One watch that finds itself on most Best of BaselWorld 2011 lists is the Opus Eleven from Harry Winston. The latest in the brand’s high horology Opus line is more a visual experience than a timepiece. With a movement designed by Denis Giguet, the watch has a unique hour indicator that explodes into pieces and then reassembles at the stroke of each hour. The overall effect, achieved with a movement comprising 566 components, is dramatic.
The other key range for Harry Winston this year sits at the opposite end of the drama spectrum. The Midnight Collection is quintessentially an elegant jewellery watch. The lines are clean, pure, uncluttered and the pieces are available in 42mm, 39mm and 32mm case sizes, offering options for both men and women. Particularly striking is the Midnight Big Date in rose gold, perhaps the most decorated of the watches in the collection. A satin-brushed sunburst hour circle sits on top of a silver-toned guilloche dial. There is a porthole at the 6 o’clock position that reveals a double-aperture date indicator. And there is a single diamond perched on top of this porthole. There are several elements here that come together very well in a timepiece that highlights three strong tones: black, rose gold and white.
The third key pillar of Harry Winston’s timepiece business is the “Jewels that tell time”—luxurious jewellery pieces with discrete time-telling devices set amidst the stones that the brand is renowned for.
Frederic de Narp, chief executive officer of Harry Winston, spoke to Mint at BaselWorld. Edited excerpts:
What is the inspiration for a watch like the Opus Eleven?
In a sense, we don’t go after this watch. The watch comes after us. Each year, we ask expert watchmakers to suggest ideas for complicated high horology watches. We choose the best. The Opus Eleven was such an idea. And what is interesting is that we are able to make both—a watch like this, and the Midnight Collection—which are absolutely opposite in terms of concept.
Brand strategy: Harry Winston chief executive Frederic de Narp.
What is your strategy for complications? Do you see the brand making more and more complicated pieces?
I think our strategy has space for all types of watches. Yes, approximately 60% of the watches we sell have mechanical movements. But for us, both the mechanical and quartz watches are important. But what these complications and mechanical watches give us, is credibility. Today, we are legitimate watchmakers. And we have achieved that since 1989, when we began making watches. No other jeweller has achieved anything like what we have with timepieces in just 20 years.
Where did this legitimacy come from? How did you get it?
Really, by just staying true to the brand’s DNA in anything it makes. And there are two elements to this: never compromise on quality, and never have a boundary to creativity. We are ready to try anything. There are no limits. If you limit the creativity of your people, you end up getting watches that look like everybody else’s. What we try to do is keep the memory of Harry Winston...his craziness alive. This is an American company. So we have an American spirit—the sky is the limit, there are no boundaries.
But how do you keep a company full of crazy people?
It is not easy. It does not come naturally to people in a company. You need to constantly tell your teams all over the world to think like that. Everyone has to. That is the challenge. Especially, our designers. You need to give them incentive to stay creative.
So you really have a clutch of propositions you are taking to your consumer: jewellery watches, elegant watches and complications. How do you communicate and maintain a balance?
This is a good question. Each of these lines has their own personalities. I think, we do this by being committed to good products. We don’t really think about trends. We are not looking to make anything other people make. It is a unique brand that makes unique things. And within that, we are offering a choice. I think that is how I approach my lines.
Visual experience: The Opus Eleven.
And this year, our balance is good. Each line has great products. If one of them were weak then you would have a lack of balance.
How important are the Indian and Chinese markets for you?
Very interesting. But everyone thinks of them as large, mass markets. I don’t think like that. We are not a brand that is worried about mass markets. We are an exclusive brand. People are beginning to discover Harry Winston in India. I think that the brand is a natural fit for Indian clientele. We have always had a strong Indian influence on our designs. There is a natural affinity.
Around one-third of your revenue comes from North America. How are you coping with the economy?
Things were very difficult in 2008 and 2009. Still, remember we are the brand when it comes to celebrating memorable moments. The number of marriages in the US went up. And people buy Harry Winston. On the other hand, the slump helped to educate people about brands. During a boom, it is hard to tell between good and bad. But when things slow down, you begin to look at your purchases more carefully. This is good for a classic brand like us. Like I said before, we have legitimacy.
But we have bounced back very strongly. We just recently announced numbers. Our revenues are up 89% for the quarter, and up 53% worldwide for the year so far. I think we had the best bounce back of any such brand in the world.