If 2020 had gone as planned, The Peak would have headed to Geneva in April to attend Watches & Wonders, the major watch fair formerly known the Salon Internationale de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH. Then Covid-19 struck, big gatherings became a no-no and international travel came to a standstill. As a result, Watches & Wonders decided to take the show online.
On April 25, watchesandwonders.com went live, with 30 participating brands offering visitors a look at their 2020 novelties through product images with descriptions and videos that included snazzy product clips and addresses by brand CEOs. The exhibitors comprised Richemont group brands such as Cartier and Vacheron Constantin, other long-time SIHH participants such as Hermes and Parmigiani, as well as independent brands like H. Moser and HYT.
In the following pages, we reveal our top picks from the digital fair, and share industry leaders’ thoughts on their latest offerings, leading their teams through the current crisis and what a post-pandemic future might look like.
Wilhelm Schmid, CEO A. Lange & Sohne
If you want a glimpse into the home of A. Lange & Sohne head Wilhelm Schmid, check out the brand’s novelty presentation video, where he gives a welcome address. Required to stay home because of confinement measures, the CEO roped in his son to film the segment on an iPhone. Speaking to The Peak via Zoom, Schmid says with a laugh, “We were in our dining room. The alternative would have been not having a message from me, which I thought would be strange.” He later notes: “There is no environment that fuels creativity more than working with major constraints.”
Last year, the Odysseus sports watch caused a stir as the first serially produced steel watch by A. Lange & Sohne, which usually works with precious metals. You released a follow- up in white gold this year with new strap options, including rubber. Why not release another steel Odysseus? Before we first launched the Odysseus in steel last October, we had long debates about whether we should launch three watches or just one. Eventually, we decided to launch the steel one alone. Otherwise, the other models would have gone under the radar. We said the Odysseus would be a family, but we never said it would be a family dedicated to steel. There will be more to come.
A. Lange & Sohne has about 760 employees. How has Covid-19 impacted the way your team works? We are a family company. To keep people close while also keeping our distance is something we need to practise because we’ve never done it before. We have been working on the novelties, back orders and custom orders, and using measures we have implemented to protect our people and ensure they are in good health. This comes with challenges, but new technologies are supporting us a lot.
How are you harnessing technology these days? We are doing quite a few customer meetings via Zoom. What we would have done at Watches & Wonders in A. Lange & Sohne’s very personal style, we now do in Zoom. This would have been unthinkable a few months ago as it’s not our style. It would also not have been appreciated by our clients, but right now, they appreciate it. I think this medium is here to stay and complement personal interaction.
(Related: In a minute: The A. Lange & Sohne Odysseus)
Christoph Grainger-Herr, CEO IWC
Swiss horology brands might make the world’s best watches, but few would say the same of their efforts on the digital front. An exception to the rule is IWC, which has quickly emerged as one of the standout brands in this regard, offering augmented reality- enabled views of its novelties and virtual walk-throughs of its W&W booth and boutiques. In an e-mail interview, CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr proudly shares: “From the early adoption of social media and e-commerce to the virtual motorbike ride with Bradley Cooper or the live broadcast of the Silver Spitfire’s take-off from the Goodwood Aerodrome in Sussex, England, last year, IWC has always been a technology-savvy brand.” The time for IWC, it seems, is now.
How has the current crisis changed the way you work?
It’s incredible how swiftly we were able to adapt to this new situation. I think what a lot of people will take away is that videoconferencing does work. In general, our virtual collaboration via telephone, e-mail and video is very efficient. What motivates us is the pride we take in our work and in the beautiful, timeless products we build.
With the establishment of its new manufacture in 2018, IWC has been increasing its capacity to make its own movements. Where do you stand now in terms of in-house movements?
The history of IWC was founded on high-quality pocket watch movements. As a top brand, of course, we want to demonstrate our expertise in in-house movements. We have strategically pushed the development of new movements in recent years. This year, we are launching an all-manufacture Portugieser collection with, among other feature, in-house movements from our 89000, 69000, 52000 and 82000 calibre families.
During the global lockdowns, IWC launched an experience- focused campaign, Time Well Shared, where ambassadors shared their stories online. How do you think consumers will change after this pandemic?
