Beautiful balance: Piaget chief Philippe Léopold-Metzger
Piaget CEO Philippe Léopold-Metzger talks to Winnie Chung about moving into jewellery
Q: A lot of high-end jewellery brands go into watchmaking. Piaget has gone the other way. What is the synergy between the two for you?
A: When you make a watch, you need to have two things. You need to be able to create a beautiful movement, and you need to have the ability to craft the case out of the bracelet. Last year, we launched the Altiplano Skeleton. This year [it] comes in pink gold and we are also launching for the first time a skeleton with a diamond set, which is very beautiful. This is the perfect combination between Piaget the watchmaker and Piaget the jeweller. For the first time, we have diamond sets and automatic skeleton.
Q: Piaget has always been at the forefront of the thin movement but, in the past 10 years or so, it has been growing very rapidly. What would you say was the watershed moment or decision?
A: I think the change came by taking watchmaking back to the village. You know some companies have been, maybe, over-investing in marketing. I think, in Piaget, the best decision we've ever taken was to over-invest in people and manufacturers. This is the chance that we took. If you have a lot of people working to help boost profits, a key challenge is to make sure we do not have too many new products.
Q: Watch and jewellery require a long-term strategy and vision, but the market is very short term. As CEO of Piaget, how do you balance that?
A: If you look at our sales pattern, we sell to Chinese in Hong Kong - percentage-wise maybe less than we used to, but more in Singapore, Korea, Paris and Milan. That may affect the Hong Kong market for a while because the euro was very weak, but now it's getting stronger. The brand cannot change strategy just because the currency value changes. The impact of opening the store at the Mandarin has produced very good results. Hong Kong will remain a magnet for mainland Chinese when it comes to travelling and having a good time and shopping, so I think the most important thing for a CEO is to have a forecast, a vision and stick to it. The same goes for products. We never went in to make big watches. Our business is all about elegance and beautiful products. Movement, mastering the manufacturing goal ... this cannot change. So we remain optimistic.
Q: What sort of causes or issues does a luxury brand need to be associated with that are outside the realms of just the business?
A: I particularly like one project we have in a country that has a connection with one of our brands. It's in the Altiplanos [Andean plateau] between Argentina and Bolivia. We have a programme in Bolivia where we set up a medical base in La Paz, then we build medical centres in little villages far away. In each place, we provide the medical equipment, such as ultrasound, so people don't have to risk their lives travelling to the major centres and they can have check-ups in La Paz, or if needed, in Geneva. We also support a number of charities in Hong Kong like the Wai Yin Association.
Q: As the CEO, what would you view as the most effective singular strategy that you and the company have implemented?
A: I would say three things: one is putting our team of Piaget watchmakers at the centre of our universe; the second one was aggressively developing our business in Asia for the last 13 years, developing a retail network that gave our brand a truly global recognition; and, lastly, investing a lot of money in product development and the manufacturing process.