Richemont


A hint of vintage extravagance for Piaget’s 150th anniversary

Français
February 2024


A hint of vintage extravagance for Piaget's 150th anniversary

The company is heralding in its 150th anniversary celebrations with a reinterpretation of the original Polo from 1979 with its all-in-one case and bracelet. Since he arrived at the helm of Piaget, Benjamin Comar has restored the company’s watchmaking credentials – always with that hint of extravagance so characteristic of it. Europa Star met him.

T

he time is the 1970s and Yves Piaget moves in the inner circles of the international jet-set. At what have become known as “Piaget Society” evenings, this representative of the fourth generation is the greatest ambassador of his family brand. We see him in Gstaad, for example, in the company of the first James Bond girl, the Bern-born Ursula Andress.

In the seventies, the casual-chic sports watch, made in steel posing as a material as “noble” as gold, is already hugely popular. But Piaget aims to do some readjusting of its own: towards the end of the decade, it launches its own casual-chic sports watch, entirely waterproof, robust too – but above all, made entirely in 18ct gold and in one single piece. In the Polo model, the gold bracelet and dial are one, with an alternating pattern of polished gadroons with satin-brushed links.

The brand-new Piaget Polo as presented in 1982 in the columns of Europa Star alongside other icons of that sumptuous period. It still exercises a profound influence on contemporary watch design.
The brand-new Piaget Polo as presented in 1982 in the columns of Europa Star alongside other icons of that sumptuous period. It still exercises a profound influence on contemporary watch design.
©Archives Europa Star

With the reinterpretation of this 1979 model launching Piaget’s 150th anniversary celebrations, the effect is as powerful as ever. It is a watch that leaves absolutely no one indifferent, despite the fact that today, casual chic is more popular than ever. A truly dazzling start to the year. We met the instigator, Piaget CEO Benjamin Comar.

Benjamin Comar, CEO of Piaget
Benjamin Comar, CEO of Piaget

Europa Star: What’s the story behind the launch – or rather, the relaunch – of the Polo 79, which marks the start of Piaget’s 150th anniversary celebrations in 2024?

Benjamin Comar: It was something the collectors had been calling for for a long time! I had the same idea too when I joined the brand. And so it’s interesting to ask yourself: why does everyone have this same idea? Maybe because, in my view at least, this watch perfectly sums up the creativity of the 1970s. It’s showy but not vulgar, it’s a jewel and a watch at the same time, you can wear it for sport or with evening wear. It’s the sum of all these paradoxes and if there’s one thing Piaget does well, it’s managing these paradoxes and bringing new propositions onto the market that are a far remove from the status quo!

The new Piaget Polo 79 uses the same codes as the models presented to the jet-set by Yves Piaget 45 years ago in 18-carat gold.
The new Piaget Polo 79 uses the same codes as the models presented to the jet-set by Yves Piaget 45 years ago in 18-carat gold.

Why is it so bent on being different?

Originally, the brand was a movement manufacturer. As soon as it began producing finished watches, it sought to set itself apart. So when sports watches became mainstream in the 1970s, Piaget’s response was a sports model in gold, in opposition to all the steel models of that decade! The principle behind it was: “We’re going back to gold and we’re merging the bracelet and dial”. This watch is a powerful statement…

Contrasting with omnipresent steel, “Piaget time is measured only in gold”. An advertisement from 1985
Contrasting with omnipresent steel, “Piaget time is measured only in gold”. An advertisement from 1985

Which aspects of Piaget do you aim to highlight in this anniversary year?

We want to reaffirm that Piaget is first and foremost a joyful, colourful brand, always original, a little eccentric, audacious, with ornamental gemstones, colours and vast goldsmithing expertise – and at every level, whether in watchmaking, the Possession line or fine jewellery.

For this anniversary, are you thinking of reinterpreting further vintage models as with the Polo 79, by harking back to your heritage, or rather of designing entirely new pieces or even whole collections?

The Polo 79 is the first of our anniversary pieces, but for the rest of the year you can expect more new designs than reinterpretations!