The current situation is an opportunity to reflect on our behaviour as consumers. There is a possibility that more people will rethink their consumption habits and look to spend on more sustainable products with longer life cycles. In this context, IWC is in a unique position because we offer a high-quality product that is made responsibly in Switzerland and engineered to last for generations. Our actions also have a significant emotional component, which may be another thing that people look for when we overcome this challenge.
Jean-Marc Pontroue, CEO Panerai
Speaking to The Peak over Zoom from his office in Geneva, Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroue replies with characteristic verve when asked about the lifestyle-focused approach the brand – best known for its historical military associations – has adopted since he came on board. “We have always been a pioneer. This is what we are doing now with new materials, new experiences, and new service standards such as the 70-year warranty we are offering with the Luminor references this year.”
How is a 70-year warranty on some of the new Luminor watches this year possible?
It’s possible because we trust in the quality of our movements. Just a year ago, we had a two-year guarantee, which we extended to eight years. The reliability of our movements allows us to offer a 70-year warranty without worrying that a massive number of people will come to our stores every day because they have problems with our watches. There are no hidden conditions – these are the same as those for the eight-year warranty and the two-year warranty.
Last year, Panerai gave its clients the chance to go for extreme experiences with South African-born Swiss explorer Mike Horn and French free diver Guillaume Nery. How will the current travel bans affect such offerings?
We have two experiences planned – one with Mike Horn in the North Pole and another with the Luna Rossa sailing team in Auckland during America’s Cup next year. We have had to delay all the others because of the travel bans. I went for the experiences with the Italian navy in La Spezia and Guillaume Nery in Tahiti. The most memorable part was seeing the smiles on the participants’ faces. Some have already booked, with no limit, their places for all of the other experiences to come.
How are you meeting the challenges of Covid-19?
With 19 subsidiaries and 150 boutiques worldwide, we have had to organise ourselves according to the situations and the health and safety of our people in different countries. We have been in survival mode for many weeks, but some countries are now slowly reopening. International travellers are important but Panerai has always been very strong with local customers. In countries like Singapore, Japan and the US, we sell mainly to locals. This is a major asset for the brand.
Chabi Nouri, CEO Piaget
Chabi Nouri became the first female CEO within the Richemont group when she took the reins at Piaget in April 2017, and for the Swiss national, gender is just part of the equation. Via an e-mail interview, she declares: “I believe in diversity as it strengthens an organisation and fosters creativity and innovation. Diversity in terms of gender, culture and one’s background – these are strong assets.” During these trying times, Nouri shares how she is continuing to broaden how she and her team can stay connected to Piaget’s clients.
With several new Gala jewellery watches this year and whimsical campaigns such as Sunny Side of Life in recent years, is Piaget looking to shift its focus to feminine offerings?
Our focus is on precious watches for men and women. The preciousness lies in the crafts and unique know-how of the maison. From ultra-thin watches and audacious complications to gem-set and jewellery watches, all are designed for women as much as they are for men. We have two strong heritage pillars, watchmaking and jewellery.
The 2mm-thin Altiplano Ultimate Concept has been released as a made-to-order timepiece. Are customisation and special orders an area of the business that Piaget is looking to further grow?
Personalisation has always been important for Piaget and we receive many requests from our clients. Back in the 1960s, we had what we called the Piaget Style Selector, offering clients a choice of dials with different ornamental stones, precious gems or hand-engraved motifs. Today, we continue to do so through Infinitely Personal Concept, our online app that lets you design your Altiplano Ultimate Concept. You can choose the colour of the bridges, screws and hands, and even engrave your initials or lucky number on a dedicated part on the dial.
What is your game plan for leading the brand and your team during this crisis?
We are staying very connected with our clients, our press and our partners by using online platforms to share novelties and stories about the maison. We are continuing to develop our e-commerce platforms. From Net-a-Porter to Wechat or Tmall in China, we aim to always be more present to our clients. We have more than a thousand passionate people working around the world and we have put in place the necessary measures at our boutiques and manufactures. Our top priority is to protect our teams in these difficult times.