When Antonio Calce assumed his role as CEO of Girard-Perregaux last January, he could not help but observe that the brand had been “asleep” for the past few years. It was neither capitalising on its strengths (such as its heritage as one of the world’s oldest fine watchmaking brand) nor working to increase awareness for its products.
All that is set to change with Calce now rolling out plans to rejuvenate the 225-year-old brand. At the top of his agenda is fine-tuning the watchmaker’s product categories to give it better focus. This includes regrouping its watches into five distinct pillars: Girard-Perregaux 1966; Cat’s Eye; Three Bridges; Heritage (which showcases the manufacture’s colourful history through collections such as the Vintage 1945); and the new Sports Chic range (which replaces the Hawk collection of sports watches) that will be unveiled later this year. Tying all the pillars together is the overarching Haute Horlogerie line, which will consist of masterpieces from across all five categories and be limited to around 100 to 200 pieces a year.
Most notably, the Three Bridges line — one of the watchmaker’s most recognisable icons — will be considerably expanded. “We are working on models with different price segments that include other complications to give clients the opportunity to wear a Girard-Perregaux watch with that iconic design element,” Calce says. He elaborates that while the Three Bridges will always remain a high complication timepiece fitted with mechanisms, including (but not limited to) a tourbillon, the brand will also roll out pieces with One or Two Bridges. These watches will be equipped with basic or medium complications and will be competitively priced. Starting at about 25,000 Swiss francs, these models are significantly more accessible than the 200,000-franc Three Bridges.
One can’t help but note that this sounds largely similar to what Calce did with the Golden Bridge collection during his time as CEO of Corum. Leveraging on its iconic status, Calce introduced its more accessible counterpart — the Ti-Bridge — to much success. “It is more or less the same move,” he admits with a laugh. “You see, my [style] is to capitalise on the brand’s DNA to extend the collection, so that is what I am doing for Girard-Perregaux now.”
Besides enhancing the manufacture’s stable of offerings, Calce is also looking to increase brand awareness. In his opinion, this should be tackled on two fronts, the first of which is marketing — publicising the brand and its rich history. As such, one of its most important communication tools in the future will be its heritage museum. “The museum has always been around, but it was completely out of our [communication] strategy for the past three years,” he laments. “Today, it is one of the most important things for me; for the future [of the brand]. Because it’s an incredible brand. It is 225-years-old — and that is the value.”
The second front on which Calce is looking to drum up is sales. He cites the example of watch conglomerate Swatch, which remains the world’s most visible watch brand simply because of its sales volume. “When you are selling [watches] every day, everybody knows who you are. You increase brand awareness through sales,” he explains.
Of course, Girard-Perregaux isn’t looking to compete with Swatch, though creating new pricing categories is high on Calce’s to-do list — starting with the 5,000 to 10,000 francs segment. With approximately half the total value of high-end Swiss watch exports accounted for from this price bracket, it’s not hard to see why he is eager to put his finger on the pie. “We have a lot of business there and today, this segment is one of the most dynamic ones,” he affirms. Isn’t he worried that the new price points will dilute the perceived prestige of the brand then? No, he answers; not as long as the watchmaker does not compromise on its integrity and quality of timepieces.
This is why the manufacture will soon stop supplying its movements to other brands, Calce explains, voicing concerns about its potential negative impact on the company’s long-term vision. He tosses up a hypothetical example of a competitor buying Girard-Perregaux’s movement for its timepieces, then selling it at a price lower than what he is offering for his own watches. “They will kill the margin and I lose my business and reputation. Why should I give this kind of opportunity to other brands?” he says. “Besides, think of it this way: If you are the boss of Ferrari, would you sell your engine to other car brands?”
But while Calce is adamant about turning the brand around, he asserts that creating a different or new Girard-Perregaux is not his intention. “I don’t like different. This is an evolution. We don’t need a new strategy because our heritage and 225 years of history is our strategy,” he says. “I have many more ideas and am nowhere near finished.”