IWC Schaffhausen CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr | Interview

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IWC Schaffhausen CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr | Interview

IWC

2018 marks a very important milestone in the history of IWC Schaffhausen: the celebration of its 150th birthday. Everything, in the participation of the brand to the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), revolved around this important celebration. From the booth, inspired to the foundation of the International Watch Company in Schaffhausen by the American entrepreneur and watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones in 1868, to the Jubilee collection, launched for the occasion, to the lavish gala evening with 800 guests among which many celebrities.

Watch Insanity had the great chance to talk about all these activities, the past, present and future of IWC with its young and charismatic new CEO, Christoph Grainger-Herr. Grainger-Herr succeeded to one of the major figures in the history of the brand, Georges Kern, but he took the reins with energy, ideas and above all a huge passion for IWC. Let’s discover his vision and projects for the historical Swiss watchmaking house.

IWC

1. Mr Grainger-Herr, you are an interior designer by training. is there a link between interior design and watchmaking?

Design and the watchmaking industry are not so far. Designing is about storytelling and so is watchmaking. Our job is not just about figures, we also have to create wonderful experiences for our customers. For this purpose, storytelling is extremely important, one can’t sell a watch talking only about its functionalities.

2. Did you ever design for IWC?

Of course, I designed the booth for SIHH, our boutique concepts and I collaborated to the new factory we are opening this year on the occasion of our 150th anniversary. This last project was the most unique and exciting: a shop is a shop, an exhibition is an exhibition, but a factory is much more, it is actually where the watches will be made and where people will spend their days. We conceived it as a unique experience for the visitors, with a team 100% focused on the customers’ visits.

3. How do you feel as the CEO of such a relevant brand?

When we made the announcement of my new role, in Schaffhausen theatre, I really started feeling the responsibility, not just for being the custodian of the brand’s legacy but also for the lives of the people who’s working for IWC, and their families. At the same time, I enjoy it and I feel very lucky for having turned my hobby into my job, within a brand I love so much.

4. How was 2017 in terms of business? What are IWC target markets?

As you know we don’t disclose our results, but I can say that 2017 was a positive year for the brand. We are fortunate to have a wide collection, with many product lines from accessible to high level pieces, and that our business is very well balanced globally. This allows us to diversify in terms of markets and target customers.

5. What is your plan for 2018 for the brand globally?

There will certainly be continuity with the strategy of the past years. We plan a retail expansion in our key markets and to go ahead with our e-commerce strategy. The main challenge this year, however, is the implementation of the new factory. It is a huge project, we expect 8000 visitors per year.

6. What are the main novelties you’re presenting at SIHH?

In honor to our 150th birthday, we are unveiling a special Jubilee collection, including a total of 28 limited-edition models from the Portugieser, Portofino, Pilot’s Watch and Da Vinci families. To mark this occasion, we are also launching our first-ever wristwatches to feature the original digital hours and minute display as it appeared on the Pallweber pocket watches back in 1884. The one aesthetic element all these timepieces share is their imprinted dial in white or blue, an effect that is achieved by a process of applying several layers of lacquer, reminiscent of heritage enamelled finishes.

IWC

7. How do you see the watchmaking market, which are the trends that are shaping strategy of the players now?

This is a big moment in terms of new ground-breaking technologies that are being implemented in watchmaking. And those innovations are not anymore applied only to the complicated pieces, but to watches of all price ranges. This is a great benefit for the customer, who will have even better quality timepieces and longer service intervals.

8. How do you see the brand in 3 years? And in 10?

Let me get a crystal ball… (laughs)! I’m in charge of a brand with a wonderful heritage and product lines and I believe there’s still much space to grow. Our vision is to continue to create beautiful products, with high quality innovations and a meaningful symbolism and storytelling. Moreover, the average age of our customers is quite low, which means that our customer base is growing for future times.

9. What do you think about smartwatches?

Smartwatches can’t replace mechanical watches. Our industry is much closer to jewellery, every mechanical piece compared to a digital product is unique. In our price segment people come to IWC because they look for a product that lasts eternally.

10. Are you planning to create an IWC smartwatch?

Not with the purpose of replacing the mechanical watch. However, we are open to the idea of a connected strap, and as soon as we reach the specifications we have set, we will launch it.

11. How important are internet and social media for you?

Very much. I have my own Instagram account, the feedback I receive is so real and relevant!

12. You just announced Bradley Cooper as a new brand ambassador. What are the criteria for you to choose the friends of IWC brand?

It is mostly their passion for the product. We have a family of brand ambassadors who genuinely love the brand. Many of them have been with us since 10-15 years, they come to visit the factory, they attend watchmaking classes. You can really feel their passion.

IWC

13. What about your e-commerce strategy?

Our first e-store was with WeChat in China, then Mr Porter was launched in November 2016 followed by Net à Porter. Then we started our first e-commerce in the US, Europe and China will come this year and other markets in the future, it’s a question of time. The online stores are performing well. Many customers look at products in the internet before purchasing them and, on the other hand, customers who purchase online have tried on the products before. I believe it is very important to connect the dots, and to have online the same store experience as in physical retail stores.

14. Why some watches become timeless pieces and other don’t?

As a designer, this is the key question! It’s a mystery. There are some ingredients you can control and others you can’t. That’s the beauty of human creativity.

By Valeria Garavaglia