Four years with Piaget, eight years with Panerai, nine at the head of Corum...
Trained engineer Antonio Calce’s career path has given him an insight into all the aspects of a brand, from its industrial setup to product development, not forgetting design, marketing and distribution.
On the strength of this impressive CV, in January 2015 he was appointed CEO of Sowind, which comprises Girard-Perregaux and its manufacture, and the Jeanrichard brand. We met on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel.
Europa Star: The Kering group, whose watchmaking and jewellery division is run by Albert Bensoussan and which, as well as Sowind, controls Ulysse Nardin, Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo and Queelin (Gucci being separate) has given you responsibility for Sowind. Coming after Corum, this is quite a challenge, isn’t it?
Antonio Calce: Yes, I’m quite aware of that.
A brand like Girard-Perregaux is something quite exceptional. There is 200 years of history, unparalleled expertise and remarkable quality. I must admit, when I first visited I was very impressed with the standard of what I saw. It is a truly remarkable tool.
When I arrived, the first thing I did was go and shake the hand of every single one of the 250 or so people working in La Chaux-de-Fonds, and I explained to them what Kering was, and what the group’s values were.
Sowind is lucky, I told them, because the group has great respect for its people. As the boss of a brand, I arrive with my roadmap already laid out for me, but I also have quite a lot of decision-making latitude. It’s an astute strategy from the group’s point of view, because it allows me to have a genuinely entrepreneurial attitude.
And what is on this roadmap?
AC: The aim is to put this magnificent brand back in centre stage and give it a new lease of life, by bringing greater coherence while remaining true to the values that served it so well in past decades. The great advantage is that we are rebuilding on very solid foundations, and the framework for the coming ‘reconstruction’ is already clear to see.
And what is this framework?
AC: In order to reaffirm our identity, we need to go back to our history. Girard-Perregaux has a considerable historic heritage, a strong identity and a watchmaking tradition of unique richness and depth, and it can also lay claim to one of the first rational manufactures built in Switzerland.
This historical aspect needs to be thoroughly explored. That’s the solid foundation I was talking about. In addition to this historical and patrimonial framework there is another aspect, which is to put the product back at the centre of our marketing strategy.
As far as GP’s products are concerned, one sometimes has the impression that the brand has brought out its models haphazardly, at the risk of diluting its image somewhat...
AC: Absolutely. I believe it is vital that we improve the structure of our product range by developing and clarifying it, but without breaking from what has been done in the past. And also, we want to cover a broader range of price brackets than we have previously. We are therefore planning to build upon five discrete pillars.
The first is the 1966 Collection, an emblematic range dedicated to chronometry, refinement and classicism. As you may recall, it was in 1966 that GP brought out the first high-frequency movement, vibrating at 36,000 vph, the Gyromatic HF. We will offer a larger palette of products in this collection, in four sizes, and for the first time we will introduce a steel watch with manufacture movement.
The second pillar is the Vintage 1945 collection. This form watch with rectangular case, inspired by Art Deco design, is destined to become a showcase for the house’s creativity. Here we will see some exclusive features, the use of métiers d’art on specific themes, and partnerships with some prestigious historic names. After the success of the Le Corbusier line, we want to go further in this direction, collaborating directly with the Le Corbusier Foundation.
The third pillar is the sublime Cat’s Eye, already a very successful collection. We want to expand it to encompass different sizes and different materials, in order to flesh out the range.
The fourth pillar is the emblematic Trois Ponts d’Or. Up to now we have only made extremely high-end tourbillons featuring three gold bridges. We hope to build on this signature feature by producing classic versions of these three bridges as well as highly contemporary versions, adding other functions in addition to the tourbillon, perhaps a dual time zone, or a large balance, for example, in order to create a proper family.
For the fifth pillar we will be launching a new chronograph, which is an eminently legitimate course for the manufacture: sporty, but chic and elegant at the same time. Here too we will be adding steel. Finally, cutting across all these five pillars, we will be working on our Haute Horlogerie pieces, which will bring an extra dimension to each collection.
AC: Some synergies will be put in place in terms of distribution, such as setting up joint subsidiaries in the USA and Japan. But we will be returning our focus to a probably limited number of exclusive points of sale. We will define a specific business strategy for each market, offering a bespoke mix of around 70 references (out of 150) which will vary according to the expectations of these different markets. The aim is to give the brand greater depth and density, by steering distribution in a more targeted, more evidence-based manner.
What about JeanRichard?
AC: JeanRichard must become more complementary within Sowind than it currently is. It got a little ahead of itself, and we now need to refocus this promising brand, repositioning it slightly below its current level, with more affordable products (without manufacture movements, unlike GP which is equipped with 100% manufacture movements), a more limited number of models and a more clearly-defined scope. We are just starting out on a very gradual process of redefining the brand’s focus.
Source: Europa Star March 2015 Magazine Issue