This year, jewellery and watch brand de Grisogono launches an innovative new timepiece called Otturatore. The Otturatore combines exceptional watchmaking innovation and de Grisogono’s signature ability to make precious objects from precious materials, to produce a piece that is almost four watches in one. Mint Indulge recently spoke to Gerald Roden, CEO of de Grisogono, about the watch, his ongoing efforts to restructure the company and why he wants to stay an independent brand. Edited excerpts:
You are wearing the watch right now. How much of a challenge was it developing the piece?
I am wearing it and it is working. In fact, there is a long story behind the watch. We developed it originally...three years ago. I joined the company a year back. The watch is very interesting from the technology perspective. We’d never tried something like this before. But, at the time when we tried using it, the watch was exploding.
We’d use it and, bang! It would explode.
So we had to rebuild it. And this was quite a challenge. You must remember that de Grisogono has a reputation for jewellery, based on our in-house abilities and history.
To be known for watches, you need a team with legitimacy. To fight a battle and to be taken seriously, you need to have a proper army with the right soldiers.
We changed the entire team and set a target of getting the watch ready in one year. I am very proud of this small team. We presented it at Basel (BaselWorld) very carefully. You never know if the testing will go well.
There are a few booos here and there.
But it works well now.
How complicated is the watch?
Currently in the market, you have complicated watches that look complicated. There is no ambiguity.
This watch is very complicated. But it looks very simple. Because, at any one time, you can see only one complication. The fact that you need to click a button to rotate between complications...is a really satisfying gimmick. I think there is a certain “toy” element to the watch.
Does anybody need a watch this expensive? Who knows? But using it is great fun.
What was the inspiration for the timepiece?
The idea came from our founder, Fawaz Gruosi. I asked him where it came from. And he said he was inspired by those old Dunhill lighters. The ones that go “clickclack-click-clack” when you use them. And there is an element of that experience here. You pump the spring by pressing this button.
‘This company has made much more money than that in the past. And it can make much more if it is structured properly. That is what I am trying to do. Make it a big, independent brand without losing its history...’, says Gerald Roden.
And then you click through the four complications like this. (Clicks on the button rapidly.)
The challenge was to get the movement to turn a quarter turn at every click without exploding. At the end of each click, the movement is moving with a g-force of 9g. So we had to design a braking system using a spring-shock absorber.
This watch deviates from some of the standard de Grisogono touches. For instance the movement isn’t finished in black as much as most of your watches are.
There is some black, but less than before. The problem with that finishing method was that it was impossible to get chronometer certification. But this piece is certifiable.
It is good to break the rules of the game. But sometimes, you have to stick to the old rules, too.
Is that part of your mandate at de Grisogono? To re-establish old rules of watchmaking?
Absolutely. Like I said, we have to bring legitimacy to the watch business. And you will find us unveiling some pretty special products next year.
You’ve often talked about the fact that you have a big restructuring project going on at the company. How much of that is done? Are you happy with where you are right now?
No, I am frustrated. We need to move faster. The thing is that this company has been in jeopardy for two years. It used to be run by a committee. And it is no secret that we are working on a financial restructuring. In this market, you are either a niche player or you have the resources to be a broader competitor.
We are looking for the resources to be a big player.
Where are you on the big-small debate?
There was a lot of talk about this after the Bulgari-LVMH deal.
Look, firms have to be creative and legitimate to have a steady customer base. Now there are companies in the jewellery and watch businesses that are happy with a turnover of, say, 30 million Swiss francs.
This company has made much more money than that in the past.
And it can make much more if it is structured properly. That is what I am trying to do. Make it a big, independent brand without losing its history and the creativity that comes from Fawaz Gruosi.
How would you define your brand’s niche?
I think we are back to Square One. I think everyone recognized our creativity. But it was a case of bad timing, with the economic downturn, that prevented us from living up to that potential.
Now with you as the CEO, and with your extensive experience in watches, does it mean that the brand is going to focus more on watches than jewellery, going forward?
It is hard to answer this question.
We have a strategic plan. I think we will stay with jewellery and watches at the current mix of 60-40 of sales.
But who knows, if we come up with a popular watch concept, that ratio can change.
But I am here not as much as a watch guy, but as a restructuring guy.