Girard-Perregaux commemorated its 225th anniversary of watchmaking in 2016, issuing a number of special editions and introducing (or re-introducing) several new models and collections, this year as well as last, in a concerted effort to streamline the brand’s identity and build a stronger bridge to its heritage. The man spearheading that effort is Antonio Calce, CEO of the Sowind Group (which encompasses Girard-Perregaux as well as its sister brand, JeanRichard), who recently sat down with me in New York City for a wide-ranging interview about Girard-Perregaux’s future.
WT: Girard-Perregaux is a brand that has undergone a lot of management changes, and shifts in focus, in recent years. As you come on board, where are you planning to take the brand and how will you make it stand out?
AC: We started to redefine the strategy of the brand three years ago. To me, what is important is a commitment to reconnect the brand with its heritage. We have more than  years of history, and my goal is to take good care of that heritage. Since 2015, we’ve taken significant steps to redefine the product strategy and, fortunately, this company has some very iconic products; we are not a mono-product brand. We have the 1966, the 1945, the Laureato… and we also produce every year a few hundred pieces at the real high-horology level. It’s really two different business models. [At one point,] it was difficult to understand, “Who is Girard-Perregaux?” Now, the product strategy is very clear, with five pillars. We have the Heritage pillar; the Classic pillar, with the 1966 and the 1945; the Three Bridges pillar, also with Complications based on the Three Bridges; the Cat’s Eye pillar for the ladies, and finally, the Laureato pillar.
WT: To start with the Bridges pillar, can you tell me about the development of the Neo-Bridges, which the company has stated would be the flagship of a new Bridges collection?
AC: The Three Bridges, of course, is a signature product of Girard-Perregaux, which everybody knows. In the past, the only model we had at the high horology level was a Three Bridges tourbillon. Today we’ve redefined the Three Bridges product strategy, with the goal of [creating] a real product family around this signature piece, in three different price segments, and with three different functions. The Neo-Bridges is the first one, and it’s meant to be classic and contemporary. Its case is always in titanium or in gold. The titanium Neo-Bridges debuted in 2017, and in 2018 we will have it in gold. We’ll also have a new, basic complication based on the Three Bridges collection. In 2019, we’ll have a “middle” complication. [The reasoning is that even] if you have one of the most iconic products, you can’t really capitalize on it if you’re only producing tourbillon pieces.
WT: Getting back to the overall brand identity, and the five pillars, does this mean there will be other product families that will be de-emphasized or discontinued, like the Competizione racing chronographs from last year? Is the goal to streamline a collection that has perhaps expanded a bit too far from its core?
AC: Five pillars in the collection is a lot. The most important thing to realize is that we do not develop products because Antonio Calce likes the product. It’s all about what the brand needs for its future. We had, in our history, an iconic product called the Laureato and we had never focused on the development of this product, which has always had a strong personality, a strong identity. Between 1970 and 1975, the Golden Age of the luxury sports watch, it was one of three iconic products, with the Audemars Piguet Royal Qak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus. In 2017 we have finally built a real family around it.
WT: One of the pieces some of us were a bit surprised to see was the new Laureato skeleton, with a skeletonized version of an existing G-P in-house movement. So, as you expand the Laureato family — I assume, with new complications and possibly new designs — will there be any new movements developed for these watches? And how far would you want to take the Laureato from its original conception as a relatively uncomplicated luxury sports watch?
AC: On the new movements, of course. We are only at the beginning of the development of the Laureato, and it’s a little bit early for me to talk about strategy, but I can tell you that the goal is to create different levels in Laureato, not just to play with different dial colors and straps. In 2018, the brand strategy will be focused mainly on the Laureato and the high-horology pieces. The Laureato strategy specifically will concentrate on establishing three different levels — core collection, middle range collection, and high-end complications, all based on the Laureato design. We are hoping to both enrich the collection and to create a lot of value.
WT: The development of the Neo-Bridges was also an interesting and bold move. It’s based, of course, on the brand’s iconic Three Bridges tourbillon, but not only is there no tourbillon in that watch, there also wasn’t even all three bridges. How far from the original concept do you think you’d want to take that design?
AC: Sometimes there will be three, sometimes two, sometimes only one bridge. We are already more or less ready with the middle-range model in this collection, and it will have only one bridge. It’s a very nice complication, one based on the Three Bridges signature, but we didn’t have enough space to include three or even two bridges. We’ll play with different numbers of bridges. The goal is to always have always the same signature, the same code.
WT: What would be the aesthetic element that binds them all together as a collection if it’s not that familiar Three Bridges motif?
AC: Even with only two bridges, I think there is no doubt that these are real Girard-Perregaux watches. What’s the code, what’s the DNA of the Bridges collection? It’s the symmetrical architecture, with the micro-rotor here and the barrel there, and the bridges always functional — one for the balance wheel and one for the barrel and the support. And it’s the bridges’ familiar, unique shape.
WT: One overall question about Baselworld vs. SIHH. The brand returned to SIHH in 2017, after many years showing at Baselworld. I’m sure, in your career, you have experienced both [Calce has held executive positions at the Richemont Group and most recently at Corum]. What do you see as the differences between the two watch fairs and why is SIHH a better fit for today’s Girard-Perregaux?
AC: First off, 90% of our clients come to the SIHH, whereas maybe 60% of our clients attend Baselworld. At Baselworld, you can find not just luxury products but products priced as low as $10.00 – $15.00. I think the positioning of SIHH is perfectly in line with our positioning. We are in our garden, as they say. And don’t forget, Girard-Perregaux was one of the founding brands of SIHH. We’ve really been there since the beginning, and it was a natural business decision to come back.
WT: Speaking of business decisions, one more question about the corporate level: is the Sowind Group, the parent company of both Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard, focusing solely on Girard-Perregaux now when it comes to marketing in the U.S.?
AC: The Sowind Group is actually made up of four entities: the Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard brands, the Girard-Perregaux museum, and the factory that produces both brands. JeanRichard would be never put on hold, but today, it is not possible to focus on two brands, and attempting to do so would be mistake because of their totally different positioning. We will take care ofJeanRichard in the near future, but for now we have to re-focus on the big sister in the group. Girard-Perregaux has amazing potential, and we achieved incredible goals in 2016 and 2015. Let’s now take the next few steps and then revisit JeanRichard.