De Grisogono’s (DG’s) London boutique is not unlike one of those popular new espresso bars that have opened up all over the city with their proprietary blends, warm tones, miniature furniture and diabolically friendly Australian or Kiwi baristas. The DG store is a little more than a rectangle of tastefully designed retailing real estate with prominent store windows that look out over posh New Bond Street. Both sides of the street are lined with watch boutiques. Vanity flags emblazoned with brand logos hang limp in the cold London drizzle and, at street level, doormen-cum-security guards watch everything and everyone grimly.
This is one of the great watch markets of the world.
“There are always people just waiting to get some space in this area,” says Rual Kana, director of DG’s London boutique, when I meet her inside the rectangle on a typically confused cold/warm/wet/dry/windy London morning. Kana has the sniffles—“Maybe it is hay fever”—but gamely talks me through DG’s collection, starting with its signature Instrumento Uno timepiece. The watch has been a best-seller since it was launched in 2000, says Kana, and subsequently the original model and several variations have done very well. “We have customers who buy every variant of the Instrumento,” Kana says. Such loyalty is remarkable for a brand that is as young as De Grisogono and for a model that is as new as the Instrumento Uno.
Best-sellers: (left) The Instrumento Grande Chrono by DG; and DG’s Instrumento Uno is simplicity itself.
In traditional watchmaking terms De Grisogono is not even a child. Not even an embryo. At best you could call it a glint in its parents’ eyes. Established in 1993, the brand was set up by designer and black diamond specialist Fawaz Gruosi and started as a maker of premium jewellery. It only diversified into watches 11 years ago (to put things in perspective, some Rolex models have been around for 40 years).
Since then the brand has developed a niche in the luxury watch segment—models at the London boutique start from around £8,000 (around Rs5.8 lakh). Business was challenging through the economic slump but De Grisogono weathered the storm, Kana explains, and now the watch division accounts for a significant part of the brand’s business.
At the BaselWorld watch fair in Geneva earlier this year, De Grisogono made a splash with a typically big, lavish, opulent booth. In other words it was perfectly reflective of the brand’s jewellery and watches, a look and philosophy Kana calls “controlled bling”. For instance, the brand uses copious amounts of coloured gemstones and bright yellow gold in its timepieces. But flip through a catalogue and you get a sense of balance.
Yes, there are pieces that would perhaps work only on the wrist of an oligarch.
But then there is the basic yellow gold version of the Instrumento Uno that is simplicity itself. It is a no-frills dual time watch with the second time zone at the 6 o’clock position and a date window at 7.35. The strap is attached to the watch with solid, monolithic lugs—there is a lot of metal here—and the end product is simple, clean but quite strong.
There are other interesting models in the DG collection— including the Instrumento Doppio Tre, a macho chronograph, and the steam-punk-y Meccanico DG—but I’d find it hard to stray from the Instrumento Uno’s classic, some might even say retro, good looks (incidentally, the smaller steel and diamonds ladies version of the watch, called the Instrumentino, has unmistakeable similarities to the Cartier Santos. I can’t exactly put my finger on the specifics, but there is something about the shape and proportions of the piece that is so reminiscent of the Cartier classic),
What is it about flagship models that makes them so crucial and emblematic for brands? The Royal Oak, for instance, is no doubt a huge majority of Audemars Piguet’s sales. Think of a Cartier watch and it is impossible to not think of the Ballon Bleu or the Santos. For many people a Chanel watch is the J12 and nothing but the J12. The Diastar has not only been an ambassador for Rado for years, this year the brand announced a revival of sorts with its new collection.
For brands this is a double-edged sword. Flagship models are often cash cows that work for them across seasons, across geographies and across economic ups and downs. However, depend too much on one model or collection, and suddenly you find yourself unable to diversify, or without a backup in case your flagship falls out of favour.
For buyers a flagship model is comforting. If you’re thinking of buying a Tag Heuer Monaco or a Rolex Daytona you don’t mess with reviews or websites or buying guides. These models are certified legends. The only thing you have to worry about is liquidity.
I asked Kana why the Instrumento had become a classic. We discussed several factors—design, branding, customer fit—but in the end we came to a simple conclusion.
De Grisogono’s flagship model just works.
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