AT THE BEGINNING. French designer Emmanuel Dietrich breaks into the scene With his own affordable luxury watch line after an illustrious career in both high-end furniture and watch design
The present couldn’t be more challenging for a watch designer trying to break into the scene and introduce his own designs. What with the impending threat of smarwatches and the cutthroat competition in the mid- to high-end categories, it is pretty much survival of the fittest for most. Not to be excluded among them is Dietrich.
The eponymous label founded in January 2014 by Besançon-born designer Emmanuel Dietrich offers affordable luxury watches along with a selection of men’s accessories. The unique selling point of the brand is none other than unique designs, such as the Organic Time or the OT watch series. The atypical hexagonal case with unusual sapphire-glass cover—which is custom-made for the brand—is very distinctive and is now making waves in several major capitals around the world. The credit for this captivating visual appeal goes to Emannuel Dietrich himself, whose resume counts in many watch and furniture projects for high-end companies, from Ligne Roset to Hermès. Slowly yet ever so sure, he is constantly adding more blocks to his design empire with a monostore soon to be opened in Asia. All looks pretty swell for a luxury house that’s still just right at the beginning.
DA MAN Caliber: Hi Emmanuel, could you tell us about Dietrich’s 2015 novelties?
Emmanuel Dietrich: We have the OT-4 watch as our novelty. We will have launched two additional colors, the OT-5 and the OT-6, by end of this year. At the same time, we’re now preparing some limited editions for certain countries. For example, early this year we had a limited edition for the Colette store in Paris. They wanted special-edition watches in conjunction with their 18th anniversary. It’s an OT-2 watch but in vivid blue. The dots on the sapphire-glass are blue as well, quite a contrast from the normal red OT-2. So yes, it’s super cool for us. And in the UK, we have some partners demanding for a special edition as well. It’s an OT-2 watch but with white shades.
DA MAN Caliber: Any particular reason why you or they chose the OT-2 watch?
Emmanuel Dietrich: For Colette, it was my choice. I thought it was a great color combination: black and blue. Our UK partner asked us to play around with white, and we did it. It does look good, I must say. We are also launching the first batch of men’s accessories, such as bracelets and cufflinks, under the Dietrich brand as well. My long-term goal is to build a well-established luxury house in the future. We start with watches and small accessories and perhaps leather goods. In countries like Indonesia, our goal is to open a mono-store that sells the whole range of Dietrich products. But this idea would definitely take some time to prepare.
DA MAN Caliber: So, how’s Dietrich doing in Asia so far?
Emmanuel Dietrich: Dietrich is doing very well. I mean, overall, it’s been a very good year for us. We just started last year, in which we did around a thousand watches because the movement supplier couldn’t deliver more than the number we asked for. This year we’re producing much, much more. So, I’m super-stoked. Asia in general is a very strong market for us.
DA MAN Caliber: But the mid-range market in Asia can be quite hard to penetrate. How was your approach different from your competitors?
Emmanuel Dietrich: Many other brands are simply selling design products, while we are focusing on entry-level horological products. The network of distributions we have in a number of countries shows that our products often sit as the most affordable option in high-end multibrand stores. This is quite the reverse of other brands, which might be the most expensive item in a rather inexpensive store. This kind of positioning is exactly what we wanted. By the time we are ready with a more sophisticated product that goes for around CHF 3,000 to CHF 4,000, the market would then be more receptive to what we’re doing.
“I worked for a lot of big brands as a designer, but there came a time when
I didn’t believe in my job anymore”
DA MAN Caliber: What type of products would those be?
Emmanuel Dietrich: We’re going to launch a dive watch next year. It’ll fetch a higher price point, somewhere between CHF 3,000 and CHF 5,000. We haven’t decided yet, depending on the production quantity and distribution.
DA MAN Caliber: On another note, are you still designing for other brands?
Emmanuel Dietrich: Yes. I am currently working with Hermès for a lot of projects. Naturally, I design less and less for watch clients, given that I own a watch brand now. But, I still do watch and jewelry designs for CK Watches, and handle many furniture-related projects.
