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Perrelet gives a contemporary interpretation of traditional...
Point of View

Perrelet gives a contemporary interpretation of traditional watchmaking

Friday, 19 December 2008
By Quentin Simonet
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Quentin Simonet

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5 min read

Acquired in 2004 by Miguel Rodriguez, whose stable includes Festina, Perrelet recently joined the circle of partners to the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH). The brand’s CEO Marc Bernhardt explains why, and looks back over developments at the brand.

Perrelet recently joined the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. Why?

Marc Bernhardt, CEO of Perrelet: It’s an immense honour for us to have been invited to join the ranks of this prestigious organisation. We’re less of a household name than most of the other partners, certain of whom are much larger than we are. Joining the Foundation will give us a higher profile. Most of all though, this is fine recognition for everything we have achieved. The leading names in watchmaking accept us into the fold, a sign that we are on the right track.

Are you expecting this to have a positive impact on your customers?

Of course. They need to be sure of what they are buying. Our affiliation with the FHH gives them further proof that we are a solid, reputable brand. The Foundation is very selective about who it lets in.

As you say yourself, the public isn't that familiar with Perrelet. Can you describe your company in a few words?

Perrelet is an established brand in the “accessible luxury” segment that stands out for its contemporary interpretation of traditional watchmaking. We attach a great deal of importance to the company’s history, not just in terms of expertise but because we bear the name of a very famous watchmaker. In fact Abraham-Louis Perrelet is said to be one of the five great masters who may justly be called the fathers of watchmaking. He is credited as being the inventor of the automatic watch. This is the heritage we are bringing to life, in particular through our signature double rotor.

It seems things started looking up for the brand in 2004…

Absolutely. This is when Perrelet was acquired by Miguel Rodriguez, who also owns Festina, Calypso and Lotus. Since then, it’s been a case of a new broom sweeping clean while preserving our history and heritage. Indeed, we only produce mechanical watches. Quartz has never featured in any of our collections.

Can you quote a few figures that will give an idea of the company's size?

The brand employs a dozen people in design, R&D, sales and marketing in Biel, where it has its head office, and some twenty watchmakers spread between two sites: one in Le Sentier for movement production and one in Herbetswil where our watches are assembled. We’re a small team but our assets are actually far greater as we can draw on the expertise of the other companies in the group, not least Soprod and DTH.

Where are your main markets?

The situation has changed considerably since 2004. Previously, the brand seized whatever opportunities it could. Now we think things through, although for a long time we were completely focused on our products. The brand is, it has to be said, better known outside Switzerland. Our biggest markets are the Middle East and Eastern European countries, although France, Spain, Belgium and the United States, where we have subsidiaries, hold their own. There is still progress to be made in Western Europe. Switzerland will be another of our next projects. With just nine points of sale, we need to develop our distribution there.

How many watches do you produce?

We manufacture 4,000 to 5,000 watches a year. In 2004, production hovered between 1,500 and 2,000. This gives you an idea of how far we’ve come. Not that we intend moving faster than we can handle. We are aiming for measured growth. The average price of our watches is around CHF 6,000 to CHF 7,000.

What are Perrelet's strengths and weaknesses?

Let’s start with the positive. First and foremost, I would say our products. We’ve overcome the hurdles to propose solid, tangible, recognised products. What’s more, they are entirely designed and constructed in-house. Our watches are also highly distinctive. They share characteristics that instantly say “it’s a Perrelet.”

And your weaknesses?

That we’re not a well-known brand. But we are working on this, despite our relatively slim budgets. This is all part and parcel of our philosophy: progress one step at a time. Often, growing a business isn’t hard; the real difficulty is managing that growth.

Where were you, Mr Bernhardt, before joining Perrelet?

Among other positions, I spent ten years at IWC where one of my main roles was to handle the brand’s incorporation into the Richemont group. Without copying what I did there, I’d like to achieve something similar with Perrelet. Previously, IWC was a niche brand, known and acknowledged only by specialists. Today we can but be proud of its international success. In a word, my dream would be to take Perrelet to where the Schaffhouse brand is today.

So where will Perrelet be in ten years' time?

A star among stars… just joking! By then, Perrelet hopes to have increased current production fourfold, even sixfold, to between 20,000 and 30,000 watches. But there will be no compromising on quality. We will maintain and reinforce our high standards. While this may seem ambitious, the brand can and will draw on the group’s industrial structure. The synergies are proving to be quite impressive. It will still take some time to assemble all the pieces in the puzzle, but I have confidence in our chances of success. And, cherry on the cake, Perrelet nurtures the ambition of producing its own proprietary movement within the next few years.

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