Candid Watch Boss Interview #1
Davide Cerrato, Managing Director, Watch Unit, Montblanc
What were you doing before you became managing director of the watch business unit at Montblanc? I have been in watchmaking for more than 15 years. I started out at Panerai, then moved to Rolex to take care of the Tudor brand. I moved here, to Montblanc, almost two years ago.
What did your work with Tudor involve? Tudor has always been the… let’s say the second brand of Rolex. It had been sleeping for a long time. In 2007, they decided to revamp it and I joined the company to completely reshape the whole collection and to reawaken the brand. It was a very interesting experience. Quite complicated, as you can imagine.
What was the driving design philosophy behind the Tudor reinvention? The big thing was that we created the idea of a heritage product line by looking back to the archives. We did the very first one in 2010, which was the Chrono Heritage. That was a huge, huge success. Then in 2012, we launched the product that has become really the most iconic and successful watch for Tudor, for now, which is the Black Bay. That pushed many other brands to go back into their archives and do similar things.
I was intrigued to discover in your prewatch career you worked in marketing for Ferrero. Were you involved in the infamous Ferrero Rocher “ambassador’s reception” campaign? No. To be fair, that was created before I joined. Ferrero in Italy is what Procter & Gamble is in the US. They are really, I think, probably the strongest company in terms of marketing. There you have a fully integrated approach and this very strong bonding between the product itself, its performance and everything else. It was a fantastic school for me.
Is there such a thing as a typical day’s work for you? Sure. I live in Geneva but I work in Le Locle, which means it’s a one-hour-45minute drive away. So, a normal day for me is wake up at 6.00, prepare myself, leave my home and arrive at the office around 8.15. I get in, check my mail, order my first coffee, then jump into product development and the design department to follow up on the different projects. Then I have a walk, normally at the beginning of the afternoon, in the production premises. Very often I have a meeting with HR to check the general mood. I also have commitments in terms of finance and that kind of thing.
A one-hour-45-minute drive! Have you considered moving closer to work? It is quite a commute. The manufacturers of watchmaking — most of them — are here in this valley between Le Locle and La Chauxde-fonds or in the Saint-imier valley. As you know, watchmaking was born as a winter job for farmers who were looking after cows during the summer and blocked by the snow for months into the mountains. In terms of watchmaking competencies, it really stayed here and it’s far away from anything else.
You’ve been described in print as “one of the most sharply dressed men in the Swiss watch industry”. Is that accurate? Yes. It’s true that I very much like to dress well, as many Italians do.
Always the bow tie? Always the bow tie. That came about because of a mindset shift four or five years ago. It has become my signature. I like very much not to have the necktie, which has really become the standard accessory for all men. I must say, I don’t have many traditional suits, either. I like to wear colours and to look for different patterns.
So what inspired you to start wearing bow ties? I think I always looked at the bow tie with curiosity, though I probably never really questioned myself about wearing one. Then, once, I was in an English shop and I saw one and I started to speak with the sales guy. I wondered how you could tie it because it was looking very complicated; he knotted a bow tie on his leg to show me that it was not so difficult. I bought one, started wearing it and found it nice. Then I discovered that E Marinella — you know, the Italian silk tie producer that does everything by hand with incredible materials — was also doing bow ties. The first Marinella one I bought in London. It is really fantastic. The thickness of that bow tie is just perfect, the silk is beautiful and the way in which it stands once you have tied it is really nice. Then, as always, you get into the game and you start to get different patterns and colours.
What do you do to relax away from the world of watches? I’m a crazy fly fisherman. I have been fishing since I was six years old. I fly-fish for trout and grayling nearby, and I go away once a year to fish for salmon. I have been to Norway, Russia, Iceland and Scotland. I like a lot this feeling of adventure that you get when you are completely carried out of everything and you can really melt into nature.
Where would you like Montblanc watches to be positioned? What we are doing now is really a key step, which is creating a space for the brand and for the maison in sport professional watches. That’s a big market. Also, it’s very much in the focus of watch people now. If you look at auctions, the moment where the high-selling pieces were high complication or gold — or gold with stones — models has gone. Now everyone is refocusing on steel chronographs from the Thirties and the Forties, which shows you that this concept is becoming very relevant for today.
Montblanc is a German company. Do you find that people tend to think that it’s French? Yes. Or they think it’s European without knowing exactly from which country it is. The headquarters are in Hamburg.
Overall, how would you describe your affinity for watch design? Someone defined me at a certain moment as a watch archaeologist. There is something true in that. I dig in the past of the brand in order to really understand the DNA and the original vision of the founder, because that is often very crisp and crystal clear. Then I take that spirit and reshape it with contemporary elements in such a way that you keep this iconic power that the brand has. To me, it would be very difficult to work on a brand where you have no history and you have to create everything from scratch.