Girard-Perregaux’ Luigi Macaluso: “Brand Integrity”

February 2003

It's been hardly ten years. Ten years since Luigi Macaluso became owner of the historic Swiss brand Girard-Perregaux and took over its management. In this very short period of time, he has led his brand down a remarkable path, drawing on its rich heritage, transforming it with great care, and bringing it up to date while respecting the cardinal values of this traditional watchmaker. Europa Star meets Luigi Macaluso.

Europa Star: The year 2002 has been a difficult one. How has Girard-Perregaux come through it?

GinoMacaluso: Girard-Perregaux has had, contrary to all expectations, a good year. Its good health in a generally delicate economic context gives us confidence, although tempered with caution, as we head into 2003. The future is full of uncertainties but we are continuing along our path with an unchanged vision for our brand. We are reassured by an order book full of firm commitments that are very interesting for us. Our luck, perhaps, is to be a niche brand. We know our clientele well. Having said that, however, the uncertainty of war may have a determining influence on the course of things to come. [Editor's note: As we go to press, the situation in Iraq is still uncertain]

ES: Girard-Perregaux is not only a niche brand in the haute horlogerie sector, but it is also a 'manufacture' in the strict sense of the term. Is this a deciding advantage?

GM: For us, who are always looking for technical and stylistic innovation, the fact of being a 'manufacture' is a real intellectual advantage because it allows us to be the total master of our material. Our products therefore enjoy a greater personalization and a stronger personality. The 'manufacture' is a vital element, a part of our identity. I have believed in it from the very first day I set foot here. I would even say that it is the strongest of my objectives.

ES: What did you find the moment you acquired Girard-Perregaux in 1992? What did it consist of? What was its turnover at the time?

GM: Ten years ago, Girard-Perregaux had a turnover of CHF 17 million. Today we are at CHF 160 million with 16,000 pieces. This is a major improvement. In 1992, there still existed a production capacity in the historical domain, that is, the tourbillon, the famous tourbillon with three bridges. In addition, Girard-Perregaux produced quartz – I remind you that in the past, it was at GP that the standard of 32,000 Hertz was fixed – as well as other projects involving the mechanical watch. I told myself that it was in this domain, the mechanical timepiece, that we should devote our efforts to fully develop its dormant potential. I then worked at GP in parallel with Ferrari, taken over at the same time by my friend Luca di Montezemolo. Everything had to be redone in order to make GP a real 'manufacture'.

ES: In your opinion, what qualities are necessary to become what you call a 'real' 'manufacture'?

GM: You must have a lot of patience to build a true 'manufacture'. It does not happen overnight. From an economic standpoint, it is a long-term investment. You need to find the right people. It is absolutely necessary to have a coherent approach. Everything must be done with a respect for what I call 'brand integrity'. Building a true 'manufacture' means passing through difficult times, which can be frustrating sometimes when you have to wait and watch your competitors conduct superb operations of pure marketing with no real basis in fact. But, once we reached our goal, we have an advantage that is hard to catch.

ES: Did the fact of always having wanted to preserve your independence represent an additional difficulty in the long road to constructing a 'manufacture'?

GM: Maintaining my independence was a capital decision. The only person, moreover, in the Swiss watch industry who encouraged me and told me that I would prevail was Hayek. I was bombarded with offers to sell the brand. During the first half of 2000, a crazy wind swept through the Swiss watch industry. People who knew absolutely nothing about watchmaking came to me with incredible offers. I became, however, even more determined to succeed. Now that my two sons have joined me in the enterprise, it has become unshakable. Watchmaking is a magnificent profession. I work a lot and I lead a simple life. Why should I sell Girard-Perregaux?

ES: What are the essential qualities necessary to reach your goal?

