Simonetta Orsini – Time in Buenos Aires

March 2011

Buenos Aires, Argentina is a bustling city that attracts travellers and tourists from all over the world, including other countries in South America. While there for a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso event, Keith Strandberg visited with arguably the best retailer in Argentina, Martin De Leeuw of Simonetta Orsini (Posadas 1101, Buenos Aires, Argentina).

Simonetta Orsini – Time in Buenos Aires

Simonetta Orsini is located on a busy street in a beautifully designed building that mixes old and new. De Leeuw himself is the fifth generation of his family in jewellery retail and he decided to add watches. “My grandfather had a jewellery store on Place Vendôme in Paris and during the Second World War, he moved here and opened up this business,” De Leeuw details. “I wanted to be in watches. I created this watch store, Simonetta Orsini, and we now have five stores - four normal stores and the big one here in Buenos Aires.

“Watches, for men, are our toys, and watches were my toys when I was a kid,” he continues. “It was something that I used to play with – set, assemble, disassemble. 15 years ago, I started to add watch brands to our mix of jewellery. Today, we have 26 brands. We have focused on building up the business here in South America. In the past, people didn’t buy watches here, they went to America or Europe, but now everyone from South America comes to Argentina to buy watches.”
In addition to his five stores, De Leeuw has boutiques with IWC, Panerai and Jaeger-LeCoultre.

ES: How is Business?

MDL: These past few years, business has been great. Every year we are growing and South America in general is really growing. We made it through the crisis without losing much and we are coming out strongly. We don’t have credit problems here, we have our own investors. After the crisis, people got scared and they brought their money back to Argentina, so they have it here to spend. Cartier is number one for us, and Audemars Piguet, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin are also very good, they rotate in position. We do very well with Richard Mille, also. Some brands really suffered during the crisis - the crisis was like a filter, and we kept the best. The only brand that I don’t have that I really want is Patek Philippe. My favourite brand is Panerai. I have about 30 Panerais myself. Today, if I have to pick one watch as my favourite, I would have to say the Duometer from Jaeger-LeCoultre. I wear it very often, it works perfectly.

ES: What do you like about watches?

MDL: At the beginning, when I was a kid, I liked the movement and the mechanism. I didn’t care much about the aesthetics. Today, it’s a combination of movement, aesthetics and investment value. I don’t buy a watch that I don’t think will increase in value. Of the pieces I collect, most of them increase in value every couple of years. I look at watches as an investment, and I sell watches this way.

Simonetta Orsini – Time in Buenos Aires

ES: What is your biggest challenge?

MDL: Today, my biggest challenge is that we are trying to keep the level where we are. We are very close to the top of the top here. We want to be here for a long time and in order to do that, we have to present to our customers something new all the time. Last year, we introduced Greubel & Forsey and F.P. Journe. People are thirsty and want to see new things. It’s not easy to be here for the long term.

ES: Is it difficult working with the watch brands?

MDL: The brands are not the same. They are all Swiss, but they all work differently. Some like you, some think they are better than you, some brands make you feel like you are nothing. They know who we are and what we can do, but the treatment we get could sometimes be better.

ES: How do you do training?

MDL: The brands come here to train us, we send salesmen to Switzerland as well, and we have watchmakers here that can fix any watch we sell. We get spare parts and we are authorized to do service. For our salespeople, we send them to seminars all the time, I do my own sales training as well. We have 80 people in total.

ES: How does the future look?

MDL: I see a great future in watches. Today, luxury is more accessible. Everyone has the money to buy a good pair of shoes or a nice watch. A watch is accessible luxury. Every human being has something related to luxury: good food, a nice trip, a good watch. 25 years ago, it was different, people didn’t have the same access.

Simonetta Orsini – Time in Buenos Aires

ES: Who are your customers?

MDL: My customers are 90 per cent local, which also includes Brazilians. There are many collectors who come here because they don’t have good retailers in Brazil, but what they do have is a lot of money right now. We are lucky that people come to Argentina from all over South America to buy watches here. We have thought about opening up stores in other countries, but if the store isn’t managed on a daily basis by the owner in South America, you don’t sell. People come by and ask for me and if I am not there, they say they will come back.

ES: Is security a concern in Buenos Aires?

MDL: Security is a real issue here. I need my people and my customers to be safe. We have bodyguards in every store and cameras and security devices. We were robbed many years ago. We have been increasing security every year. Every store we have, the door is locked, but people are used to it. As soon as they come in, they feel safe.

ES: Will you be going to the shows and looking for new brands this year?

MDL: I go to SIHH and BaselWorld every year. We don’t have the time to look for new brands while we are there, because we carry so many brands. We don’t want to add any new brands. Although, there is always some brand that tempts us and that we want to buy. I hope that doesn’t happen this year!

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Source: Europa Star February - March 2011 Magazine Issue