Full interview at inpractise.com

We interviewed the Former CEO of Jacques Droz, one of the oldest luxury Swiss watchmakers globally. Jacquet Droz was founded in 1721 and has an average watch price of around $10,000.

In the full interview, we explore:

  • The founding story and heritage of Swatch's Jacquet Droz brand
  • History of Swiss watchmaking
  • How Jacquet Droz emotionalized and curated stories about watch lines
  • The essence of product-led design and growth for luxury watches
  • Daring to be different as a luxury watchmaker

The luxury watch industry is very product driven. It comes from the heritage, from the product spec, from the design. How did you adapt the design, to really carve out a place in the industry, to really capture that younger consumer’s mind?

By creating an exciting and innovative product. It’s very difficult to answer this question and find answers through a lot of market studies; I just do it intuitively. I just design products that I like, that are appealing to me and, somehow, they are for other people too. You can’t build a start-up with market studies and market research, especially in our product. Often, creation is an undemocratic process. The more democratic you make the process, the less successful you are. Because then you end up doing what everybody else does and why should that work better with you than with established companies.

So we tried to, basically, make innovative, cool, well-made products, putting a lot of focus on traditional craftsmanship, on quality and on excellence. We were also in a period where the watch industry was in a very strong growth period. The industry itself, was growing, I would say, at a pace of 50% a year. We were in a good dynamic and we brought in very interesting and innovative products that were appealing. We grew, very quickly and, in 10 years, we opened up in about 250 stores, retailers. We built 10 of our own boutiques. We opened about 20 subsidiaries and we’ve grown from a three-man team, to a company of close to 100 people. Things went quite intuitively. Because the product was the hero and if everything is built around the product because the storytelling was already there. The history was there, there was a famous history around the founder of the company, which we could constantly relate to and use, to a certain extent, as a reference, not only when we create a product, but also when we did certain marketing activities.

Can we just explore that thought of yours of creation being a non-democratic process. How do you really think about innovation, in that sense?

I think, again, I can talk for an industry I know and watches are a very emotional product. It is a product that moved, initially, from an instrument to tell the time, into something which is more craftsmanship, status object, into today, I would say, more towards an emotional object of art. For me, watches, especially high-end watches, are an artistic expression, in themselves. Therefore, maybe I decided that the idea of creation is not democratic, because we create watches which have no utility, other than creating emotions and telling stories and, to a certain extent, a bit of a status symbol.

Again, that’s a very personal take on it. Why is it not very democratic? If you were to do any sort of market studies about watches, everybody will tell you, make a Rolex, because that’s what works. But create something different. You’ve got to dare to try new things. You’ve got to dare to create and make products that stick out. Because of that, you can’t make it democratic. It’s a creator’s approach.

Were you designing the watches back then, in 2001? Were you making them? What was the process that you had?

I created most of the watches and then, with the company growing, we had other designers that I worked with. But I always took care of the creation, for everything within the company – the whole brand identity, the whole product identity. For me, that was fundamental. You don’t create or build a brand, if you don’t create and design something unique. Then even design the marketing and the whole distribution because, for me, that’s all creative logic.

Initially, I designed the watches and then, over time, we grew to a larger team. I’m not a watchmaker, but I had a very good watchmaker and then we worked with different companies and different people, who helped us to develop, to manufacture different elements of the watch. We were a team of one watchmaker, me and somebody who was in charge of all the financial and commercial aspects and that’s how we started the company.

How did you build a brand identity around the product you were creating?

It was relative to the product. When going through the whole history of the brand and the archives, I found this watch that resembled, what we call the Grande Seconde, which is the reference product on which we built the whole company. It was a watch with off-centered hour and minute and off-centered small second. Which, in this case, was a big second, which is a very iconic product. This iconic product had this evident design of the eight. So what we did was, we did the whole storytelling around the eight. We created the eight pillars of the company; all the products were limited to eight pieces or 88 pieces. Luckily enough, back then, and still today, has a very strong meaning in Chinese, because eight means luck and 88 means a lot of luck and 888 means utmost luck, more or less.

The history on one side but, also, the eight became our pillars. Everything was around this logic. Whatever we did, it had to be related or it had to make sense with this logic of the eight. That’s how we, basically, built the story around it. You build a story, around a new brand, a little bit like when you throw a stone into the water. It creates these waves and that’s how we built it. We just built, step by step, one after the other, but always related to an identity of the product, but also to the whole philosophy that made sense to us.