PARIS — It’s been a bit more than two years since Patrick Pruniaux was handed the reins of Girard-Perregaux and the executive reported he is picking up initial signals that things are moving in the right direction.
“We are already seeing positive signs — but these are just signs. We have a long-term vision for the brand,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the near term, rejuvenating a historic label like Girard-Perregaux calls for high levels of energy on a daily basis, explained Pruniaux, speaking to WWD on a video call.
The former Apple executive joined Kering in 2017, taking the helm of Ulysse Nardin, and was assigned responsibility for Girard-Perregaux as well a year later.
The companies merged resources a year ago, and together shed around a quarter of employees in September, scaling down production to adapt to the coronavirus crisis, which is expected to have a lasting effect on the watch industry. Exports of Swiss timepieces have dropped 25.8 percent over the first 10 months of the year, with Mainland China widening its lead with other markets, according to the latest figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
Under Pruniaux’s direction, Girard-Perregaux has refocused the product assortment, reducing the amount of novelties launched each year while bulking up communications and distilling brand messages to hit them home more effectively.
Pruniaux cited preliminary brand equity studies showing that certain aspects emphasized by the brand are being understood, and that even with younger consumers, messages of authenticity are coming across strongly. Not that he’s catering to young folks — Pruniaux doesn’t see much of a link between consumer behavior and age groups.
“I believe more that people behave one way or another according to their taste,” he said.
Desirability and excitement come from being pertinent, or relevant, no matter the age group.
“But it’s true you have to communicate differently, express certain values — we really just need to express who we are, it’s as simple as that,” he said.
The executive and his teams took 18 months to consider what the label stands for and boil down its messages.
“Girard-Perregaux is an atelier of haute horlogerie shaping the now for those in the know since 1791,” relayed Clemence Dubois, chief marketing and product officer, who joined Pruniaux on the video call.
Reflecting an effort to reinforce storytelling at the brand, Pruniaux handed marketing and communications responsibilities to the executive, who joined the watchmaker eight years ago and rose through the ranks to take charge of product management.
“That makes for complete integration,” he said.
Pruniaux has recruited new employees — around 45 people at both Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux combined — mixing watch industry specialists with outsiders. Ticking off names of recent hires, he noted one person who recently joined Girard-Perregaux came with experience at Nestlé, another from Tag Heuer. The executive said he has sought to break down silos and encourage autonomy, bringing together complementary skills.
“The notion of alignment is very important to me, both in form and content, in what we do,” said Pruniaux.
“We don’t make a product just for the product’s sake — we make a product when we have a story to tell, a commercial goal, and a way to push it — we have a 360-degree approach that we didn’t necessarily have in the past,” said Dubois.
“This is also something we have learned from our cousin brands at Kering — storytelling or generating excitement and desirability of a product comes first, and then it’s reinforced by the history and technical aspects,” said Pruniaux.
While the brand has been doubling up on efforts to promote its timepieces, at the same time it has reassessed its product portfolio and cut back significantly on products, introducing 20 new models this year, compared to 60 in 2018.
“Each product launch comes with such scale that people think we are launching as many products as before,” noted Pruniaux.
The Laureato has emerged as a key pillar for the label. The model was originally designed in 1975, drawn up as the industry grappled with the quartz crisis and was meant as an everyday watch. Its distinct octagonal bezel makes it easily recognizable, key to the brand-boosting efforts, while its genderless appeal and Seventies codes are currently popular.
Reinforcing story lines, the label has also introduced themes that run through the various novelties launched together. At the Geneva Watch Days presentations earlier this year, for example, watches were grouped around an infinity theme, expressed with touches of black onyx. Applied to brand classics, the effort was a way to build on the brand know-how without having to multiply the amount of novelties.
On the higher end, the Haute Horlogerie activity remains central to the brand.
“It’s our umbrella, it’s the hook to sustain the core,” said Dubois.
Girard-Perregaux has sought to fill in the gap with the higher-end watches, which start at around $150,000 and the lower-priced segment, which runs upward of around $10,000, with the Bridges family of watches, a nod to the original 1850s tourbillon with three bridges design — a brand signature.
“It’s a fundamental of the brand — there’s no shortcut here, it’s very much part of the soul of Girard-Perregaux. We have technical expertise that very, very few watch manufacturers have,” said Pruniaux.
As the label sharpens its messaging, it is also upgrading and scaling back distribution channels, which it seeks to reduce by a third.
“We have 200 points of sale in the world. We could have 600 — most brands at our price are at 600 — our intention is to be very concentrated, well-grouped. That reinforces the exclusivity of the brand,” said Pruniaux.
The brand works with only one distributor in many markets, he added, citing Wempe for Germany, Ethos in India and Seddiqi in Dubai. He also named Bucherer, The HourGlass and Watches of Switzerland as other main retailers.
In China, the label is moderately expanding points of sales, with several planned store openings under franchise agreements.
The watchmaker also chooses specific partners for the launch of certain products, as a way to further concentrate communication around a launch.
The new Laureato Bamford Ghost watch —distinctively all white — was launched exclusively with Dover Street Market and Harrods in the U.K. and Watches of Switzerland in the U.S., in the most recent example. Another recent launch, the round 1966 Infinity watch, was done through Mr Porter.
“This allows us to indirectly show another side of the brand and address another type of clientele,” noted Dubois.
While the label has a select approach to distribution, Pruniaux would like it to convey a warm, welcoming style compared to other high-end watchmakers, which can come across as a bit rigid.
“What’s important is that the tone is always informal,” he said, noting he likes the notion of ‘inclusive’ hard luxury.
“Like a bookseller who welcomes you, even if you’ve never read a novel, and who talks about something that makes you passionate,” he said.
When it comes to customer relations, the brand is drawing up plans to organize visits to workshops in La Chaux-de-Fonds — when the coronavirus travel restrictions ease. The executives suggested a fireside dinner in a local village would be more fitting for the label than a splashy, gala event.
“There are people who do that very well, but that’s not us — at any rate, it’s not what we want to do,” said Pruniaux.
As for brand sponsorships, an automobile partnership is in the works, said Pruniaux.
The label celebrates its 230th anniversary next year, which will kick off with the launching of e-commerce in the U.S. and the U.K. in January.