DA MAN Caliber: Will you direct the Dietrich brand to collaborate with other brands?
Emmanuel Dietrich: No, not for now, because I want to build Dietrich to be a strong brand first. We are too young to attract the attention of well-established companies. If IWC is making straps with Santoni, that makes sense because both are on par in terms of their respective fields of expertise. So, I prefer to wait and enhance the brand first before venturing on any sort of collaboration.
DA MAN Caliber: So far Dietrich has been focusing on the Organic Time series, which is very contemporary in design. How did you start the project?
Emmanuel Dietrich: Well, I started this project five years ago. At the beginning, I created more classical watches, but then I couldn’t find a spot in the market—the competition was packed. So I had to go back to the drawing board, and sort of reinvent my signature for the project. January last year I came up with the first prototype which I had complete confidence in, and the brand has been progressing since then.
DA MAN Caliber: What’s the big picture for Dietrich? What will it be in, say, the next ten years?
Emmanuel Dietrich: Ideally, I want Dietrich to be the avant-garde version of Hermès—in other words, the Hermès for our generation. I mean, I love Hermès, but I want to build more “exciting” products with a strong passion for materials and a very modern touch suitable for people in my generation and for my son. That’s why I’d love to have leather goods, accessories and more.
DA MAN Caliber: When will those Dietrich products be ready for the market?
Emmanuel Dietrich: We’ll begin with cufflinks this year, and the whole range of products should be available in three to five years. At the same time, we will have our mono-store ready. It should be a place with a very cool atmosphere and a mix of products, including coffees and wines. It’s not going to be all about watches, I’ll make sure of that, because that would be a bit boring. I now have some ideas for the interior. I love picking materials that could give you a surprising tactile experience. One idea is to have the same material for the wall and the floor. That way, it’ll make a very strong impression for the guests. Another idea is to use a completely different material from one shop to another, something that would reflect the local culture. So, people would talk about the surprise on finding a Dietrich boutique looking absolutely nothing like the rest. It would be a pleasure to discover such a store.
“It’s [smartwatch] going to introduce the idea of buying expensive watches for everyone, including children”
DA MAN Caliber: That sounds like a very exciting idea. So, where will the first store be?
Emmanuel Dietrich: China. We have a partner there, and he wants to put up a store there fast. Asia is where we’d like to focus at the moment. We want to push the products to a wider network of distribution, as we love the customers. There is such a fresh welcome and well-rooted culture, to boot.
DA MAN Caliber: With so much planning going on, what’s the challenge that you have to face in developing the Dietrich brand?
Emmanuel Dietrich: The biggest challenge was to be unique. It was basically what I had to deal with during the first years of this project. This is quite ironic: I worked for a lot of big brands as a designer, but there came a time when I didn’t believe in my job anymore. I had the feeling that no matter what designs you do, as long as you put a big budget for the marketing department, those designs will work. Meanwhile, I didn’t have that budget, so I had to make sure the design shines through. And the OT watch did work and opened up many doors. I was ecstatically happy; it was such a great reward.
The challenge is not yet over, though. We have to keep on building this unique design. The next big challenge is, of course, finance, since I’m financing everything myself. You have to control the growth of the brand extremely carefully. There’s also the production aspect to consider. It’s fascinating that I’m learning new things every single day. I love challenges.
DA MAN Caliber: Last but not least, what are your thoughts on smartwatches? How big would the impact be in your view?
Emmanuel Dietrich: Competition is good, that’s for sure. I think the impact can be positive actually. It’s going to introduce the idea of buying expensive watches for everyone, including children. The teenagers would by then foray into buying more expensive timepieces, which will be our market in this case. Their selection will also be out of the box, thanks to the smartwatch influence. People won’t really stick to one old brand, but they are open to new brands and new designs. So, I think it’s going to help our brand.
This article first appeared in DA MAN Caliber. Get your copy here.