After helping re-launch, revitalise and build the Panerai, Tudor and Montblanc brands, Davide Cerrato has joined the re-born independent Swiss manufacture HYT. He tells us about his inspirations, goals and grails.
Italian-born Davide Cerrato has been a dynamic creative force within the watch industry for more than 20 years. Following stints in the motor and consumer-good industries, he joined Panerai, which in the late 1990s had come under the control of the Swiss-based luxury conglomerate Richemont, and was rebuilding an identity based on its long history as a supplier of timepieces for the Italian navy.
Cerrato then went on to work at Tudor in 2005, where he championed models such as the Black Bay and Heritage chronograph, which heralded the beginning of a confident new era for a name that had long languished in the shade of its parent company, Rolex. A move to Montblanc’s watch division some 10 years later resulted. in the release of several vintage-inspired watch lines building on the brand’s acquisition – through its Richemont parent – of the Minerva manufacture and the latter’s 160-year legacy.
Quitting Montblanc early last year, the flamboyant Cerrato remained unusually quiet until, several months later, it was announced he’d joined the resuscitated independent Swiss manufacture HYT, whose avant-garde technology and aesthetic are far removed from the heritage-inspired timepieces he’s often been associated with. While preparing for the season’s forthcoming round of watch launches, he found time to share a few thoughts with us.
In conversation with Davide Cerrato
You’ve been involved with several major watch brands during your career. What sparked your interest in timepieces?
Watches are like cars – beautiful expressions of human creativity and craftsmanship. They’re our compass to navigate our days and to keep track of time, they’re a unique blend of external beauty and internal performance, they can be useful tools to dive, fly, explore space and the cosmos …
How did you find your way into the watch industry?
I studied industrial design and then attended a business school. I have a brain with an even strength of right and left hemisphere, and this allows me to handle hyper-creative subjects and, at the same time, very analytical and complex ones. This sounds perfectly fitting with the double nature of watchmaking: habillage, beauty and seduction outside, and performance, precision and micro-mechanics inside. I really wanted to enter the luxury world because of the importance of emotions and design and transmission – and, a bit by chance, I got a fantastic opportunity to join Panerai and fell in love with luxury watches
You’ve played a leading role in defining/re-defining the identities of Panerai, Tudor and Montblanc, each of which has its own distinct story and ethos. How did you approach each one?
Everything starts with a deep dive into the world of the brand and its heritage and history, whatever the length of that is. I absorb like a sponge everything about it and stock it somewhere. Then the creative process starts and the pieces of the puzzle come together to shape an increasingly detailed vision of the brand, its equity, its codes, colours and materials. This vision is alive and grows over time, enriched by details and organic multiple opportunities to evolve. It’s a bit like learning a new language: you learn words, get the sound of it, learn the grammar and then start to be able to combine elements to make sentences and express concepts, and then you get style and become able to express more and more deep and sophisticated topics.
HYT, by comparison, is a relatively new name with a radically distinct technology at its heart and a futuristic identity. As the brand’s archives only stretch back around 10 years, does that give you free range as to how you refine or re-work that identity?
HYT is a fantastic adventure with a lot of creative room to express the unique identity of the brand and redefine stronger and sharper codes. We have an alien futuristic technology combined with a new way of luxury watchmaking and design. It’s watchmaking 4.0. We found our new headline exploring the spirit of the brand: Heroes of Your Time. Explorers able to envision the future and to see things to come in advance. Astronauts, scientists, entrepreneurs like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson. A new dream of discovering space and new planets, of a future life on Mars and a new discovery of the moon. Space as the perfect metaphor for high technology and the next big thing coming.
Aside from telling time accurately, reliably and, I assume, legibly, what other attributes would you look for in a watch?
The first one by far is beauty. It needs to be sexy, desirable and unique to match my taste – to hit my taste, I would say. A very important dimension is also ergonomics. The watch must be of a good weight, comfortable to wear and of good proportions versus my wrist or my taste. Another important aspect is performance and this can be linked to its specific complication or to its specific function – for example, diving. The watch must also be durable over time and age properly. Another attribute is its ability to keep its – or even grow in – value over time
Do you have a “grail” watch? What would it be — and why?
As Enzo Ferrari used to say: the next one I will design. We’re presenting it during watch week. Our design approach is driven by the spectacular, the futuristic and the playful and has at its centre the idea of evolution, transformation or metamorphosis. We take a classical complication and we morph it into a totally new spectacular and innovative shape, where the importance of it is equal or even superior to the one of the originating function.
You obviously don’t create watches in a vacuum. What other aspects of design interest and inspire you?
All of them. I’m in love with architecture, car design and collecting, science fiction, robots, manga culture… Curiosity is the key word here and cross fertilisation the output.
Are there any particular materials you enjoy working with?
Bronze is definitely a very playful material to work with, but there are also stones, minerals, new metals and composites.
Where do you think watch design and trends will go from here?
I think vintage is ageing and a new direction must emerge. We’re going to lead this research both in terms of shapes and materials, as well as playful new functions. Stay tuned!
(Featured and hero image: The “alien futuristic” Hastroid is the first watch presented by the reconstituted HYT brand under Davide Cerrato’s leadership)