Previously Head of Watches at Bvlgari, Guido Terreni is largely recognised as the man who presided over the brand’s golden age of watchmaking. Barely two years into the role, Terreni has already introduced a new collection, the Tonda PF, with a horological world premiere: the GMT Rattrapante. It’s quite obvious what the Sandoz Family Foundation, generous patrons of legendary watch restorer and founder Michel Parmigiani, hopes that Terreni will accomplish with the House. What Augustman is curious about, is how exactly Terreni will do it.
You were at Bvlgari for 2 decades, you presided over the launch of the Octo. What would you say was biggest challenge at the time compared to what you face at Parmigiani ?
The market said we had a problem because the brand was understood as a jewellery brand and so the work that was done in 20 years at Bulgari was a repositioning and the will to to acquire watchmaking legitimacy. This is a journey which is monumental. It takes decades so when I took over the division 2009, I really had the mandate from the family to make the best of what was possible. So we acquired Gerald Genta and Daniel Roth and so it was a work that that took a lot of time and investment; it’s very difficult to build prestige, provenance and the watchmaking environment because watchmaking is about specialists. It’s about competence. It’s about craft as well. A perception and image is difficult to shift. The work in Parmigiani is completely different, because the prestige is already up there. When the brand was first launched, it was able to grasp the interest of the highest collectors of who placed the brand at the top of the Olympus of watchmakers.
You’re right to say that legitimacy wasn’t present at Bulgari the way it was at Parmigiani but the truth is, the brand was very niche…
Yes, prestige was there but commercial success was lacking.
Why though? Shouldn’t all watch connoisseurs love the brand because Parmigiani makes crucial components and calibres for many of the top brands?
Foremost, Parmigiani was birthed by Michel Parmigiani in 1996 and it was a different world then. What Michel gave to the brand was extraordinary finishing, deep knowledge of watchmaking culture through restoration and understated luxury. It was for a client that existed in a much different world.
Today things are less formal than 25 years ago, and the taste in watchmaking has become fresher and younger but that doesn’t mean it has become less refined. So what was difficult in these last 25 years the company was the contiguity of pleasing a client who was evolving in his tastes.
So I would say that the brand aged with its clientele, and it got a bit lost in translation. It happens in business as in life. But what is interesting to understand is that those values that were at the foundation of the brand was deep cultural knowledge of watchmaking, superlative hand decoration and understatement are still very valuable today. But, with which offer do you want to serve the customer?
That was the big question that I had to answer when I entered the company. By doing that, we were able to redefine the brand identity which is actually contemporary while respecting those values of the brand were founded. The Tonda Pf is our response.
Would it be right say that the Tonda PF would be the core collection for the resurgence of Parmigiani?
You have to make choices when you are a relaunching a brand and this reactivation has been extremely fast because when you asked me the difference between Bulgari and Parmigiani is that repositioning takes decades. A reactivation happens overnight if the brand is prestigious. So what we are experiencing is something beyond our expectations because the speed of the watch lovers who come to an understanding of what we are doing lets us realise that we are dealing with knowledgeable customers who can understand and go beyond the marketing exercise. He understands the authenticity of the proposal because what we are offering is a respect to a purist watchmaking philosophy and aesthetic goals that have been in the brand since the beginning.
We decided to be more minimalist with the PF logo while reducing the cuts of the guilloche to become more modern in order to fit the definitions of 21st century luxury by turning it into a sort of “texture”. The finishing of the case and the wearability of the bracelet are all elements that give a sensation of comfort and craft. This offer has been extremely well appreciated and we’re very pleased with the response.
Would it be right to say that in your previous role, you allowed the storytelling element to speak more than the technical know how but at Parmigiani, you’re letting the technical know how to speak more. Is that a correct assessment?
I think at Bulgari it was way to gain watchmaking legitimacy and as an Italian brand with contemporary design, we played with these elements to make something disruptive. With Parmigiani, the technical side is already present and at an extremely high level, we needed to inject a contemporary aesthetic into the brand. At Parmigiani, it’s a quest for simplicity that is not so apparent because you have a minimalist look that is very clean but beneath the surface, you have a level of craft that is extraordinarily difficult to accomplish. The guilloche dial as a texture is not invasive and does not take undue attention away from your eyes as opposed to classic guilloche where it is a focal point. By doing it so thin, it becomes very fresh and a design language of its own while respecting the craft that has been in the brand since the beginning. There are many aesthetic codes we relooked into and made them protagonists with a clear focus on who the client is today: a 30-35 year old who is into watchmaking but not into the mainstream brands because he wants his personal choice to be refined and not extravagant, luxurious without being ostentatious. All these values are expressed through a style that is very consistently applied through different movements that you will see around the collection. This is a unique expression when technique can be functional for style. Subtle, discreet, non-invasive.
