There can’t be many watch companies predicting 500% growth over the next five years. The watch industry has reported yo-yo figures since the global economic crisis hit, and although there are predictions that 2011 will be a big year, it’s still possible that dark hours lie ahead.
So it’s odd to hear Michel Pitteloud, former president of Bulgari Time and now CEO of the emergent Graff Watches business, talking in such optimistic terms.
“Graff is very exclusive and not about quantities,” he says. “But five years from now we could sell anything from 3,000 to 5,000 watches a year.”
To put that in context, the brand has so far sold half the 1,200 watches produced since the launch in 2008, and expects to produce just 1,000 watches this year. And the only sales points are the company’s global network of 30 boutiques.
As a watchmaker, Graff falls into an awkward category – that of high-end jewellers trying to break into the high-end watch market. Watch aficionados aren’t usually all that comfortable with this, not least when presented with a collection of watches powered by beefed-up ETA movements (Pitteloud makes no attempt to cover up the provenance of his watches’ power units) that start from £15,000.
Pitteloud is unfazed by this. In fact, he’s sure the watches sold so far (including a diamond-encrusted piece at £1m) have been bought by aficionados who already own a Patek Philippe, a Jaeger-LeCoultre and an arm’s length of Rolexes. So if this is true, why are these purists buying Graff watches?
“Because Graff is a very prestigious brand,” he explains. “And the people who buy our watches like the look, which is different but not extreme, unlike MB&F or Urwerk. If you look at our website, or our magazine advertisements, we show the style of the watch, but very little about the technicalities.”
Graff has built a reputation and client base on the aesthetics of diamonds, so perhaps no less should be expected of its watches, which are distinguishable by their bezel, modelled on the facets of a brilliant diamond, and by two precious stones – a triangular emerald at 12 o’clock, and a diamond set into the crown.
Then again, last year, the company unveiled Calibre 1, its first in-house movement, and Calibre 2 was launched at Basel this year. Pitteloud reveals the goal is to equip all Graff watches with proprietary movements, a sign that he not only recognises the prestige this would bring, but that he also understands that today’s watch buyers are better educated than ever before when it comes to mechanical details such as movements and tourbillons and will come to demand pure pedigree when investing in exclusive luxury timepieces at such exclusive prices.
But still, his predictions of growth are bold, not least when you consider Graff’s clientele are mainly women, and the watch division is aimed largely at men. “Doing men’s watches is doubling our client base, and the watches are successful,” says Pitteloud by way of dismissing this, pointing out that men accompanying female companions on shopping expeditions are glad of the distraction.
“The more watches we put on people’s wrists, the more publicity we have,” he continues. “Imagine one guy goes to Porto Cervo in the summer wearing a ChronoGraff. He’s on his yacht with his friends; his friends ask what the watch is; they see it’s Graff, that’s it’s different and exclusive; and boom! Whoosh! That’s our most powerful tool.”
If the marketing doesn’t sound very innovative, it’s because it’s not. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be effective. Pitteloud knows the Graff brand and its customers, and admits his strategy relies on little more than the strength of that brand, the standout design of his watches and man’s hard-wired pursuit of objects that other people don’t have.
No doubt you would get short odds on him succeeding.