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“There are amazing opportunities for development at Greubel...
Connoisseur of watches

“There are amazing opportunities for development at Greubel Forsey”

Wednesday, 10 February 2021
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Fabrice Eschmann
Freelance journalist

“Don't believe all the quotes you read online!”

“In life as in watchmaking, it takes many encounters to make a story.”

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5 min read

Antonio Calce is the new chief executive of Greubel Forsey, having helmed at Panerai, Corum and Sowind (Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard). An industry veteran with close to 30 years’ experience, he has a mandate to review the brand’s entire strategy.

The appointment, in December last year, of Antonio Calce at the head of Greubel Forsey sees the return of a well-known figure in the watch industry. Having exited Girard-Perregaux in 2018 after just three years, he had pretty much fallen off the radar. Now he is back and tasked with implementing a 360° strategy that takes in products, distribution and communication. All this during a global pandemic when watch exports shrank by 22% in 2020. Interview.

What were you up to in the year between leaving Sowind and starting at Greubel Forsey?

I took care of my family, my daughters. These are times when you can take stock and think about where your life is heading. It’s extremely salutary. A chance to reset the cursor.

Did you ever consider giving it all up and moving on to something else?

No. I’m still motivated by the same desire to build something and develop new ideas. I joined Greubel Forsey because there are amazing opportunities for development. When I see the level of excellence, when I measure the quality of what’s being done, from the concept to the finished product, I can see what a growth lever there is. I want to do my best to move the company forward. And I’m loving every second!

How were you hired?

Life is about encounters… I’ve known Robert Greubel for 20 years, back when I was director at Panerai and approached CompliTime [Greubel Forsey’s sister company which develops movements] about a project. We met again last July and I started in August. Robert is a born creative. We’re very much on the same wavelength regarding the product.

What’s your mandate?

To take the brand to the next stage of maturity, step by step, through a 360° strategy that is as much about the products as communication and distribution. We’re talking about a long-term vision that Greubel Forsey hadn’t necessarily begun until now, being more focused on creating. Today’s Manufacture can claim seven inventions, 30 unique calibres and hand-finishing on every one of its watches!

So let’s start with the watches…

We have defined three pillars that we’re calling Origin, Attraction and Longevity. The first covers watches above CHF 500,000 such as the Grande Sonnerie, Quadruple Tourbillon or Hand Made. We will scale back quantities in this section and focus on extremely limited editions. The second pillar corresponds to a segment that doesn’t yet exist at Greubel Forsey. These watches will have a strong identity and an easily identifiable visual signature with more contemporary case designs. Each case “family” will house a specific movement and complications. The idea is to increase volumes in a CHF 200,000 to CHF 350,000 price range, thereby ensuring faster rotation at retailers. This leaves the third pillar which revolves around evolutions of our 30 exceptional calibres. Take the example of the perpetual calendar, which we can interpret in multiple ways.

What plans do you have for distribution?

Currently we have around 60 points of sale worldwide, which is a considerable number. We’re going to adjust our distribution, leading to fewer points of sale. Our aim is to build a genuine partnership and commercial strategy with each of our retailers. We want to develop the brand’s presence at these points of sale, for example through “Greubel Forsey ambassadors”. These specially trained staff will be capable of explaining in detail our products and our philosophy. This is one of the four lines of our new communication.

What are the others?

Press, which we’ll be using more. A media plan taking in twelve global cities at a given time. And our website which will provide a concierge service in addition to certified pre-owned watches.

Will you sell new watches online?

No. We’ll be focusing on our retail partners for new watches.

How important is pre-owned?

You cannot sell a watch of this calibre and not accompany it throughout its entire lifetime. However, this is less a business and more a service we provide our customers, some of whom ask us to buy back their watch so they can then invest in a new Greubel Forsey timepiece.

What solution have you found for promoting this year’s new releases?

As a member of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, we are taking part in Watches and Wonders 2021 [ex-SIHH]. It will be another digital edition this year before hopefully returning to an in-person event in 2022. We are constantly thinking about the best way to reach the public. We’re a niche brand and very different from any other. Currently we make 100 watches a year. How can we explain to people, have them understand what it is that sets us apart? Our extraordinary sense of detail, of workmanship, of handcrafting? We’re still looking for the answer.

Are you confident in the future of watchmaking?

Greubel Forsey is part of a segment that is less impacted by crises. Our customers are less affected by this type of circumstance, and so we have measured confidence in the future.

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