Innovative, Elegant & Contemporary by Siems Luckwaldt | 28th January, 2015 | Offices
For 140 years the name Piaget has been synonymous with top quality watchmaking. In that time, the Swiss manufacturer has also excelled in jewelry design. It does, however, remain committed to its heritage of world-famous watches: ultra-thin and always inspired!
When Philippe Léopold-Metzger talks about his work, in his distinct French accent, listeners hold their breath. Although he was born in New York, part of his family hails from the land of haute cuisine and haute couture. He spends every free minute on the company whose management has been entrusted to him: the watch and jewelry brand Piaget. “Modern technology is fantastic,” says the CEO, speaking on the phone from Geneva. “You can be in the office, wherever you are. On the other hand, I believe we now work longer hours than ever before. Especially in a business like ours, which operates globally. Somewhere in the world it is already tomorrow …”
It is hard to believe that this family man becomes a couch potato – as he claims – when relaxing at home, watching soccer on TV. Business at Piaget is much too dynamic for that, and it takes place on two levels: developing much sought-after timepieces, many of which have been awarded prizes or broken records, is a considerable achievement. But establishing itself among the world’s top jewelers, as Piaget has done, demands a very special kind of expertise. Only very few brands have managed to thrill men and women in equal measure – let alone over a period of 140 years. And Philippe Léopold-Metzger knows this only too well: “There are two hearts beating inside our brand. Both are powerful and very healthy. My job is to keep them dynamic and to further increase their pace.”
The beginnings of the company back in 1874 – were humble. It was founded on the Piaget family farm in the village of La Côte-aux-Fées (French for “Fairy Hill”) up in the Swiss mountains. The dreamy, snowy winters spent among the hills and spruce forests were probably very conducive to developing innovative ideas. At the age of only 19, Georges Edouard Piaget created pocket watches, which were works of extreme precision. His son Timothée, one of 14 children, focused on wristwatches. The grandchildren of the founder, Gérald and Valentin, registered Piaget as a trademark in 1943, and pressed ahead with the creation and marketing of new models. The rest, as they say, is history.
„Women want designs that fulfill more than one requirement.“ Philippe Léopold-Metzger
The “Calibre 9P” model, produced in 1957, is surely among the highlights of the following decades, because despite having a hand-wound movement, it is only 2 millimeters thick. In 1968, the “Automatic Calibre 12P” even secured Piaget’s first entry in the Guinness Book of Records for its ultra-thin movement. Piaget also excels when it comes to the complexity of its mechanisms: whether it be the world’s thinnest tourbillon movement (the “Calibre 600P”) or the “Emperador” launched in 2013, which boasts a minute repeater and 407 assembled component parts in a 4.8-millimeter case. Add to that perpetual calendars and flyback chronographs … You can always count on Piaget to have something innovative up their sleeve, like cases made of gold or platinum. Such wide renown paved the way for further expansion. In the 1960s, the factory at La Côte-aux-Fées, where all the movements are made to this day, was joined by a second one in Geneva, specializing in precious items for women. Furthermore, the Piagets acquired a great number of goldsmiths in the city. It was a strategy which soon turned the brand into a celebrated creator of glamorous jewelry and – almost more importantly – of jewelry watches. Like no other company, Piaget has combined haute joaillerie and the refinement of haute horlogerie, for clients such as Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor. Ranges like “Miss Protocôle” with its extravagant interchangeable bracelets provide something for every taste. The same is true for the diamond-encrusted “Limelight” line (watches costs around 40,000 euros each), which is complemented by a range of rings, whose “look” was inspired by well-known cocktails.
Because of his creative prowess, Piaget was not only able to afford designing such extravagances, but was also able to turn them into sparkling reality. For example, with the world’s first hands made of onyx or coral; glass mosaics consisting of 5,000 pieces; enamel micro-paintings on watch faces; and tiny pictures applied in layers and bonded together at temperatures above 800°C – a process that is repeated about 20 times for each layer. For Prince Albert of Monaco, Piaget even created a diamond pattern in the shape of his fingerprint. “We took his print at a special gala dinner, with the aid of some ink and a notepad. The ink was so difficult to remove that the prince was forced to spend the remainder of the evening with a blue index finger,” remembers Piaget’s sixty-year-old CEO, laughing. The watch was subsequently auctioned off for charity.
Since 1988, Piaget has been part of the Richemont S.A. group, which also owns brands like Cartier, Montblanc, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Jaeger-LeCoultre. With gemologist Yves G. Piaget as its president, a descendant of the company founder keeps a close eye on the brand.
Philippe Léopold-Metzger emphasizes that the company continues to be a family business, albeit one with currently 800 locations in 84 countries, an annual output of 25,000 to 30,000 watches and approximately 1,030 employees. Half of these are watchmakers, goldsmiths and jewelers. They are based at the company headquarters and in the new haute horlogerie workshop in Plan-les-Ouates outside Geneva, which brings together as many as forty trades under one roof.
Piaget has even managed to establish itself in Hollywood, by sponsoring the Independent Spirit Awards, and with the aid of Piaget ambassadors Bar Refaeli and her predecessors Jessica Alba and Sienna Miller.
In time for its 140th anniversary, Piaget launched the “Altiplano 900P,” which at 3.65 millimeters is the thinnest mechanical watch in the world. A miracle of engineering and the result of three years of development work, it has to be seen to be understood. In the Altiplano 900P, the movement and case have been fused. The bottom of the case is the “motherboard” for 145 parts.
To conclude, let’s talk a little business. As is usual in the industry, a large part of Piaget’s turnover is generated in Asia, predominantly in China, and is split in equal parts between mechanical and jewelry watches. Add to that a growing segment that includes necklaces and other jewelry. Léopold-Metzger explains the pressures to innovate: “Some of our clients buy several watches a year, which is why we constantly have to offer something new.” So what about fountain pens, sunglasses or perfume? Philippe Léopold-Metzger has explored these options, but in the end decided to stick to what the brand has been doing for 140 years – true to the motto espoused by its founder Georges Edouard Piaget: “Faire toujours mieux que nécessaire.” sl