One of the most exclusive and expensive Swiss watch brands is steeling itself to welcome Generation Y into its storied dynasty.
Not that Girard-Perregaux is physically bracing for an onslaught of 25-year-olds. Rather, stainless steel will be the centrepiece of a more affordable and accessible range designed to roll out the welcome mat to a new generation of younger customers.
Newly appointed CEO Antonio Calce revealed details of the coming range to Executive Style in a lightning visit to Australia to meet customers and dealers.
The 224-year-old company that prides itself on history and heritage will use next year's Baselworld watch fair to launch a new family of watches encased in stainless steel. Many watches in its extensive range are presented in white, pink or rose gold, or ceramic. Several also have a steel-encased offering within the larger range.
The new steel-only offering will be positioned to allow the brand known as "GP" to transcend the intimidation of a range that currently starts around $14,000 and soars well into seven figures.
The most important thing is exclusivity. It's not price point.Antonio Calce
A sports chronograph model is expected to headline the new range, and will retail for less than 10,000 Swiss francs ($14,550). The entry point will be a steel version based on the elegant simplicity of its famed "1966" model, costing about 7600 francs ($11,060).
Calce describes the coming chrono as "chic" and says the range it anchors will be available in men's and women's models. "(The chronograph) is not a big watch, it is not show-off, always classic with a manufactured movement at a very, very tasty price," he says.
The former chief of the Corum brand humbly describes the company he now leads as "a real piece of gold in my hands". He repeatedly emphasises his respect for the brand's proud heritage of skill and innovation, which he says underpins every decision he makes.
However, with Swiss watchmakers facing a torrid time selling watches into major markets such as China and the US, Calce says the time is right to welcome a newly affluent, younger generation into the brand with a more affordable range.
"The mature people in the watch industry know GP, people 40 years old. Today we have to present the brand to people 20, 25 years old. I think it is important. But we need the right product," Calce says.
"What is important today is to be present in one of the bottom segments in the high end. Seven thousand, eight thousand (Swiss francs) is not a cheap watch, it's a lot of money. But this segment from 7000 to 10,000 is very important to help show the brand."
Status symbol of affluence
Steven Rom, the head of Australian watch importer Avstev, which sells Girard-Perregaux watches here, says Australians are getting wealthier at an earlier stage in life and seeking status symbols of their affluence.
"There's a new, younger audience who in the past would look to invest in a timepiece at 40 years of age, now there is an audience from 25 and upwards who are interested in investing in luxury products," he says.
"You look at the younger guys in real estate, the stock market, they are booming and they want to invest in a product with a name on it."
Calce says expanding his brand's appeal has industry-wide implications. "What is interesting is that we have the opportunity to explain the brand to different people, to younger people, because our goal is always to promote the watch industry, not only for GP," he says.
"It is good to show the younger customer that this is what the industry is about. This is the future of the watch, and to teach everyday people."
He maintains there is no risk of diluting GP's integrity or alienating his high-wealth customers who are attracted to a brand making only about 1000 watches every year.
'It is not a risk for the brand'
"It is not a risk for the brand. It would be a risk if the gap will be big, but (we will) remain in the luxury segment," he says. "The Three Bridges Toubillon with Minute Repeater, it will still be the same incredible piece."
He likens lowering the price of entry to the GP range to the offering of German sports car standard bearer Porsche. "You can buy a Porsche for half a billion, but the first price is 100,000. It's not the same motor, but it is the same identity, the same integrity," he says.
"The most important thing is exclusivity. It's not price point. If I decide to do 20,000 chronographs and I push the market, I kill the value of the brand, I kill the exclusivity of the high-end pieces.
"If you remain exclusive, as will be the case, you cannot expose the whole collection. It's based around the quantities and not the price."