An Interview With Stefan Johansson

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An Interview With Stefan Johansson

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Published on 11-10-2010 03:38 PM

Number of Views: 459

An Interview With Stefan Johansson

By: John B. Holbrook, II


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In the world of auto racing, Stefan Johansson needs no introductions. For almost three decades Stefan Johansson has been one of the top drivers in the world. He has been successful in Formula One, IndyCar and Le Mans style sports car racing, winning both the 12 hours of Sebring twice (Porsche, Ferrari) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (Porsche).

Stefan Johansson is also extremely passionate about luxury mechanical wrist watches. So much so in fact that he's started his own brand. In this exclusive interview with WATCH TALK FORUMS, Stefan Johansson talks about this new adventure in his illustrious career, and his love of watches.

1. We know who Stefan Johansson the competitive automotive race driver is, but help us to understand who Stefan Johansson the watch enthusiast is. What got you interested in luxury mechanical watches and why did you decide to create your own brand?

Like most men, I always had interest in watches, and collected quite a few in the past. What got me interested in actually design and create my own brand started at the end of my Formula One career when I was approached by a Swiss brand to endorse their products. At the time, their product line was not very exciting and in fact quite ugly. As I have always had a strong interest in art and design I suggested we do a collaboration and create a new design that would be a joint effort. After a while I realized it wouldn’t work with manufacturer as they wanted to go very low end and high volume and I was more interested in the Luxury end with mechanical movements etc. But in the process I learned enough about how the business works and decided to go out on my own and create my own brand, wholly designed and produced by me rather than just slap my name on a product for a fee.

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2. Give us an overview of the current Stefan Johansson product line, as well as your plans for future models.

Until now, every model I have made have been done in very limited edition series, and as such I am currently on model number Mark VIII which signifies the 8th design since I got started. This is currently the only model available, but we do the same design family in about 12 different versions of case finish, dials, hand and strap combinations, so there are quite a lot of choices both for male and female versions. We also do some with Diamond bezels. Each watch is custom made for the client with the glass back engraved with their name, Limited Edition number or any other message if they so wish. We have become specialists on making very small editions for clients that want their company logo’s on the dial for example, or any type of design we can dream up, we have even made special edition one off pieces for some clients with Diamonds and special one off dials. Next year we will launch a completely new case design that I personally think will be very special, I have put a lot of work into this design, it’s been over two years in the making and the first prototype should be ready in a couple of months. In addition we are also looking at a Tonneau version of the same design family. These two designs will become the Mark IX and Mark X models. We are also creating new versions of the Mark VIII, both in Titanium and a full carbon fiber case which I am very excited about, it will look and feel spectacular.

3. What was the inspiration behind the creation and design or your time pieces? How and where are they currently being manufactured?

I am trying to keep the inspiration from my life as a racing driver and incorporate some subtle and some not so subtle design details to design of the dials. For example, if you look at the Mark VIIIC , the hour register has a 24 hour countdown feature whereby the hour scale is turned backwards so when you start the chronograph it starts at 24 hours and works it way backwards to Zero. The 24 hour countdown is to commemorate the Le Mans 24 hour race which I won in 1997 . On another model the Mark VIIIE we use the 10 official flag signal from the FIA as part of the hour markers, again obviously to bring the connection to Formula One racing but hopefully not going too much over the top. Personally I can’t stand some of the watches that have recently come on the market where they try so hard to make every part of the watch look like something of a race car. In my opinion, a watch is a watch and a car is a car, and the design should reflect what is practical and useful but at the same time have an aesthetic and balance that also honors the tradition of watch-making.

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4. Tell us about the movements in your watches and any special finishing, decoration, or customization work which is done which makes your watch movements unique. Any plans for an in-house movement?

At the moment we use the Valjoux 7750 and 7751 in all our models, and the simple reason is that is such a good and strong movement. We do special decorations on the Rotors (Black PVD and CNC turned logo of my leaf design which I have always had on my racing helmet since I started racing) we also use the Pearlized version of the movement for most of our models. We are planning to custom make and decorate the bridges also for future models. I am in the process of filing a patent on a completely new movement idea that will be very exciting when it’s ready. It’ s a very simple idea bit one of those “why didn’t anyone think of that” kind of things. I have shown it to a couple of different constructors in Switzerland and they loved the idea. In addition we are also planning a mono-pusher chronograph in the next couple of years. The long term plan is definitely to have our own in house movements, and to become a Manufacture in the true sense of the word.

