On his first morning as Deputy CEO of Austrian watchmaker Jacques Lemans, there was very little that Andreas Riedl didn’t know about the company. His father Alfred, who founded the brand in 1975 before Andreas was even born, was CEO, and had prepared his son with the same meticulous precision for which his elegant timepieces had become famous.
“When I was a very little boy I earned pocket money working at the warehouse, so it’s very true to say I grew up in our company,” he tells The CEO Magazine. Andreas joined the family firm at 18 after graduating from business school with a qualification in international management.
Over the following three years, he worked his way up, spending time in every department so he understood every last detail about what made the company tick. Then, in 2018, his father sent him on a six-month journey across 20 European countries to meet with as many of the company’s international partners as possible.
Starting in Sweden, he travelled through Germany and Austria to Slovenia and then Croatia. From there he ventured into Eastern Europe before heading south for Greece and over to Miami to meet the distributor for North America.
Jacques Lemans has gained a worldwide reputation for the bespoke, customised watches it has produced for an extraordinary range of high-profile clients including Mercedes-Benz, Pirelli, Porsche, BMW and Red Bull. Among the many football giants who have commissioned personalised watches are Chelsea FC, Bayern Munich, Besiktas Istanbul, AS Monaco and Rapid Vienna.
In every place, Andreas sat down with distributors and shop owners to quiz them about what they thought of the brand and how they could sell more. By the time he returned to the company headquarters in Sankt Veit an der Glan, he was bursting with ideas. Just as his father had hoped he would.
“Since that day, I’ve basically been running the company with him,” Andreas explains. “He has outstanding know-how and experience gained over 46 years, and I bring a young spirit and instinct for innovation, so we complement each other very well. Our target is to become more international and sell more watches globally, but we’re looking forward to seeing where the journey takes us.”
Jacques Lemans has more than 600 different watch designs that are sold in over 9,000 stores in 120 countries. It has substantial market share or actual leadership in Austria, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Vietnam, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia (at the price range between €100 and €400). It also boasts a jewellery range of 400 items.
Whichwatch.org declared it a giant among Austrian watch brands while Watch Partners gushed, “Jacques Lemans watches are simply outstanding due to premium manufacturing, absolute reliability, innovative technique and stylish elegance.”
Alfred has been highly successful in getting the brand sold on dozens of airlines, ferries and cruise ships. In the past eight years, it has launched into 14 more countries including Australia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Canada, Mexico and China. Among its brand ambassadors is Oscar-winning director and actor Kevin Costner and snowboard Olympic gold winner Anna Gasser.
When the Hollywood star was appointed to the role in 2013, Alfred declared, “Kevin is a popular individual as well as a very friendly person with a high level of credibility. His passion for sport, family and nature, and his sustainable lifestyle, make him the ideal ambassador for our brand.”
It’s very true to say I grew up in our company.
The exclusive Kevin Costner Watch Collection was presented to the public for the first time at the most important jewellery and watch exhibition in the US, the JCK Las Vegas. Previous brand ambassadors have included Clint Eastwood, Swedish tennis star Magnus Gustafsson and wakeboarding world champion Giorgia Gregorio.
The firm was also an official Formula One partner for 10 years, bringing out an exclusive F1 Collection, and is the official licensee of the UEFA Champions League from 2021–2024. “Our unique selling proposition is providing the best price performance ratio you can get for every target group,” Andreas says.
“It means you won’t be able to get the quality for the same price anywhere else, whether it’s an 18-year-old boy given a sports watch for graduating or an old man who needs a crystal-clear analogue watch with Arabic numbers.”
Another advantage is that everything is done in-house, from having the initial idea to designers drawing up sketches to a trial model being assembled. The watch movements, or engines, are supplied by respected Japanese specialists Miyota, Seiko and Epson, while straps are cut from highgrade Italian leather.
The company also manufactures its products and handles all the marketing and sales. “We have people who’ve been with the business for 15 or 20 years that really understand it so they can talk passionately to a potential retailer and explain what the brand really means.”
Andreas points out. In 2020, a Meth Media survey of 9,000 specialist watch dealers, jewellers, goldsmiths and master watchmakers found that Jacques Lemans was the most popular overall brand and best rated for watches under €250. It also took home the coveted award for best supplier.
That same year, as the pandemic closed stores and factories, Andreas took the opportunity to brainstorm ways the company could refresh the brand and give it a younger, more modern feel to attract a new audience. The result was the Eco Power Solar Collection.
“The key to success in watchmaking is to listen to the market and react quickly when you need to,” he reveals. “Constant innovation is important. We know our customers are increasingly concerned about the environment, so our ambition was to create the most sustainable watches in the world by using the sun to charge them instead of batteries. They are extremely advanced and can even be powered by artificial light.”
One of the models, the Solar Apple, uses biodegradable apple peel to replace the leather in its straps and dials. The range has proved extremely popular and has strengthened Andreas’s resolve to accelerate the digitalisation of the company to increase visibility on digital platforms and further enable online sales.
“I’ve certainly grown up in the past three years,” he says. “My friends and family keep telling me I grew up 20 years in that time! But it has been fun and rewarding, as there’s a great culture here. Our customers are aged from 18 to 70, and that’s also true of our staff. We don’t have one of those hierarchies where you are not allowed to speak to anyone who is senior. It’s a friendly environment and everyone is so passionate about being the best they can be, so there is a lot to look forward to.”