It has been a phenomenal year for the watch world. To round off 2022, we are celebrating the hits, the wonders, the visionaries and all the people in watchmaking who have made it so memorable in our annual Revolution Awards and Power Lists.
Today we look at the heavyweights of the watch industry. This is The Establishment.
The business of watches — like any business — has ups and downs. For other brands, major events like the global financial crisis, pandemics and the Chinese anti-corruption crackdown, to cite a few examples, have been a white-knuckle ride of uncertainty and anxiety. The watch industry establishment, though, remains serenely unaffected, keeping calm and carrying on. They have led the way in both innovation and business, and come what may, they will continue to do so.
Jasmine Audemars, Alessandro Bogliolo and The Board Of Directors, Audemars Piguet
Audemars Piguet is riding high in 2022. Indeed, the brand’s stock has never been higher, and CEO François-Henry Bennahmias is the most visible agent of this change. However, Bennahmias’ long tenure is set to end as he will be stepping down in 2023, after almost 30 years at the company. It was also announced earlier this year that Jasmine Audemars will step down from her role as chairwoman in November 2022, with former Tiffany & Co. CEO Alessandro Bogliolo taking over as chairman. Despite the leadership change, we expect the brand’s future to continue to shine bright, not least thanks to the continued phenomenal success of the Royal Oak.
Wertheimer Family, Chanel
If you’re interested in watches and follow the financial pages, many of the names in these pages — Arnault, Rupert and the rest — will likely be familiar. You might not be so familiar with the Wertheimer brothers, Alain and Gerard. You should be, because their portfolio holds some of the most interesting watchmaking brands around. They’ve been the co-owners of Chanel since 1974, and of course, that brand makes some very serious pieces of horology. On top of that, Chanel has made a series of interesting minority investments, including Bell & Ross, Romain Gauthier and F.P. Journe, as well as movement manufacturer Kenissi. That’s already a serious group of brands, especially when backed by the giant that is Chanel. One thing is clear, if the Wertheimers ever decide to go all in on watches, things could get very interesting indeed.
Bernard Arnault, LVMH
Given that his peers in the “richest guys in the world” club are busy launching suspiciously shaped rockets into space and turning social media platforms into scorched earth hellscapes, the French billionaire and patriarch of the LVMH empire is remarkably low key. The 73-year-old has been the largest shareholder in the group and chairman of the board since 1989, and is responsible for taking the luxury conglomerate to new heights, including overseeing the purchase of Tiffany & Co. While Arnault is every inch a consummate gentleman, he isn’t above a subtle wrist flex — posing with a unique Patek Philippe 5740 with Tiffany Blue dial in a photo posted on his son (TAG Heuer CEO) Frédéric Arnault’s Instagram account.
Philippe and Thierry Stern, Patek Philippe
The Stern family has been providing stability to the Grand Dame of watchmaking — Patek Philippe — since 1932, when Charles and Jean Stern acquired the storied marque. Charles’ son Henri took the mantle in 1958, and eventually passed it on to his son Philippe in 1993. In 1994, Thierry Stern joined the family business, eventually taking over as president in 2009. This multigenerational legacy has ensured that Patek Philippe remains a family owned company, rather than a blue-chip brand traded between corporate overlords. Over the decades, the Stern family has maintained an even hand on the tiller, gradually increasing production and prices, and refraining from flooding the market with desirable blockbusters — no matter how tempting this might be. This long-term thinking has clearly paid off, and Patek Philippe stands tall as a bastion of the broader industry. For a brand that is synonymous with “looking after it for the next generation,” the question of Thierry Stern’s successor is inevitable. The fourth-generation leader has two sons who might represent the fifth generation of this incredible dynasty, but Thierry has made it clear that it’s their choice.
Richard Mille and Dominique Guenat, Richard Mille
It’s tempting to still think of Richard Mille as an upstart brand — disrupting the circular watch economy with their sporty tonneaus. The truth, however, is backed up by their steady climb up Morgan Stanley’s revenue ranking for luxury watch brands. This ascension is impressive enough, but Richard Mille is going toe to toe with giants with a literal fraction of their production volume. Behind the high profile endorsements and incredible technological achievements are Richard Mille (the man) and Dominique Guenat. These two gentlemen have done more than any other individuals in reframing and redefining what a luxury watch is. There’s a reason the watches are referred to as a “billionaire’s handshake.” And while the brand is comparatively young, at only 23 years old, its influence and impact place it in an unassailable position for decades to come.
Johann Rupert, Richemont
The Richemont group of brands, including powerhouses like Cartier and Vacheron Constantin, cuts a wide swathe through the landscape of modern luxury. Behind all these prestigious manufactures sits Johann Rupert. The South African billionaire founded the luxury conglomerate in 1988, and over the years, became increasingly focused on hard luxury, especially watches and jewelry. Rupert has a reputation as an astute and prudent financial operator who has weathered recent storms remarkably well. His experience ensures that Richemont will continue to provide continuity and stability in volatile times.
Jean-Frédéric Dufour and The Board of Directors, Rolex
If you need a poster child for stability and surety, look no further than Rolex. While the management and behind-the-scenes business deals of the Genevan giant aren’t as visible as those of their publicly traded peers, there’s no denying that their business practices are as efficient and reliable as the watches they produce. The most visible face of Rolex’s board of directors is CEO Jean-Frédéric Dufour, who took on this role in 2015 — only the sixth in the company’s history. And while there’s no doubting the seasoned leader’s skills, his public profile is remarkable. Type his name and “Rolex CEO” or “Interview” or the like into Google, and you’ll find a flurry of articles from his 2015 ascension, but very little since. Some official pictures at major events and launches, but that’s it. Quiet, confident and committed — this seems to be the Rolex way.
Nick Hayek Jr. and Nayla Hayek, The Swatch Group
Nicolas G. Hayek is a legendary figure in Switzerland — in the troubled times of the early ’80s, the management consultant stepped in and took control of a large number of watch manufacturing businesses, restructuring them to not only survive, but also thrive. In 2003, his son, Nick Hayek Jr., became the group CEO. His daughter, Nayla, became chairwoman of the board following his death in 2010. The Swatch Group is remarkable for the breadth of its holdings, which include the eponymous Swatch, all the way up to prestige brands like Omega and Breguet (under the stewardship of Marc Hayek). It is a major force in watchmaking, and one with the capacity to surprise. This is perhaps best illustrated by a flag hanging from a window of the Swatch Group’s corporate offices in Bienne. Not just any flag, but a Swatch-branded pirate flag. And not just any office, but the office of CEO Nick Hayek Jr. The Swatch Group might be part of the establishment, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re conventional.