The new boss of IWC talks to QP about Instagram, in-house and Ingenieurs
By Timothy Barber
QP: You began your career as an architect. What kind of things were you doing?
Chris Grainger-Herr: My career started here in London, actually. My background is in interior design – I actually wanted to be in set design originally, and I worked in fashion for a bit. But once I started on interior design I did a placement here 2001 that led me to retail design. I worked on a men’s accessories store on Sloane Street and that was what got me into the “hard luxury” side of things.
When I went back to Switzerland, I got a job in Zurich and I started to work on high end office and hospitality projects. About a year into that we got a phone call from Richemont saying ‘do you want to design a museum for IWC?’. My dad was a watch man and I had loved IWC forever so I jumped at the opportunity, and that’s where it all started.
QP: How does that background influence how you approach things today?
CGH: I think in terms of an architect, which basically is taking a conceptual idea and translating it into a rather complex system of things that all work perfectly together. It’s quite a logical progression. I also have experience from a brand positioning angle because back in 2009 we worked on the repositioning of Roger Dubuis and Baume & Mercier and a few other brands in the group, so, I tend to look at these brands holistically and say, ‘ok, what is the positioning of that brand? What are the values? What is it like? What does it feel and taste like and how is that translated into campaigns?’.
QP: Ok so when we talk about how IWC is presented to the world, with a very narrative-led, story-led approach around things like the Pilots or the Da Vinci, is that something that you have really driven?
CGH: Every time we had a re-launch we used to sit together with the same three or four people and ask that question, ‘ok, the new Pilot’s line, where do we see it? What are the stories we want to tell about it?’ IWC is always about this functional background, and that’s translated into luxury timepieces of today.
QP: If we contrast the Ingenieur of five years ago with the re-launched Ingenieur now, that tells something of a story. What can we take from that?
CGH: In the 1970s the luxury watch first ventured into steel and being a tool watch and then, via things like Porsche Design and the introduction of titanium in the 1980s you saw that the instrument watch became a luxury watch. Now we see that trend reversing a little bit again: the tool watches and the real instruments are occupying a different price-point and you have this drive towards an everyday wearable product which is a bit more classic and luxurious than it was five or six years ago when we were still a bit more aggressive. It had a boldness to it but it was fairly cold and functional in its feel and I think that in 2016 definitely didn’t feel right any more. We’re in the feel-good industry, we’re in the escapism industry and it just felt like nowadays things need to be a little bit warmer and more welcoming. Maybe it’s to do with the collapse of the financial industry, I don’t know, but this sort of Wall Street power image has certainly changed to something a lot more approachable.
QP: With regard to the clear hierarchy that we see in IWC’s collections, from the entry level pieces like the Mark 18 or Ingenieur Automatic up to the high complications, which areas are succeeding right now?
CGH: I think it’s similar to what’s happening to the premium car industry, you have two big trends emerging. Trend number one is definitely the accessible segment becoming commercially very important and then at the other end you have the talking pieces. You can really see the two opposite ends of the spectrum; the classic Mercedes example is the decline of the E-Class versus the A-Class, the compact models and then the S-Class and the extravagant stuff. We see the same trend emerging.
QP: People looking for the unique has inspired real growth in customisable luxury; is that something we might start seeing in IWC?
CGH: Yes, totally. I’m in the middle of developing this entire aspect of personalisation, customisation, what is possible in store, what is possible online. It used to be one way conversation. You have feedback from journalists, feedback from retailers but the customer’s direct feedback to the brand consisted of a few letters you received, whereas today you have a true dialogue. For all the negatives that come with social media, this is one of the huge benefits. The way we receive and act on customer feedback has changed dramatically. There are watch models now that would not exist without demand driven by what we see on social media.
QP: Can you give us an example? Don’t the enthusiasts who are commenting on social media want something very different – 38mm watches with no date! – from what actually sells in your main markets?
CGH: Yes, for sure, I think you have to look very closely at who your audiences are on different platforms. Obviously this is not the main commercial portfolio, but there is great potential to do editions that cater for these different audiences. I posted a custom 5002 Big Pilot titanium on my Instagram a few weeks ago and I had 50+ comments of people asking ‘please, please, please can you make this?’ We decided to do it and we sold them all exclusively via my Instagram. Within 48 hours we had people messaging me directly for every one of the 100 invitation numbers, and that’s on my personal account, not even IWC’s Instagram account. In 48 hours, all gone.
QP: Tell us more about the process of introducing in-house movements which has been a big theme over the last seven or eight years. Is that still developing?
CGH: Yes, we’re launching the next phase now. As of October we’re opening a new manufacturing centre in Schaffhausen for case-making, component making and movement assembly. As you know in the Ingenieur we launched the 69 chronograph movement which is the in-house backbone chronograph and the idea is to develop this into a super high quality, high volume chronograph that can be the backbone of our Pilot collection. And we’re adding the automatic equivalent to that.
QP: What’s been the hottest IWC watch of the last couple of years?
CGH: Last year for sure the Petit Prince Chronograph Pilot’s and the Mark 18 blue dial has been a huge success. That’s really well received, that was the biggest spike we’ve seen in years from one particular reference.