The new Girard-Perregaux Chrono Hawk goes under the microscope in WatchTime’s November-December issue, on sale now. In this feature from the June 2013 issue, we delve into how new Sowind Group CEO Michele Sofisti plans to cure what’s been ailing that Swiss high-horology brand.
What’s wrong with Girard-Perregaux? The brand has impeccable high-horology credentials. Its watches are handsome and elegant: a match for those of its high-end rivals. And it has an interesting, sometimes rich history. So why has the brand been chugging along in low gear for so long?
Michele Sofisti’s first task, when he took over as CEO of G-P’s parent, the Sowind Group, was to find out. Sofisti, a former Omega president with 18 years’ experience in the watch industry, became CEO in August of 2011, when the giant French luxury-goods conglomerate PPR bought a controlling interest in Sowind. He filled the shoes of Luigi “Gino” Macaluso, who bought G-P in 1992 and led it until his death in October 2010. Sofisti already held the post of CEO of the watch and jewelry operations of Gucci, PPR’s biggest brand, a position he still holds today.
He has now diagnosed the brand’s problems and implemented a cure. He believes the brand suffered from a weak identity and a range of watches that was too large and confusing. His remedy is, in effect, a new G-P: slimmed down, updated, with more readily recognizable models. At the same time, he took steps to keep the brand’s technical prowess front and center: he hired the flamboyant wizard-watchmaker Dominique Loiseau (who died in September) to design complicated, gee-whiz watches for the brand, and to serve as the public face of G-P’s high-horology bona fides.
Sofisti has also overhauled G-P’s smaller sister brand under the Sowind umbrella, JeanRichard, which he says suffered from the same problems that plagued G-P. (Sowind’s other operations are its movement-manufacturing facility – it makes movements not just for itself but for other luxury brands — and its private-label-watch branch, which makes watches for the Ermenegildo Zegna and Bottega Veneta brands.)
WatchTime met with Sofisti at G-P’s headquarters in La Chaux-de-Fonds while he was putting the finishing touches on the remade G-P, which he unveiled at Baselworld in April. Here’s what he told us about how he’s changing G-P and why.
Job number one, he says, was to whittle down the number of G-P collections. There were a whopping 11 of them. Now there are five, with a sixth, and final one, due out next year. The collections themselves were too large, Sofisti believed, so he cut the number of models, too. There are now 65 percent fewer models and variations on those models than there were when he took over.
Two of the collections are entirely new, but make use of design elements from old ones. The first is the Hawk collection, which will be the brand’s only sports collection, and contains both divers’ models and chronographs. “It’s basically the result of looking at all the sports watches and trying to fuse them into a Girard-Perregaux sports-watch look,” Sofisti says. The Hawk (whose name is derived from the now-defunct G-P Sea Hawk collection) has the octagonal shape of the Laureato, one of G-P’s best-known models. It also has elements of the old Sea Hawk, including, in the Hawk diver models, its most distinctive feature, a crown at 4 o’clock. But most important of all, it now has its own look, thanks mostly to the new, angular case, which will be common to all Hawk models. “The angles of the case create a shape that is quite distinctive,” says Sofisti. The movements are based on G-P’s in-house, workhorse GP 3300 automatic caliber.
The second new collection is the Traveller, which, like the Hawk, consists of two families. The first, the Big Date Moon Phases, has some unusual technical features. One of the two disks used for its big-date display is transparent and extremely thin – the thickness of a sheet of paper. This eliminates the visible dividing line between the two date digits. Another unusual feature is the moon-phase display, which is directly connected to the barrel rather than to the wheel train, as on standard moon-phase watches. The display hence moves continuously rather than in small jumps. It is a “high-precision” moon-phase, meaning that it will be off by just one day in 122 years.
The other Traveller family is a revamped version of the WW.TC group of world-time watches (the initials in the name stand for “world-wide time control”). Like them, the new group, called the Traveller WW.TC, features a rotating city ring for reading the time in 24 time zones (the ring’s setting mechanism has been changed, though, and is now controlled via the crown at 3 o’clock rather than through a separate crown at 9 o’clock). Like many of the old WW.TC watches, the new ones have chronograph functions. And, like the Hawk collection movements, those used in the Traveller collection are based on the GP 3300.
Watches in both the Hawk and the Traveller collections will be larger – 44 mm – than any of the brand’s former models. “G-P watches were smaller than some regions, like America and Western Europe, require,” Sofisti says.
The cases in both collections provide another benefit, Sofisti points out: because of their construction, they enable G-P’s designers to incorporate different materials – a ceramic bezel, say, and titanium case – in the same watch.
Sofisti retained three of the old G-P collections: the Vintage 1945, which features rectangular cases, the 1966, consisting of round models, and the Cat’s Eye, a women’s-watch collection featuring oval cases. The sixth collection, now in the works, will also be for women.