This year hasn’t been kind to most, if not, all industries. This includes, obviously, Switzerland’s famous watchmaking industry. That being said, it has been quite an exciting time for watch enthusiasts, connoisseurs and collectors. There are plenty of great novelties to be excited about, and the industry at large has swiftly found the perfect way to showcase them: online.
Piaget is a perfect case in point of how a traditional watch brand with roots that go back quite far can embrace a digital future that works nicely in the “new normal” of today. Prestige had the opportunity to chat with Quentin Hebert, Piaget’s Head of Watch Marketing. His position and experience give Hebert the kind of awareness about watchmaking that makes for a very compelling narrative – both from a business perspective and in terms of actual watchmaking, as he is also deeply involved in the development of such iconic collections as the Possession, Gala and Extremely Piaget.
Below are excerpts from our interview.
The traditional period when new novelties are traditionally unveiled at Watches and Wonders was right at the height of the pandemic. However, groups and individual brands have relatively quickly by moving to online platforms. For Piaget, in particular, how has 2020 been so far?
2020 is very special. As you can see, without any possible prediction, the world went upside. Nevertheless, it probably reflects the future of crises and we are getting trained to react and adapt. We have to be agile in order to face this uncertainty.
For Piaget, we are happy to say that our people are well and safe. We carefully managed their presence or absence through rapid early decisions and it prevented company personnel from being adversely affected. The work at the manufacture has started again from mid-April and we work in alternating teams after a long home-office period. I have to say that – with a bit of social distancing – this period has provided a forced new way of working which has provided many benefits. I am sure that we will gain in flexibility, agility and trust based what we’ve experienced from a human point of view … which is quite interesting.
Online shopping has become the new normal for many businesses, including for a number of luxury fashion brands. Is this something that can also happen – or has already happened – for luxury watches?
To me, online shopping is not something we can be for or against. It’s a change in our customers’ habits, it’s how they increasingly purchase things. Our customers are progressively starting to buy online. It’s a great opportunity for us to pursue relationships with our existing clients and to reach new ones. Piaget is very much present on the biggest e-commerce platforms. First with Piaget.com, our own website which opened its e-commerce function a few years ago. Secondly, in China with the launch of the Piaget flagship store on the TMall Luxury Pavillion channel, which is an instrumental step in our omnichannel strategy with the objective of offering to consumers an extra level of experience online. Third, we are present on Net-a-Porter and MR PORTER worldwide as well on our call centre platforms in the U.S., Europe and China.
We are continuously exploring innovative ways to engage with our clients using unique combinations of digital platforms and media touchpoints. For example, live streams on social media and interactive chat bots. Also, Singapore is presenting a new online virtual boutique – a first of its kind for Piaget where visitors can enjoy the full brand experience at the touch of fingertips! It will play a crucial role in optimizing our digital experience and can be accessed remotely on digital devices on the go. This audacious expansion aims to break free from the limitations of traditional retail infrastructure by introducing a digital platform that provides the same kind of emotional and holistic brand experience – a new way of looking at the brand. It serves as an additional touchpoint for guests to explore, be engaged, educated and entertained. It complements and bridges the online experience to offline visits in a Piaget boutique. Soon, more markets will join.
We also keep interacting with our consumers online via our social platforms, sharing about Piaget’s expertise, crafts and history. We recently launched an episode of the #OnlyAtPiaget series on social media to share about Piaget’s proudest true craft, which is the art of gold.
In what other ways do you think will watch consumer habits change in the near future?
On top of what we just said on buying online – which is a major customer habit change – we can see that 2020 starts in a pretty uncommon atmosphere and context. People are challenged in their comfort zone and definitely come back to the essentials, to what really matters. I foresee that the watchmaking world is going to go back to this, as well. Successful brands will be the ones who have a consistent and simple message that they deliver anytime and that will have this long-term echo in people’s minds.
What other challenges do you see for Piaget in the recovering economy?
There are many other challenges on top of the customer relation management. Being agile will also impact our boutiques, our manufactures, the way we train our staff, get market feedback, address our partners, communicate … it’s quite unique. All these points are opportunities and threats at the same time. It’s very challenging and exciting. The fundamental point is not to lose our vision, preserve and develop what is only at Piaget.
Back to Watches & Wonders 2020, we were particularly interested in the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, which showed that the concept introduced by Piaget at SIHH 2018 is, indeed, commercially viable. Can you tell us a little bit about the journey of this watch?
Yes! The Altiplano Ultimate Concept has been presented in 2018 after four years of research and development. It was a real bet after the 2mm movement from 60 years ago … and we turned it into reality: A 2mm full watch that shows the high watchmaking mastery of Piaget, the master of Ultra-Thin. This watch has no fewer than five patents. We had to completely rethink the construction of the watch.
With components no thicker than a hair, we had to innovate to find a high-strength material to make this watch. Gold would be too malleable for such extreme thinness. The Altiplano Ultimate Concept case had to be made from a new, cobalt-based alloy that is highly resistant but is also much harder to machine. Other parts were entirely re-sized. That was a big challenge. And today, after two additional years, we are very proud to present the Altiplano Ultimate Concept as a fully developed, tried and tested watch that you can now own and wear.
During those two years, there were multiple challenges. Not only technical ones but also production challenges. First, we had to improve what could be, to optimize for the safest technical solutions, to fine tune the construction in order to ensure that, at the wrist, the watch would work without any risk of damage. Second, we had to try and test it. The first prototypes, which have been presented many times, have shown that we could be confident as all were very working well. But to ensure the success of the commercial launch, we had to test them under the most extreme conditions, including one-meter-height shocks. for example.
Then to make this dream come true, we had to validate that we were capable of producing several pieces a year, to have a sustainable assembly and to be also able to maintain it all along its lifetime.
The Altiplano Ultimate Concept is a technical masterpiece that brought us many challenges and questions. However, the development of this watch also opened us up to new technological breakthroughs and possibilities for the future. How much further can we go?
This story first appeared on Prestige Indonesia.
(All images: Piaget)