The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie is, of course, about the latest timepieces that the maisons, and now the independents, are ready to unveil to the world. However, it’s also a tremendous opportunity to talk to the industry’s movers and shakers, both formally and informally. Here are some of the thoughts I was able to gather from four interviews, with wide-ranging topics from digital products, disruptive creativity, historic influences, and long term strategy in the face of current challenges.
I’ve been fortunate to meet Juan Carlos Torres at SIHH a few times. A veteran, and an industry legend, he’s been with the historic maison since it was “only” 226 years old (to remind you, it’s celebrating its 262nd birthday this year. He’s been at the very top since 2005, a period during which he has not only been a guardian of the longest continuous legacy in watchmaking, but also setting the path the maison is to follow for years to come. I started off by asking him how he felt that 2017 is shaping up: “Not bad, it’s true that we’re glad to be in 2017. 2016 wasn’t an easy year, so in 2017 we’re happy to be in Geneva with a more optimistic outlook than the last. Also, while we did a big launch on the new Overseas collection last year, we’re now launching high complications, which is the spirit of the brand, and to prove our leadership in that segment.”
This strategy is particularly interesting because it seemed to be very much against the current trends, where brands are focusing on entry-level watches, and less complexity. Of course, as someone with such a lengthy career, Torres said, “I think that the big mistake is to follow economic events and to allow them to influence the strategy of the brand. The brand needs to have a long-term strategy.” How does a maison operate though with a long-term strategy, when the economic environment is so challenging? “We’re not in opportunism, we are in construction, and in development. We’ve limited our quantities to accentuate the rarity, we help our retailers, we invest in communication; all this is in support of a market, of an entire collection. I don’t think that an individual product, or a single element can help or save a brand, it’s the brand as a whole that has to follow a philosophy, a strategy so that it’s as an entity that it’s moved forward.” Certainly some very wise words from Torres, who as we know now, will be taking his retirement very soon, handing the reins to Louis Ferla on April 1st, but he will remain with the maison as nonexecutive President.
Juan-Carlos Torres, CEO Vacheron Constantin