n September 14, Pierre Salanitro announced that Patek Philippe had taken a minority stake in Salanitro SA; a means of safeguarding the future of the company he set up in 1990.
This is proving to be an exciting year for the master jeweller and gem-setter, who is also introducing his own jewellery and precious objects brand. “S by Salanitro” will encompass everything other than watches, from jewellery to mirrors, games and decorative objects. A Fabergé in a different style for a different age.
“S by Salanitro” will encompass everything other than watches, from jewellery to mirrors, games and decorative objects.
- Talisman, the first collection from S by Salanitro, in collaboration with The Unnamed Society
Europa Star: In September you announced that Patek Philippe had taken a stake in your company’s capital. How long were you in discussion?
Pierre Salanitro: The idea first came up, very informally, 18 months ago.
What prompted it?
A lot of things. Thierry Stern and I share a friendship and also have professional confidence in each other. We’re connected through our children, too. My son works at Patek Philippe and Thierry Stern’s eldest, as part of his studies in hospitality management, is doing a six-month internship with us, where he’s seeing a different aspect of watchmaking. The idea that we could bring our businesses closer together matured, and in February we started to discuss the matter in detail. We share the same philosophy and values so it all came together in a natural, simple way. For me, it’s a means to safeguard the company and secure jobs that isn’t to the detriment of my other clients.
- Pierre Salanitro
Provided Patek Philippe keeps going and that Thierry Stern’s children take over the business one day.
That’s not for me to comment on. As for the future of my company, several possibilities have been raised that effectively depend on our children, my clients and Patek Philippe. But nothing final.
You mention your clients. You work with some 40 brands including ten of the most prestigious names in watchmaking. Will Patek Philippe have access to these products and how will this agreement affect relations with these brands?
Nothing changes. Patek Philippe has taken a stake in the capital. This secures the company’s future but I’m here for the next ten years at any rate. Patek Philippe has no involvement in the running of Salanitro SA. This is an independent company and I am still President and CEO. Nobody at Patek Philippe has access to Salanitro SA. Once Thierry Stern, his board of directors and I had reached an agreement, I made a point of informing my clients personally. These are people who have always given me their trust and support, in the good times as well as the not so good times. There was never any question that they should read about it in the press. I wanted to reassure them that no secrets would be breached and that no-one would have access to their plans or designs. On that note, Thierry Stern’s son has signed a very strict confidentiality agreement.
“Patek Philippe has taken a stake in the capital. This secures the company’s future but I’m here for the next ten years at any rate. Patek Philippe has no involvement in the running of Salanitro SA. This is an independent company and I am still President and CEO.”
What percentage has Patek Philippe acquired?
It isn’t a majority stake but we are not disclosing any further details.
Will it be business as usual, fulfilling orders and pitching ideas to your various clients?
Yes, we’ll continue to develop creative ideas and propose them to the brand we believe will be most interested, something we’ve always done. Some brands come to us for habillage. One company, for example, would like a gem-set version of an existing collection and has asked us to propose different designs. Some want us to develop a watch from A to Z. They tell us what type of movement they plan to use, which gives us an indication of case size, and we take care of the rest. We have our own creative team. We sketch ideas with a particular brand in mind, spontaneously, and then show them to that client. If they’re interested, they buy them, in which case we cede intellectual property rights. We’re receiving more and more requests for creative ideas and jewellery.
Has the war between Russia – where the Alrosa diamond mining group is based – and Ukraine had an impact on business?
Since the outbreak of the conflict, and despite the Alrosa boycott, I’ve had no problems with supply so far. Sightholders and traders had inventory and also bought a lot of stones in anticipation, before sanctions were introduced. So this year we haven’t been impacted although I don’t know what the situation will be next year.
“We’re receiving more and more requests for creative ideas and jewellery.”
Patek Philippe’s stake in Salanitro will no doubt put you “in pole position” for certain of its projects…
Obviously they will come to us first, on condition that we continue to offer the same level of creativity and quality, and that we are able to fulfil their requirements, whether in terms of typology, volumes or deadlines. They’re not a captive audience.
A visitor to your workshops will spot a lot of iconic watches by some very well-known brands, yet you’re rarely acknowledged as the creator of a design or as a gem-setter. It’s rather a shame, don’t you think?
