In 2009, a new brand made its debut to the SIHH, the Ralph Lauren Watch & Jewelry Co, a joint venture between the iconic lifestyle brand and the Richemont Group, the watchmaking giant. Yet, the path has not been simple and after several unclear collections and hesitations in positioning the brand, the brand was absent from the SIHH 2016. Though, this was not the end of the story. New teams, repositioning of the collections, appointment of industry veteran Guillaume Têtu, first as Product Development Director and as COO since October, finally a discreet comeback of the brand at the SIHH 2017. It was perfect timing for us to sit down with our long-time friend Guillaume and to understand his vision for the Ralph Lauren Watch & Jewelry Co.
Before we let Guillaume explains his vision and the strategy Ralph Lauren wants to implement for its Watch and Jewelry division, the big news (as reported by our colleagues Watchonista here) is that the brand will be officially back at the SIHH in 2018 (this year, the brand was in the SIHH salons but didn’t have a prominent booth, like previous years)
You joined Ralph Lauren a year ago. Can you tell us about the recent developments in the way the brand is shaping its watch offering?
Ralph Lauren Watch & Jewelry was created in 2008 and the collection was launched in 2009 during the SIHH, 8 years ago. The goal, since day 1, has been to establish a strong offering of fine watchmaking and jewelry, in partnership with Richemont Group.
When I joined the company as Product Development Director, my mission was to continue to develop the product lines with Mr. Lauren himself and the design team in New York, as well as streamline the product development process in order to be more efficient. The product portfolio was already well developed, with 4 main pillars for the watches linked to 4 strong universes of Ralph Lauren:
- The equestrian world with the Stirrup
- The Automotive, linked to Mr. Lauren’s passion for beautiful cars
- The Safari, the perfect outdoor and adventure collection
- And the ArtDeco(Slim, RL888, 867) – very New York!
For Jewelry, we have 3 strong universes also; Equestrian, Art deco, and Glamour with our Chunky Chain. We have a clearly defined pyramid of products, with a top down design strategy; high jewelry and complicated timepieces at the top, historical fine watchmaking in the middle, using Piaget, JLC or IWC calibers thanks to our partner, the Richemont Group, and for our everyday pieces we use quartz movements from Cartier or Sellita, with steel cases. So we cover a range from $1,800 to $900,000!
I took over the leadership of the company in October as COO, and I’m really excited about this great challenge, which is full of opportunity and allows me to continue the journey I started, developing Mr. Lauren’s vision of fine watchmaking.
This sounds like a sound, consistent strategy. We assume this means that you plan to work on distribution too? What is the current status in this respect?
We have strong visibility in our own flagship store network around the world, with 50 Ralph Lauren doors, as well as a few independent retailers, mainly in Japan and the USA. Now that we have defined a clear and consistent range of timepiece collections, this will enable us to open key partners in the main markets around the world to help increase our visibility and reach more customers.
Our historical average price was $15,000, however we will now have a wider offer within the $2,000 to $6,000 range, which make sense as we have clear DNA, unique product design and distinctive offering in the lifestyle segment. In fact, we are the only brand able to claim that lifestyle positioning.
So we will open more doors to target up to 100 independent retailers, it’s a good balance between visibility and exclusivity.
At SIHH 2017 you have presented several grande complications to us. What is your strategy with regards to high-end timepieces?
Mr. Lauren is really passionate about watches and we always brainstorm about products that we could create to establish and position the brand. Mr. Lauren’s choices are not about compromise, he really knows what he wants and we do our best to make people understand that this is a serious undertaking, led by passion and creativity.
This year we presented a Minute repeater, a unique piece, in a beautiful white gold slim case; and we developed a Tourbillon and Double Tourbillon, in our unique and distinctive Automotive Wood bezel design. We have a real interest in creating such amazing pieces and we have some really demanding collectors of the brand who share our passion for excellence.
How does the Ralph Lauren watch business benefit from the joint venture with Richemont Group?
The term Joint Venture is really very accurate. We have the best of both worlds! Ralph Lauren leads the creativity, design, brand image and communication, from New York, so I’m there every month to review the collection, future plans, product development and design, in addition to having overview of marketing. Richemont is providing all the services required to establish a fine watchmaking and jewelry company. We have access to the movements from the Maisons, the factories, the supply chain, the platforms on the markets, and all administrative support (IT, HR, etc)
In our joint venture, we organize the product development, the quality control, assembly, supply chain and logistic, the sales, marketing and administrative coordination. It’s a small company supported by 2 giants.
What about jewelry?
This is probably the biggest area of development we can expect for the next few years!
With our 3 pillars, we have huge potential, as in the fine watchmaking, as we have a strong brand image, with an existing base of products and customers. Ralph Lauren is an extremely popular brand. So we will continue to launch new products to complete our collections, starting with the “every day” fine jewelry from 2K to 6K USD and going up from there. We have no limits, we have offered some bespoke developments of high jewelry at 1 Million USD. Additionally, we have re-launched our historical Chunky Chain collection and we will extend the family in time for Valentine’s Day!
With a clear product assortment, a strong network, and a good mix between fine watches and jewelry, our future is bright. As Ralph says: “it’s just the beginning!”