When taking over the reins of a company with more than two centuries of history, one might be compelled to tread cautiously. That is, unless you’re Michele Sofisti, who assumed the role of CEO at luxury watch manufacture Girard-Perregaux in 2011.
Having held key roles at international conglomerates the Swatch Group and the Kering Group since 1995, his latest undertaking sees him at the helm of the Sowind Group, which incorporates Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard. In town recently on his first official visit following the announcement of the exclusive partnership between Girard-Perregaux and The Hour Glass in March, Sofisti was refreshingly candid about the sweeping changes implemented under his watch.
While emphasising that his primary intention is to stay true to the manufacture’s rich heritage of innovation, he adds: “There was a feeling that the company has a very rich history, but it was always looking back. Looking back at how good it was, how beautiful the museum pieces were, and so on. We needed to look forward and create pieces that are very contemporary and, also, very technologically advanced.”
No kidding. In recent years, the new creations by the 223-year-old La Chaux-de-Fonds manufacture have been nothing short of astonishing. Featuring a unique silicon escapement that delivers constant impulses to the balance wheel, its 2013 blockbuster, the Constant Escapement L.M., won top honours at last year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve.
This year, the brand continued to wow at Baselworld with two of the fair’s major talking pieces, the Tri-Axial Tourbillon and the Neo-Tourbillon with Three Bridges.
Of course, these innovations were already in development when Sofisti came on board – the silicon mechanism of the Constant Escapement L.M. alone took five years to develop. What is clear, however, is that he brought with him the sense of urgency that has returned the manufacture to the forefront of haute horlogerie in recent years.
As part of the brand’s major renovation, Sofisti has also streamlined its product offerings. Or rather, slashed. He and his team have reduced the number of watch models from an unwieldy 750 to a cohesive 120. Girard-Perregaux has also adopted new approaches to getting its message and products out to its audience: More than 50 per cent of its distribution has changed since last December. Its current marketing and communications efforts include The New Face of Tradition, a project that spotlights the manufacture’s young watchmakers, as well as a substantial presence on various social- media platforms.
With a smile, Sofisti says: “All this is helping to bring Girard-Perregaux out into the world. The brand awareness was always there, but was it the right type of awareness? Maybe not. Today, people are starting to know what the new Girard-Perregaux is.”