The situation is changing and so are mentalities. A lot of brands are no longer embarrassed to say that they subcontract certain operations. The Salanitro name is a sign of quality. TAG Heuer, for example, was very open about the fact that the lab-grown diamonds on the Carrera Plasma were set by Salanitro SA. Between now and the end of the year, several major projects with leading brands will be launched that name us either in the advertising or the promotional film or the press release. Today’s end customer wants to know where their watch comes from and how it was made. Any mention of a structure such as mine, which is the largest and most integrated in Switzerland, and which works for all the top watch brands, is a guarantee of quality and a reassurance for the end customer. People find out sooner or later anyway…
“The Salanitro name is a sign of quality. TAG Heuer was very open about the fact that the lab-grown diamonds on the Carrera Plasma were set by Salanitro SA.”
You studied banking and business, and worked at what was Société de Banque Suisse (SBS). You weren’t destined to become a gem-setter. What made you change paths?
Back then, I went to work for SBS because it had the best training centre of any bank, but I didn’t enjoy what I was doing and knew I wouldn’t stay for long. One day, I met up with an old schoolfriend at his father’s gem-setting workshop. His father, Enrique Lorenzo, employed four gem-setters. I watched them work and fell in love there and then. I went back after lunch and asked Enrique if he would hire me. He was more matter of fact: he wanted to be sure this really was what I wanted to do and that I had the capacity to do it, especially the manual dexterity. This was 30 years ago. There were no big workshops, no CNC machines and nobody worked with steel. Only gold and platinum. He trained me over ten months, during which time I still went to work at the bank every day. Between 5am and 8am I was learning gem-setting techniques, from 8am to 5pm I was at the bank, then from 5pm until 9pm I was back at the workshop. After ten months he told me I was ready and that I could leave the bank.
Because Enrique only used a few techniques in his workshop, I asked permission to do repair work for some of the smaller jewellers in Geneva. I did it for free, as a way to learn the different setting techniques and in particular the ones we weren’t using at the workshop. Then economic crisis hit and I was made redundant. I was unemployed for three months and because I’d always dreamed of becoming my own boss and couldn’t possibly have chosen a worse time, I went for it (laughs)! I invested the few savings I had to buy the basic tools and converted an old wooden Ikea desk into a bench so I could work from home.
I set up the company in February 1990. The next two years were a nightmare. The economy was in crisis, I was young and new to the market. I accepted subcontracting jobs, anything just to survive, while inundating watch brands with letters offering my services. Then, after two years, the market recovered and I got a call one Friday from Piaget asking if I could gem-set some watches and have them ready for Monday morning. I worked the entire weekend, pulled it off, and that’s how Piaget became my first customer. Not long after I was lucky enough to get an order from Patek Philippe, and others followed. I was now a legitimate name on the market.
“I set up the company in February 1990. The next two years were a nightmare. The economy was in crisis, I was young and new to the market.”
In 2019 you had 190 employees. Today you have 230. Is this increase down to growing demand for gem-set watches?
There are different reasons. Demand for jewellery watches has increased, yes, but we’ve also diversified. Over the past year and a half, we’ve branched out into gem-setting jewellery, which we didn’t do before. In fact at clients’ request, we’ve opened a workshop specifically for that purpose. We’re also setting up a workshop where we will make fine jewellery or larger series of jewellery for brands.
Will you make jewellery under your own name?
Yes. I’d been thinking about having my own brand for a few years, in fact I’d already registered the name: S by Salanitro. We’ll design precious objects under this name as well as in collaboration with brands, artists and schools. None of these products will be watches, so as not to compete with my clients, and we will only produce one-of-a-kind pieces: jewellery, objects, games, art, etc.
What are the first creations to launch under your name?
Talisman jewellery, from a collaboration between The Unnamed Society and S by Salanitro. The Unnamed Society came to me with a project that it wanted us to work on together. We took care of the creative aspect, design and production, and they handle commercialisation, packaging and social media. We’ve also recently completed a mirror, a one-off piece, with interior designer Aline Erbeia. There is a genuine clientele for remarkable and unique pieces. I get a lot of enquiries. In fact several customers have asked about the mirror, which hangs in my office, but it’s the only one.
“The Unnamed Society came to me for a collaboration. We took care of the creative aspect, design and production, and they handle commercialisation, packaging and social media.”