One of the most innovative projects to bring watchmaking into the public eye and promote the role of young people in the industry is being led by Swiss watch brand Girard-Perregaux. The project is called The New Face of Tradition and is working to expose the youthful personalities working at its headquarters. So far it has been on a promotional world tour, taking a select group of its young watchmakers to locations such as Beijing and New York and setting them up in the streets of the cities so that passers by can get a glimpse into the world of the watchmakers and connect its timepieces to the human talent required to bring them into fruition. Michele Sofisti is the chief executive of Sowind, the parent company of Girard-Perregaux and is passionate about the project. He takes time out to speak with Rachael Taylor about why this project is so vital.
WatchPro: Why is this project so important for Girard-Perregaux?
Michele Sofisti: There are different reasons why, for us, this project was so important. The first was to show to everybody that such an old heritage company such as Girard-Perregaux is projected to the future with watchmakers of such a young age.
WP: What knock-on effects does it have for the brand’s image?
MS: The watchmakers are very young, passionate and into what they do daily. It gives the image of a company that is very dynamic.
WP: Are you aiming to break down the secrecy that cloaks the trade?
MS: In a world where the luxury segment should really show authenticity we wanted to show who is really behind the watch. This is the face of the person of who is making this watch. Putting a watchmaking table in the middle of Times Square is showing the work, the heritage and the ability of these people, showing to the world what is behind a complicated watch. People buy a watch with no idea the skills needed to put it together.
WP: Do you think the images of young watchmakers challenge stereotypes?
MS: We ask about their favourite passions and why they are doing it [which is shown on the New Face of Tradition website]. The young watchmakers are people like everybody else; they have a piercing, they have a tattoo. You look at them outside the workplace and you don’t think they are able to put together a tourbillon, but they are very skilled.
I think it is a little bit of a surprise.
WP: Was that your intention – to challenge preconceptions?
MS: It was not to surprise the world but to say “look how many young skilled watchmakers we have inside the company”, as these people are the future of the company. If you think of a watchmaker of a tourbillon or a super-complicated watch you think of someone with long years in the business but in this case we have very skilled trained young people who are very passionate.
WP: Where have they come from?
MS: Some of them have fathers and grandfathers who have worked as watchmakers in the past. This is one of the strengths of La Chaux-de-Fonds, but it is not like this in all of the watch industry. It is a tradition to go from father to son in the watch industry, particularly in the high end.
WP: Do you have a high demand from young people to join the brand?
MS: We have people asking to join us and we have training programs that are very interesting. The tradition of Girard-Perregeaux is such that people are excited to do some practical work after school [for us] and most people stay, if you treat them with training and a vision for the future. We have a training programme for people coming out school.
WP: Watchmaking is a major industry in Switzerland, so do children grow up with aspirations to work in the trade?
MS: Yes. They do other work for money, but they do [watchmaking] for passion. This is really what makes the difference in the tradition of the watch industry. In other industries you find many people need to work and they get the work and, ok they have a job, but here there is real passion for the watch industry.
WP: Are there plans to extend the New face of Tradition campaign?
MS: We will keep it going and on 3rd of September we will go to Paris. Besides the young watchmakers we organise tours with Dominique Loiseau. He has recently been in Beijing, which was very significant. He is a visionary and inventor. For the young watchmakers to get together with him and hear his philosophy inspires them. To do a moment where they are together is fantastic. We will do it again in Paris then Dominique will go to New York on 13th to 15th of September.
WP: Will you keep the same watchmakers in the campaign?
MS: We will rotate it. This is very motivational, which is very important.
This article was taken from the July 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine, out now. To view a digital version of the magazine click here.