2020, and then take his leave.

When failure seemed inevitable
Stas is not one to boast, but the fact is that his group is one of the greatest watchmaking success stories in recent years – and has defied all the odds in the process. He began in 1988 – a year in which the overwhelming domination of quartz all but sounded the death knell of mechanical watchmaking. The brand, Frédérique Constant, was pure invention – a whimsical combination of the names of a couple of his forebears. It was funded by fully-independent equity. And to cap it all, its founding couple, Peter and Aletta Stas, are Dutch, and had absolutely no experience in watchmaking – and indeed no connections to the craft at all.

An outstanding success
Thirty years on, the results are breath-taking: three brands (Frédérique Constant, Alpina, and Atelier de Monaco); 150,000 Frédérique Constant watches planned for 2018 (10,000 for Alpina); 3,000 retail outlets in 120 countries; and a total workforce of 200 (including subsidiaries). By way of comparison, 150,000 watches a year is roughly equivalent to the output of Breitling, two and a half times that of Hublot, and seven times more than Zenith! The brand has no intention of stopping there, either: a new facility is being built at Plan-les-Ouates, taking production capacity to 300,000 watches a year.

A Top 5 worth $600 billion
Peter Stas probably won’t be around to see this new milestone; by then he’ll have handed over to his right-hand man, Niels Eggerding, another Dutchman. Stas won’t be idling his time away on the golf course, though. The tireless entrepreneur didn’t quite sell his entire group to Citizen: he’s held on to MMT, a young startup with a dozen employees that develops connected calibers for smartwatches.

Indeed, after thirty years of mechanical calibers, Stas is off to conquer the connected watch. He hasn’t had to look far to find his first clients, either: Frédérique Constant and Alpina! If MMT is to grow any further, though, it will need many more. Its connected competitors include titans such as Apple, Garmin, Fossil, Swatch Group, and Samsung – a Top 5 with combined total sales of over $600 billion. Stas isn’t easily put off, though – so let’s see what another thirty years might bring.