tag heuer execImage: CNBC

Apple poaches TAG Heuer sales director, presumably to help launch mythical iWatch

Apple has poached a top executive from renowned Swiss watch manufacturer TAG Heuer, adding further support to rumors that an iWatch announcement is coming this year.

The news comes by way of CNBC, which interviewed Jean-Claude Biver, pictured in the image above. Biver is the head of watches for LVMH, which owns TAG Heuer, Hublot and Zenith, among other European luxury brands. He said an unnamed TAG Heurer sales director left for Apple as recently as last week.

“He took a contract with Apple to launch the iWatch,” Biver told CNBC. “If the job is great, you should be happy for him. And this is a great job. If he would have gone to my direct competitors, I would have felt a little bit betrayed. But if he goes to Apple, I think it’s a great experience for him.”

In a follow-up to the CNBC story, 9to5Mac reported Apple hired Patrick Pruniaux, TAG Heuer’s Vice President of Global Sales and Retail, last month, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

pruniaux

Whether this is an old LinkedIn or a current LinkedIn, this is the LinkedIn of Patrick Pruniaux.

Biver has spoken with CNBC about Apple’s watch aspirations before. In March at the Baselworld luxury watch show, Biver responded positively to reports that Apple has been trying poach LVMH employees in order to tack a “Swiss made” label on the presumptive iWatch. 

“I think it’s very clever if Apple is doing it,” he told CNBC. “And if they would do it, I would really say bravo... Apple is not only a technology company, it’s also a retailer, and it’s also somehow a luxury brand. And if Apple wants to maintain this luxury appeal, then I would recommend they make the watch in Switzerland.”

If we accept on face value that a TAG Heuer sales guru has left for Apple, then the next question becomes why. Obviously, strong sales and marketing experience is transferable across product categories. Apple may simply want expertise in appealing to even tonier customers, or is looking for insight into international markets.

monaco

This is the TAG Heuer Monaco 24. It costs about $12,700.

But let’s not ignore the mounting body of evidence that Apple is readying for an iWatch release. In June, Reuters reported that an Apple smartwatch would go into production this month in preparation of an October release, according to supply chain sources. And that Reuters story mostly corroborated an earlier report from the Nikkei Asian Review.

If anything, Apple’s engagement with TAG Heuer’s sales director is reminiscent of Google hiring fashion brand marketing veteran Ivy Ross as its new Head of Glass. Ross had already worked for Coach, Calvin Klein and Swatch before signing on with Google to craft a more consumer-friendly story around Google’s smartglass product.

It’s important to note that almost all Swiss luxury watches cost far more than what Apple could comfortably charge for an iWatch. Indeed, if you search for TAG Heuer watches on the Torneau website, the lowest price you’ll see is $1450. So we shouldn’t expect Apple to attempt to directly compete in this rarefied space. Any tenable iWatch—an accessory in the purest sense—will have to cost less than a new iPhone. 

And it would be downright cheeky for Apple to label a smartwatch “Swiss made.” Everyone knows Apple gear is conceived in Cupertino, and manufactured in China.

If anything, we should expect Apple’s new talent to share some general insights on how watches are marketed—and how a consumer electronics company can convince users that watches, these anachronistic wrist-worn time tellers, are still relevant in 2014.

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