Although a respected insider in the world of Swiss watchmaking, having worked for the Swatch Group the last 20-odd years, Yann Gamard is French by nationality, not Swiss — making him, perhaps, one of the best persons to objectively steer a watch brand that’s keen to forge an identity distinct from that of its Swiss cousins. Since 2011, when he was appointed CEO of German watch brand Glashütte Original (owned by the Swatch Group), Gamard has done exactly that: By harnessing the traits of German ingenuity.
More recently, the 59-year-old was in town to oversee the finishing touches of Glashütte Original’s latest independently managed boutique. The newly minted retail space at Marina Bay Sands is part of its Asian expansion drive, which also includes recent boutique openings in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. The next in its global network of some 30 boutiques will open in Paris, in prime Place Vendôme, where all the heavyweights in watch and jewellery maintain flagship boutiques.
According to Gamard, durability and quality are the brand’s most important trademarks. “As a German brand, we need to consistently deliver quality,” he says. “Our watches also need to be elegant and robust.” Mastering this balance is what sets Glashütte Original apart from its competitors. “We are Germans and this means that our watches have to be solid and last for a long time,” says Gamard.
To put this claim to the test, one need only look at the Grande Cosmopolite Tourbillon (2012), the watchmaker’s most complicated wristwatch, with a 24-hour scale GMT (that can be adjusted to any time zone, including 30- and 45-minute zones) linked to a perpetual calendar and driven by a flying tourbillon. While combining these three complications into one wristwatch and creating a world’s first may be plenty for most, Glashütte Original went one step further: It made the watch fuss-free and user-friendly. The result is a classically styled watch with a super complicated mechanism but with a perpetual calendar that can be easily adjusted in both directions.
Other examples that show off its mastery in producing intelligently and beautifully made watches include the Senator Chronograph Panorama Date (2014) and last year’s Senator Cosmopolite. The former showed off the new calibre 37, an in-house automatic, fully integrated, column wheel, flyback chronograph movement with a panoramic date function. It claims greater precision and more consistent engagement, thanks to a lever structure that interacts with the column wheel so that everything is placed on the same plane. The latter is a less complicated take on the aforementioned Grande Cosmopolite Tourbillon, a highly lauded traveller’s essential.
The ladies weren’t neglected either and for good reason. Although the past 25 years has seen the brand place emphasis on the production of technical and masculine watches, women continue to be an important target market. “I’ll say that historically speaking, we sold more watches to women than to men…currently, 25 percent of our collection are dedicated to ladies. However, they also buy unisex designs,” says Gamard.
In 2013, it introduced a new dedicated ladies line, Pavonina, composed of cushion-shaped feminine watches, featuring flexible lugs and a quick change strap mechanism. “It’s more challenging to design for women because they are more demanding and have more expectations. But when the design works, you can see it when she buys it and it is really an enjoyable moment,” says Gamard. The Pavonina watches are available in steel, gold and bicolour options, with or without diamonds. Operated by a quartz movement, these two-hand models were later offered with a date function. Gamard reveals another complication will be added this year when the brand launches all its novelties at Baselworld 2016.
To date (barely a few weeks to the exposition that starts on March 17), there has only been one preview of what’s in store for the brand in 2016: The Senator Chronometer in white gold with a deep blue finely grained and lacquered dial that was made in its dial manufacture in Pforzheim.
It was only in the last three years that a dial manufacture was integrated into the brand. And since not many watchmakers can lay claim to their very own dial-making manufacture, Gamard is understandably proud about the good work that has been done. Late last year, the brand launched the Sixties Iconic collection, that differ only in aesthetics from the existing Sixties models. “All of a sudden, you are playing with a dial and offering all sorts of different things. Our clients love it and we love it too,” he says. All five watches of the collection feature a dial decorated with fumé effect and a sunburst finish or guilloché stamp imprint. “The case is the body, the movement is the soul but the dial is the face of the watch. If you play with the face of the watch, all of a sudden you can do all sorts of things. It’s been a lot of fun,” he shares.
Although Gamard remains tight lipped about the rest of the brand’s Baselworld grand reveal, he hints at some future possibilities, such as the incorporation of silicon into its watches. (Glashütte Original is the only fine watchmaking brand within the Swatch Group family that hasn’t yet adopted this revolutionary material into its movements.) “We can start using silicium. That is probably the correct answer, because if we don’t do it, we would be idiots right? We cannot ignore it any longer. It also offers a challenge: We cannot just do silicium; we have to do silicium and then do something with it, since innovation is an important aspect of our German identity. We may come up with something. You never know,” Gamard teases.
“The Germans have tried to outdo the Swiss for the past 170 years. The competition is arduous and the Swiss are very good [at watchmaking], so if a German brand wants to survive, then they have to be very good,” adds Gamard.