Attention to detail
Jerome Napoleon de Witt, president and founder of DeWitt Watches, focuses on timepieces with strong images, writes Vivian Chen
Q. As a Napoleon Bonaparte descendant, how does your upbringing affect the way you appreciate luxury and your vision for DeWitt?
A. Maybe it's one of the reasons why I'm in the watch industry. When I was born, I started learning by touching everything around me. [Everything I touched] was luxurious. I grew up in a house that might as well have been a museum. After I grew up, I wanted to [maintain] this level of living but it was quite impossible unless I kept living inside a bubble. When I [ventured] outside, whatever I did I was different. I didn't get my first pair of jeans until I turned 18.
Q. What's your definition of luxury?
A. Luxury is about details. It's also a feeling. It's not just the price tag but the quality of the material. It's a perception people have through touching and [seeing].
Q. What is the impact of the global political and economic environment on haute horlogerie?
A. Complicated, I would say. There are a lot of uncertainties in terms of political conflicts and natural disasters. People who have money don't know how to spend it. They are anxious about what's going to happen tomorrow. DeWitt's concept watches are exceptional pieces that have very strong images. But we can't sell 2,000 concept watches a year. I feel that [customers] are shifting towards something clean, classic and subtle but still filled with luxury details. My vision for upcoming collections is to create simple and classic designs with the DeWitt signature.
Q. Can you explain to us DeWitt's reluctance to experiment with new materials?
A. The watchmaking industry is evolving towards higher quality. Not so long ago, watches were all handmade and the quality of those watches wasn't consistent. DeWitt goes for the top-quality services possible in many aspects, but in terms of materials, unless I'm sure of its quality in [the long run], I'm not going to use it because I don't want to sacrifice the quality of any watch bearing the DeWitt brand name. It would be dangerous if a new material I experiment with now ceases to exist in 20 years' time.
Q. Last year you achieved vertical integration manufacturing. What were the main challenges?
A. Now we are able to produce everything in-house. It took us 10 years and we are finally there. The main challenge was quality control. Our main objective was to have a reliable and effective system. Also, it's important to have a thorough understanding of the market and to know exactly what to produce. That's also why we want to [limit] our annual production to 2,000, no more than 3,000, watches. Luxury takes time.
Q. You left the company for two years, but now you're back in the game.
A. This time, I have my wife as the company CEO. With the workload we have, I can't do everything myself. My wife is very efficient with the running of the company so I can focus on innovation and design.
Q. What's your take on the ever-changing Chinese luxury market?
A. Sophisticated Chinese customers are travelling everywhere. They are shopping in Paris, Milan, London and other places. Today, we have more of a world market. It's not about opening more shops in China but creating the right image there to boost overseas sales.