In line with current trends, the quartz calibre has been replaced by the extra-thin, self-winding 1200P1 in-house movement which is visible through the back of the sapphire case, the diameter of which has been increased slightly to 38mm.
In line with current trends, the quartz calibre has been replaced by the extra-thin, self-winding 1200P1 in-house movement which is visible through the back of the sapphire case, the diameter of which has been increased slightly to 38mm.

Are you personally attracted by one particular decade or period?

Yes! Piaget’s history goes back 150 years, but one of the most creative periods was the post-war boom period, known in France as the “Glorious Thirty” – the Trente Glorieuses. When I was considering joining the brand, that was the period I had in mind. During the Trente Glorieuses, design, art and watchmaking came together. On the other hand, I’m not sure I could do a First Empire or Louis XVI style! (smiles)

How are you organised in terms of heritage and archives? The Polo is a famous piece of history, but there are certainly plenty of other, less well-known little “gems” to be found in your past…

Our Heritage department, headed up by Jean-Bernard Forot with Alain Borgeaud as our expert purchaser, is very efficient. But we still have a whole body of archive material to digitise, so yes, we’ll doubtless be discovering new “gems”. One peculiarity of Piaget is that it has always produced fairly short series, and historically that guaranteed the brand’s huge creativity. But it takes all the longer to process it all.

Have you met with any particular surprises while researching into Piaget’s history?

Yes, the work the brand did on the opal, with that characteristic mix of colours and acute sense of style, which was not at all down to chance: I discovered that in the 1960s and 1970s Valentin Piaget sent his teams to Paris during Fashion Week, which was no trivial matter and certainly unusual for a traditional watch brand! There has always been these two sides to Piaget: conventionality where movement production is concerned coupled with a very open attitude towards the avant-garde. You find the same thing in its communications and advertisements of the period.

The Bugatti Type 370 watch by Parmigiani Fleurier voted watch of the Year 2006 in Japan

After several years during which jewellery seemed to dominate, since you arrived you’ve given watchmaking greater prominence. Is that a strategic decision?

In reality we always aim for a balance. You shouldn’t view the two lines of business as rivals, one feeds the other!

True, but in brands with this double heritage, one line of business “inevitably” tends to take precedence over the other (with reversals of this situation over time, of course)…

I believe that after Covid, customers in the luxury segment comforted themselves with “hard luxury”, which benefited jewellery as much as watches. One development perhaps peculiar to jewellery over the past few years – and one that has the given the segment tremendous momentum – is the marked growth in market share of signed products compared to “non-branded” products.

On the subject of jewellery, can you give us a preview of how you’re thinking of celebrating this anniversary in that respect?

A whole new collection is on its way this summer! And there’ll be lots of events featuring our flagship collection, Possession. We’re lucky enough to have watchmaking, fine watchmaking, jewellery and fine jewellery, all under one roof. That’s a rarity!

Do you think the Swiss watch industry will continue to be dominated by the casual-chic sports watch? Is the relaunch of the Polo 79 a reflection of that?

Yes, I think so, because the sports cult is increasingly pervasive in society. Fashion-wise, what used to be reserved for the sports field is now daily wear. But there’s always a pendulum effect.

You’re celebrating this anniversary in a year when, after several euphoric years and record exports in 2023, the commercial outlook for the Swiss industry is less encouraging. What is your analysis of the situation?

We intend to stay optimistic. I’m certain the markets will recover. Luxury is still a sector apart, which is attracting more and more potential customers. And the new generations are always better informed about the luxury brands. As for us, in recent years we’ve been very Asia-oriented development-wise. We intend to strengthen our presence elsewhere in the world.

When you think of Piaget, you almost automatically think of ultra-thin. Are you going to continue the race for the thinnest watch ever now that other brands are also occupying that territory?

More and more brands are getting interested in ultra-thin watches after a period when larger sizes predominated and I’m delighted. It’s good to have several of us in this niche: that demonstrates its reach, its vitality. It restores the credentials of the craftsmanship we’ve practised for so long. And that doesn’t apply just to the Altiplano; there are hosts of technical developments in all our lines. Take the ultra-thin Polo Squelette, presented two years ago, for example. But our aim is not to break records: first and foremost, our creativity serves a certain aesthetic.

A hint of vintage extravagance for Piaget's 150th anniversary

The Europa Star Newsletter