GM: I am not a theoretician of verticalization but of the trades, the crafts of watchmaking. It is necessary to well understand the watch crafts in all their complexity and in their totality, without believing that is necessary to do everything yourself at any price. It is also necessary to have a real vision, to work ten years, to be consistent. In fact, the only way to obtain positive results involves gaining competence, and competence does not come automatically. It is acquired over time by mastering the various crafts, by gaining knowledge. If you are constantly making concessions, then you will not succeed. Excellence requires total engagement. It is a work ethic.

ES: In recent times, we have been witnessing a generalized move up in range. What do you say to this 'folly' that has taken over the Swiss watch industry?

GM: One can always move up in range but for this activity to be something besides a short-term endeavour or a fleeting rise, the brand must have the necessary credibility to sustain it. What is important is to have the 'sell out'. It is trivial to say it, but it is something that is so often forgotten. If you have credibility, if you master the technology, if your concept is clear, if you respect the integrity of your brand, then all doors can open for you. The watch is a product that remains very emotional but this does not mean that this emotion can be manipulated as you wish. Today, the final consumer is very well informed. He knows what he wants. He is attentive to the real quality of the product and not simply to its virtual aspects. We must respect the final client.

ES: You have said that you know your clientele well. What is the typical Girard-Perregaux client like?

GM: It is a client with a certain level of culture, who buys the watch for him or herself. Essentially masculine, he is a connoisseur of fine timekeeping. Yet, I might add that we have increased our feminine models from 5% to 25% of our total. I would also say that the Girard-Perregaux client is an individual, that he or she is not 'mainstream'…

ES: What is the role of your second brand, Daniel JeanRichard?

GM: Daniel JeanRichard is a laboratory. I am not in a hurry. I would like to slowly introduce new ideas with this vehicle. Daniel JeanRichard is a separate physical entity, even though quite near to us, which has its own independence. It passes by other networks and is represented by other agents. A mutual influence exists between the two brands but the goals of each are different, intellectually as well as practically.

ES: What are your goals for 2003?

GM: Our goals are to preserve, at all cost, the identity of the brand, to not spread ourselves too thin, to remain concentrated… these are the key elements. Concretely, we are going to present important advancements in haute horlogerie, an area that we intend to develop even more strongly. We are also going to continue to elaborate the concept of the Ferrari line, based on the 'Rossellini' model. We will also present an historic piece, drawn from the 1970s with an integrated bracelet, that we are updating. This is not just a whim, because it is the 'Laureato' model that forms an integral part of our roots. And, then there are other things, such as a large Vintage piece, the new Classiques, a new Richeville tonneau… We have a full program.

ES: You are also going to inaugurate your new 'manufacture'…

GM: Yes. With a surface of over 3,000 square metres, only two steps from our main building in La Chaux-de-Fonds, we have taken over an old factory and entirely renovated it, bringing it up to meet the most advanced current standards. Here, we will group all the departments, from Research & Development to the final assembly of the pieces, passing by the fabrication of our movements, cases and bracelets. Near this facility, Daniel JeanRichard is installed in an old and superb location. We respect both the proximity and the independence of this brand. This all represents an enormous investment. More than ever we are counting on the long term.

ES: I know that you are very reserved when it comes to this subject, but is it really you who designs all the Girard-Perregaux watches?

GM: Yes, that is correct. You know, I am an architect by training and I adore design. It is my 'secret part', my 'secret garden', so to speak… I try to transfer my ideas to a watch, and this activity allows me to ensure the stylistic continuity and consistency of the brand. I draw inspiration from outside of the watch world. The automobile, for example, which is my passion, is a great source of inspiration. I also get ideas from the many exchanges and discussions with people from everywhere, the world of architecture, of fashion… Someone such as Giorgio Armani, for example, represents for me the quintessence of the famous 'brand integrity' that I believe in. In a general manner, we have a lot to learn from people in the fashion industry who have a reaction time that is exceptional, a sensitivity that I admire, great attention to detail… I admit that I believe I am a happy man, both in my personal life as well as when it comes to the balance sheet… (laughter) I have a wonderful relationship with my sons who have joined me in the business, and since the beginning, I have worked with the same good people.