Piaget’s Quentin Hebert shares his insight into the “new normal” for the watch industry, the allure of bespoke watches and the maison’s most exciting novelties.
Piaget is a traditional watch brand with deep-seated roots in classical haute horlogerie that go back almost one-and-a-half centuries. At the same time, it is a modern watchmaker that has continued to innovate in terms of craftsmanship and design, while also effectively embracing the digital future of the industry. The former is on full display at this year’s online Watches & Wonders event, while the latter is perhaps best exemplified by Piaget’s virtual boutique that was launched earlier this year in Singapore. A while ago, we had the opportunity to chat with Quentin Hebert, Piaget’s Head of Watch Marketing, whose position and experience has resulted in a deep understanding about watchmaking that makes for a very compelling narrative.
DAMAN: 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?
Quentin Hebert: 2020 is very special. As you can see, without any possible prediction, the world went upside down. 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 on what we’ve experienced from a human point of view … which is quite interesting.
“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”
DA: 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?
QH: 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 United States., 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 chatbots.
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.
DA: Besides increased interest in online shopping, in what other ways do you think will watch consumer habits change in the future?
QH: 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.
DA: What other challenges do you see for Piaget as the economy recovers and market conditions change yet again?
QH: 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, and also preserve and develop what is only at Piaget.
DA: Back to the digital Watches & Wonders 2020, of all the novelties unveiled by Piaget for this year, we were particularly interested in the Altiplano Ultimate Concept. For one, this watch showed that the concept watch introduced by Piaget at SIHH 2018 is, indeed, commercially viable. Can you tell us a little bit about the journey of this watch?
QH: 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 off 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?
DA: And then there’s the Altiplano Tourbillon Infinitely Personal which showcases one of Piaget’s hallmarks: customization. How popular is this option when compared to clients who prefer to simply buy specific models? And what would you say is the part that people enjoy the most about creating their own unique watches?
QH: Bespoke finishes and unique features are often considered key to luxury—a fact that Piaget recognized more than 50 years ago when it introduced its innovative Style Selector at its New York boutique in the ’60s in order to offer customers the opportunity to choose the shape of their watch case, the type of dial and bracelet and the extent of the gem setting. This demand is very strong for exclusive products and for Piaget it’s the opportunity to offer a unique experience of the brand. When you own a customized product, it’s not only a specific connection that you establish with other Piaget owners but also with Piaget people—Piaget artisans who worked especially for you. By wishing
a specific Piaget product you contribute, with your guidelines and choices, to the creation of Piaget and to the development of its craftsmanship.
“The notion of countries is becoming less important. Generations play a bigger role, or spread stronger influence, as they behave as a community”
DA: On that note, you have been in the watch industry for quite some time now. What are some of the most interesting changes in consumer tastes or habits that you’ve observed?
QH: First, I have to say that I’m not that old! [Laughs] In addition to what we already mentioned on authenticity and consistency, I think the most noticeable additional change to me is globalization. On the one hand, you
can feel the differences of tastes and sensibilities between the regions and countries. It is very much an enrichment as you discover what each culture can bring to each other. On the other hand, especially for younger generations, I can notice that there is the rise of something like a global taste. I mean, for example, younger generations in Asia are sharing more and more perception criteria with young Europeans, Americans or Middle Easterners. There is surely a global culture that is being built by the reduction of space-time, the intensification of communications and shared influences. The notion of countries is becoming less important. Generations play a bigger role, or spread stronger influence, as they behave as a community.
DA: What is the best part of the Piaget family?
QH: For me, Piaget is a small company with a familial spirit. It’s also a very exclusive brand where being daring is key. First, I have to say that there is a strong connection between Piaget and its employees. People are proud to work for Piaget. This is due to the small size of the company, and also to the remarkable people that have left their footprints and whose auras are still very strong. When Yves Piaget says “Salut les artistes!” as he enters the workshops, it shows how much the human connection between the people make a difference and how much respect there is for workers, designers, creators. They are at the center of attention as they are the source of creativity. These artisans are not only at the center of the creation process, they also bring the crazy factor which forces Piaget to dare, to create extraordinary pieces whether in the movements, gold crafting, hard stones mastering or gem setting.
Not everyone wears a Piaget. I would like people to have in mind that wearing a Piaget it is to have a strong sensitivity to beauty, whether it is pure lines and balance which last forever or a crazy high jewelry piece expressing the aurora borealis. Also, don’t forget that Piaget is a small movement workshop lost in the middle of the Jura Mountains where people are living in the middle of the nature, which is so much an inspiration source for each one of us. This is, to me, the best part of being in the Piaget family.
DA: If an acquaintance one day came up to you and asked you to introduce him to Piaget, what would be the first watch you show him?
QH: I think I would present my current everyday Piaget watch, which is an Altiplano Ultimate Automatic on a green alligator strap. Every time I pay attention to the movement, at the front of course, I am amazed by the finishing and the work of our artisans in La-Côte-aux- Fées and in Geneva. I am deeply attached to them and I think that by wearing this watch I am celebrating and acknowledging their extraordinary skills. I am proud of them.
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