5. I imagine many race fans will purchase Stefan Johansson watches as followers of the sport and your illustrious career. How does the Stefan Johansson brand plan to connect with those who might know little to nothing about auto racing?

Hopefully the product will speak for itself, I would not want to rely on selling anything on a name only. Until now, everything I sell is through word of mouth or simply by someone seeing the watch being worn by me or someone else and then asking what it is, more than 50% of my sales happen that way, which makes me very proud because it tells me the design is appealing to people and not just to me… Taking this a step further, I am now in the process of discussing with various retailers about carrying the brand. It’s quite a slow process as most retailers are trying to cut down on the brands they carry rather than adding new ones. In the meantime I am focusing on doing more PR and events and focus on our core areas which is the custom made very limited editions for very special people, I like the personal interaction with my clients, where we collaborate and come up with ideas for something they will feel really special about.

6. How do consumers find and purchase Stefan Johansson watches? Is the brand available through any “brick and mortar” retail outlets, or does the brand sell direct to the consumer?

The previous answer covered part of this question, but in addition we are reworking our website in order to give our potential customers and fans a much better experience which will also feature a “build your own” module where you can essentially custom build the watch you would like using the various options of cases, hands, dials, straps etc and if you like what you made we can then custom build it for you in about two weeks. So our website will very much become our storefront and as we sell primarily directly to the customer we will also offer the option of sending the watch to our customers for review, if they like it we keep the credit card charge, if not, we will only charge for the shipping and refund the charge for the watch.

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7. What is your view of the current state of the luxury time piece industry, and where does the Stefan Johansson brand fit?

This is a very interesting question, and something I am very passionate about… What is Luxury today? Is it standing in line with 200 other people outside a Louis Vuitton store to be able to buy one of their bags, or a watch? Or having to wait for 9 months to get a watch serviced that you just paid $80,000 for less than three months ago? I think we have to rethink the whole concept of what luxury means today and somehow get back to basics, I don’t think people are prepared to be treated with the kind of arrogance that some brands display today, especially in the watch industry I must say, it’s mind boggling to me that you can sell a product in the $100.000s and then have a customer wait for almost a year to get the piece serviced because something broke on it, I don’t think there is another business in the world that could get away with that. So to answer the second part of your question, I stand by my brand 100%, it is me after all who is the brand, the three key words for my company are: Integrity – Passion – Focus. As such, I am offering a Lifetime Warranty on every piece we produce, provided you service the watch every two years (for a nominal fee) and there is no visible abuse to the watch.

I am passionate about every piece I sell and we do everything we can to make sure our customer get what they want, as an example we have often ordered a special one off strap because our client wanted it to match something on the dial or just a favorite color they might have. Luxury to me means that you are getting something special, maybe something no one else has, the personal interaction and the feeling that you are something special and very important to the brand. It means always giving the customer more than they expect, in that regard we offer each watch with a winder box as a standard item when we sell the piece.

8. Has the brand been well received by the racing community? Can a Stefan Johansson watch be seen on the wrist of any current drivers? Other sports figures or celebrities?

There are a number of very high profile clients wearing our time pieces, without mentioning any names as they are not endorsing the product but simply buying them just as anyone else would, but let’s just say they range for Absolute A List Hollywood to some of the most famous racing drivers in history and just about everything in between, we have a very eclectic mix of people that have become clients but also great friends along the way…In that respect I guess we are totally different from most brands.

9. What can the online luxury watch discussion community do to help support the Stefan Johansson brand and raise awareness for the brand?

A good way to start would be to check out our website, we also have a competition on there where you can win one of our watches if you manage to guess the top 3 drivers in the correct order for each F1 Grand Prix race.

I would love to get a dialogue started with any of the members of the watch community, after all, we are all here with a common interest which is our passion for watches. I want to develop my brand into the best one out there, and I am happy with all the input, criticism and advice I can get also, so please hit me up with any comments you might have and I will be online to answer them the best I can!

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**Copyright 2010 WATCH TALK FORUMS. No part of this report can be reproduced outside of WATCH TALK FORUMS without the expressed permission of John B. Holbrook, II. Photos used herein are with permission from Stefan Johansson

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