Antonio Calce, new shareholder in Corum

February 2012

Antonio Calce, CEO of Corum, hired by Séverin Wunderman shortly before his death, is a person who “believes in what he does”. This was amply demonstrated last autumn when he became a shareholder in the enterprise where he works. “I put all my money into this,” says the man who was “born in Neuchâtel, grew up in Neuchâtel, and passionately loves the watch industry”.
Corum belongs to the Séverin Wunderman Foundation, of SPAG (Séverin Participation AG). But Antonio Calce is now also a small minority shareholder—the only one aside from the Foundation itself. (In passing, we might add that the Foundation does not get involved directly in Corum’s operations.) Quite likely, this is a way to prepare the brand for the future since the Foundation, whose president is the direct “boss” of Antonio Calce, ostensibly has no desire to hang on to Corum for the long term. (The Foundation is mainly involved in humanitarian efforts, primarily medical research and aid to underprivileged children.)
While Antonio Calce may be making preparations for the future, his personal investment in Corum is a way to affirm, loud and clear, his faith in the recovery and repositioning of the brand, a task he has been working on intensively for several years. Europa Star pays a visit to this busy but profound man.

Antonio Calce, new shareholder in Corum Antonio Calce, CEO of Corum

Europa Star: Does the fact that you are now both a CEO and a shareholder change anything in how the company is managed?

Antonio Calce: Managing a brand with an entrepreneurial spirit and being ready to take risks drives me forward. It is much better and more intense than simply being a “manager”. This is also a question of confidence. I am demonstrating that I am not just here in passing, but that I am fully committed to the future of the company, that I am working for the long term.

ES: How then do you see the future for watchmaking, in general, and for Corum, in particular?

AC: Oh, things in the watch industry move very quickly. The short term does not worry me, but it is in the medium term where the most is at stake. We must reach a critical mass, not only in terms of turnover but also in terms of maturity, each within its own niche: maturity in terms of the appropriate industrial capacity, and maturity in terms of distribution. These are the real issues. We must learn new skills that we would not have considered necessary awhile back. Only one year ago, no one talked about the problem of the regulating organ. Today, we need to address this. Without this mastery over production, without this critical mass, the independents like us will be faced with serious difficulties in a few years. And to succeed in this endeavour requires large investments, both direct and indirect in the form of alliances. It is thus necessary, starting now, to not miss out on the essential opportunities that appear before us. Corum has every intention of being a key player in the watch industry.

ES: In listening to you, we get the impression that watchmaking is at a turning point...

AC: Yes, certainly. Yet, the probable shortage of component parts and the difficulties in obtaining supplies by the independent brands also have a positive side to them. This forces us to build a brand for the long term and to deepen our authenticity. Building up industrial capacity is, however, a long, arduous and expensive venture, whose results are inextricably linked to the question of volume. But, in addition to overcoming the supply question, there is the essential notion of the legitimacy of the content. Everything has to do with content, with the product. The DNA of a brand must be felt throughout all of its models. We therefore must avoid, like the plague, projects that are opportunistic and that only target the short-term. We must instead concentrate on the creation of values specific to the brand, by integrating yet more content into the product. From this point of view, Corum is an extraordinary brand, with a wealth of really exceptional and creative history behind it. In the middle of the 1980s, it reached a high level of maturity and considerable strength in its niche market. As you know, Corum is, and has always been, a niche brand.


ES: Are you saying indirectly that this creative strength has been somewhat diluted after this era?

AC: I don’t want to rewrite history. My answer to this is concrete and is clearly reflected in our offer. It is based essentially on two major historic pillars: the Bridge and the Admiral’s Cup. From the unique Golden Bridge model, dating back to 1980, we have developed a whole family of timepieces that are enjoying considerable success. We are even more delighted about this success since it is at the core of the brand’s essence. It is a product that is totally exclusive and very creative, a product that transmits our values. The Bridge now exists in a variety of forms—an automatic watch, a tourbillon, a Ti-Bridge, high jewellery versions, and in ultra-contemporary models for both men and women. It is well on the way to becoming our icon, in other words, a watch that is immediately recognisable with a strong identity and yet is adaptable to meet all sorts of requirements. And it is uses five different in-house movements.
We can say the same about the other pillar of the brand, the Admiral’s Cup. It is now available in three different versions—an extreme watch or what we might call a prestigious professional tool, a very classy sports timepiece, and a timeless, elegant, and pure example of the art of watchmaking. But whatever its form and its functions, it remains above all an identifiable member of the Admiral’s Cup family. To this end, it no longer even needs to display its flames of colour—its design says it all. This family now addresses a larger audience, and paradoxically, today’s entry-level price—around CHF 3,900 for a sports classic—has allowed us to increase awareness of the model. Because awareness is about volume as well as just high quality and exclusivity.

ES: Is there a basic in-house calibre in the pipeline?

AC: That is coming. All that I can say is that this is a principal goal.


ES: The other great challenge to independents, you have said, is distribution?

AC: Yes, and I can say it quite brutally. If you account for only five to eight per cent of a retailer’s sales today, you are dead. There is a critical threshold that a brand must reach. The big question, of course, is how to reach it. Having weight with a retailer implies setting up a whole chain of services and having a major presence, including in the market in question. This requires a lot of work and very well defined medium-term goals. The battle on the distribution front is tough, even savage in places. But at the same time, many windows of opportunity are opening up all over the place. This is obviously true in the emerging markets, but elsewhere as well. The large groups, when opening their own stores, are leaving other retailers, so space is then freed up. Today, I am completely confident because we are perfectly prepared for what awaits us. The space available to us at retailers depends not only on having a good mix of products but also on the ability to supply products and services on a continuous basis, with no interruptions. We are ready for this, too.

ES: You seem to be happy in your new suit as shareholder…

AC: When you become “boss” (in a rather small measure), independent, and entrepreneur, you are at the heart of the torment on all levels. The spectrum broadens, the approach becomes more panoramic, and you look further ahead. It is fascinating. And, you are also playing with your own money, and your own teams. Since my arrival, I have always opted for transparency, even during the crisis period. I am also quite aware of our social responsibility. It’s something I believe in. For me, the word “ethics” has real meaning. I admit to you that it is even a question of personal balance. I am very proud that my entire team is following this path with me. It is the best compliment of all.

Source: Europa Star February - March 2012 Magazine Issue