Ask Piaget chief executive officer Benjamin Comar how he’d define the brand and he’s got one word for it: “extraleganza.”
If that’s not yet in the general vocabulary, what it means is that the Swiss jeweler and watchmaker is embracing a glittering past that saw it worn by the likes of Ursula Andress, Elizabeth Taylor, Gina Lollobrigida and Miles Davis to pave its way forward.
And the writing — or rather, the engraving — is writ large on the walls of the brand’s Watches and Wonders booth, with a design inspired by its hand-tooled Palace decor.
Taking pride of place here is a highly sought-after collector piece: the Black Tie watch, better known as Andy Warhol’s favorite timepiece, a rounded square model gold case with ornamental gadroons.
The 10 that will be showcased in the Piaget booth are not a limited edition. They’re already spoken for, a bespoke order from a collector who agreed to loan these pieces, each in platinum and featuring a different semiprecious stone dial. Among them are turquoise, various hues of jasper and rarer choices like pietersite.
That watch is not just an anecdote from the past — it’s part of the Andy Warhol patrimony, according to the executive, particularly since the house purchased four of the seven watches owned by the artist at the 1988 sale of his estate by Sotheby’s.
What sets Piaget apart from its peers is the fact that the house was a watchmaker first, known for innovations like the 2-mm-thick 9P hand-wound mechanical movement launched in 1957 — the year it decided to use only precious materials in its watches.
The house became a jeweler when Yves Piaget, the fourth generation to helm the company, started to create jewels for his jet-setting clients. Many became friends with whom he’d carouse around the social calendar — the kind of people who inspired the “Piaget Society” that the brand wants to install today.
Contemporary incarnations of those timekeeping jewels include the Swinging Sautoirs, a pair of intricately wrought long watch-necklaces that take more than 130 hours to make. They are also proof of the skills at play at Piaget.
To wit, the methods used to craft the twisted links needed to be rediscovered and rethought in light of today’s techniques when the know-how was nearly lost. This is the kind of project Comar hopes to further foster by having all its skills vertically integrated under one roof, as he believes dialogue is the way to build “a culture of know-how.”
For watch lovers, there is also plenty to see at Watches and Wonders, with a set of three Polo Quantième Perpétuel watches, including a limited edition of 18 that comes with an obsidian dial.
In the designs is a quest for that ‘wow’ effect, because “luxury is an industry of offer, of seduction, so you have to surprise in a good way,” Comar said.
It’s something that worked once before, when Piaget wowed the 1969 Basel Fair with its “21st Century Collection,” a series of spectacular timepieces that brought a new wave of glamorous clients, including Warhol.
And that’s only one part of Comar’s mission to “find Piaget’s luster once more,” ahead of the house’s 150th anniversary in 2024.
Needless to say, when he arrived at the helm at the midway point of the pandemic in June 2021, the incumbent executive had to hit the ground running. With China among its strongest markets, the brand seemed like it was in dire straits, especially as the U.S., which bolstered many other luxury labels, was underdeveloped.
As travel disruptions stretched from weeks to months and more, “we discovered that we had a local clientele,” Comar said. And those buyers were the ones who saw brands through the pandemic — or caused them to stumble.
In the early months of his tenure, that finding led him led to uncover a number of unexploited geographical areas, starting with a zone dubbed the “blue banana” that goes from London, through Munich, and ends on Piaget’s home turf of Switzerland.
Then there’s the U.S., which trailed behind Asia, the Middle East and Europe when Comar took the helm. It is now an area that’s enjoying double-digit growth. There is plenty of potential going forward, given that it is a territory where brand equity and love for Piaget are present, the executive noted.
Even in Asia, which is to date its strongest market and where Piaget was historically among the first movers, the brand is looking at expanding its network beyond a primary diagonal that encompasses Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore.
At a moment where Chinese consumers are starting to travel again — although they may not return in full force until the second half of the year, if LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault’s prediction holds true — Piaget has its eyes firmly fixed ahead.
While Greater China will continue to be the bedrock of the brand in the region, as evidenced by the new 2,150-square-foot Hong Kong boutique, opened on Canton Road in early March, Piaget is eyeing new destinations. Among them are Thailand, with an opening in Bangkok slated for the early summer, and Vietnam, where it is planning events.
In those regions, too, consumers are increasingly discerning and eager to gauge a brand’s sincerity before taking interest in its products, the executive said.
Another work in progress is a repositioning of the brand, which has more to do with brand equity than prices, according to Comar. There will definitely be price increases, but they will be reasoned and reasonable. No plans are in place to upscale the brand by curtailing its entry-level offer, though Piaget will be looking at high jewelry, rather than premium accessories, as a driver for growth.
“The [emotional] investment is the same, whether they’re spending 3,000 [euros] or much more,” he said. “Luxury is a state of mind. You have to make products that sit within the brand and appeal to clients.”
That’s particularly important as younger consumers are more knowledgeable and less forgiving than past generations about being targets of insincere marketing efforts, the executive noted.
Through it all, Comar insists he is “no revolutionary” and plans to move forward with a sense of continuity.
“We want to be Piaget and I am sure young people are interested,” he said. “That’s our role as guardians of the brand’s equity. It was there before us, it’ll be there after.”