The first thing I asked when I joined was “what do you want to be?”, followed by “who do you want to serve?”. What we are doing is exactly suited for Parmigiani as an independent brand. Michel was 25 years old and when everyone was going forwards, he was going backwards restoring classic watches, so you can imagine the independent mindset and level of confidence in the craft and finishing versus what you can find in the average collection across the brands. This is due to the sensitivity to the historical knowledge that Michelle has in restoration because you don’t have to master only the draft of today, you also have to master the craft of the whole history of watchmaking when you were a restoring watches. One gets acquainted to a level of sensitivity which is superior and this is what we want to convey.
What sort of pressure did you expect when you said yes to the top job at Parmigiani?
It’s very high. Bulgari was the work of a decade or more. Here, I have to do it in a shorter time because of the urgency of the numbers. The pressure was very strong last year, I gave myself that pressure because it was necessary when I joined, I understood the figures better and realised that we really needed to rewrite what Parmigiani was and reactivate its strengths – many things have happened and not just with the product offerings. We also cut distribution by 70%, we need quality over quantity, we need to be able to present professionally and competently. We are focusing on fewer things to showcase in order to e more impactful and we are trying to find the language which is not the usual industry lingo where you show the watch in a traditional watch. We are trying to make people understand that Parmigiani is about a serene way of living. Swiss nature is pleasant, not aggressive, you’re not competing against something. There’s room to respect everyone.
How much input did you have in the new Tonda? I’m asking because you performed a bracelet flex demonstration and it reminded me of only one other watch in the world which can do that and it was from your previous brand…
[laughs] It’s my obsession. I have always led design very closely. Design is not carte blanche to do whatever I want, design has to respect the brand. Good design not at the service of the brand is ultimately bad design. So the consistency of the collection and the consistency of the values that you want to showcase are extremely important. A brand is like a person, you have to be true to yourself. When you are selecting a CEO, it’s a process of few months, so I had the time to look at the brand from the outside and form my ideas on what what should be done in order to make it interesting in today’s world.
By the time I started, I got organised with my strategy and I was able to work on the collection very quickly. I can say that in my first 90 days, I only started to work on my 80th day [laughs] and those 10 days really set up what we wanted to accomplish: What we wanted to say as watchmakers and who we wanted to serve and the solution came in the form of the Tonda PF. This is a good sign because usually when a designer is looking for ideas, he’s often going in circles, which implies that the idea is probably not that strong. In those cases, it is better to move on to something different. But in three weeks, the Tonda PF collection was designed.
Brands like Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe are trying not to be “that one watch brand” and with the highly competitive integrated bracelet luxury watch genre and the growing popularity of the Tonda PF, is it your worry that Parmigiani too becomes a “one watch brand”?
No. In my mind, Parmigiani has a lot more to offer but you cannot fix everything in one day and you have to start with the best horse you have. The Tonda GT was the first attempt to do something fresher and based on that, it evolved into the core elements of elegance. I felt the GT was going a little bit too sporty so we had to restate what the vision of Parmigiani was about. Tonda GT and the Tonda PF account for 95% of our orders and that’s really crazy. We are enjoying four and a half times last year’s turnover and so we are struggling to fulfil our orders this year. It’s easy to understand why when it takes nine to twelve months to make a watch and accelerate production so quickly.
For sure, the potential of the collection is high but this doesn’t mean that we should not focus on other collections and other expressions of classical, high end timepieces with extremely interesting complications. Restoration for me remains an interesting and unique angle of high end watchmaking. There are plenty of ways to develop the brand but we have to be very disciplined. You have to give the public time to digest where the brand is going. The world premiere GMT is an innovative way of reinterpreting one of the best functions in the world. We have a full fledged assortment today that we will nourish with innovation and creativity while respecting the soul of this collection.