IWC North America President Gianfranco D’Attis: The WatchTime Q&A

Gianfranco Dattis president IWC North AmericaIWC Schaffhausen has made 2013 the Year of the Ingenieur, and to launch the new collection in the U.S., the brand joined WatchTime for a gala event at its flagship boutique in New York City. Prior to the event, WatchTime spoke with IWC North America president Gianfranco D’Attis about the revamped Ingenieur line and his lifelong personal connection to the brand.

WT: You were raised in Schaffhausen, which makes your connection to IWC a very personal one. What was that like, and when did you first become aware of the brand and the role it played in your hometown?
GD: Well, my entire family wore IWC watches. In Schaffhausen, at least 10 percent of the town works for IWC, so you’re basically not allowed to wear any competitor’s watch!

WT: So It would be like driving a foreign car in Detroit?
GD: Absolutely, and everybody is proud of representing their town on their wrist. Whenever I see an IWC watch, I see it as representing home.

WT: Have you worked for the company your entire career?
GD: Nearly so. After [graduating college], I started working at a financial institution, but I gave up on it after a year. I realized it really was my dream to work for IWC Schaffhausen. I loved the product, I loved what they were doing on the marketing front and I really could see myself working for this great brand — even though, when I started, IWC was not the success story it is today.

WT: What year are we talking about?
GD: It was about 12 years ago. The company gave me the opportunity to work in the Swiss market, and I started in the trade marketing team. I was working there when [IWC CEO] Georges Kern came on board. After one year, Georges sent me to the Middle East to build up the emerging market there, basically starting from scratch. There was no distribution, there were few markets open; it was a great opportunity for me to do a lot from zero, to build a distribution network in places like India and North Africa, where the brand was basically unknown. Nine years ago, the brand was practically nonexistent in the Middle East. We had to fight to open the right doors, to achieve visibility, and to train the right people and educate them about the brand. It was about creating brand awareness, and demand, in a very difficult market environment.

Gianfranco D'Attis, IWC North America president
IWC North America president Gianfranco D’Attis, who grew up in Schaffhausen, describes working for his hometown watch brand as a “dream job.”

WT: How did these accomplishments prepare you for the role that you’re in now?
GD: It was the best experience and exposure that I ever got, and an opportunity to develop my marketing skills, my distribution skills, and my general management skills, of course. You don’t often get the opportunity to develop a brand in a very neutral market environment. The company had big goals there, and, luckily, those goals were achieved. The Middle East has gone from a practically nonexistent market to one of our best-performing markets today.

WT: How are the American and Middle Eastern markets similar and how are they different?
GD: They are similar in that each market has collectors and each market has aficionados that love watches. America has a lot of them, and I met several great ones in the Middle East and India. What is totally different is the market penetration; the distribution is totally different. In the Middle East, everything has been built within the last 10 years, and in the U.S.A. it’s a more mature market. Trying to penetrate a more mature market environment is totally different than doing so in a new market. It’s two different scenarios, and two totally different challenges.

WT: At what point was the decision made to focus this year on the Ingenieur, and what steps were taken as far as involving Mercedes and the Mercedes AMG Petronas racing team?
GD: Every year, we focus on a major product relaunch for one specific line, such as the Portofino two years ago and the Pilots last year. This year it is the Ingenieur. And obviously, this is decided far in advance, part of a five-year plan from the management in Switzerland. The Ingenieur is a very important pillar within our product family, as it really reflects the DNA of the brand. When we talk about the Ingenieur, we talk about performance engineering, we talk about technique, we talk about quality, we talk about precision. We have partnered with the Mercedes Petronas Formula One team because they also have these values, and, like IWC, they are very innovative in using new materials. IWC has always been a very pioneering brand, using materials like titanium oxide and ceramics — materials that ate used today in Formula One motorsports. I think the match was really rather symbiotic. This year, we’re using a lot of very new materials in our watch collection. Whatever we do in the Ingeieur collection reflects and is inspired by motorsports.

Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team in the garage
The Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One racing team’s engineers; their work inspired the design and materials of the new Ingenieur collection.

WT: So the use of these types of materials now becomes part of the Ingenieur brand identity?
GD: Yes, and we are trying to focus more on engineering behind the scenes rather than putting ourselves out in front. We’re not communicating by putting our logos on drivers or Formula One cars. We’re trying more to communicate about the engineers behind the vehicles, their technique and [how their work affects] the performance. Carbon fiber, for example… it’s lighter than steel and very robust. We’ve used carbon fiber before in watches, but now we’re using a technique that we learned from Mercedes in terms of layering the fiber. Obviously, Formula One is way ahead of most other industries in terms of this type of engineering. I would say we are using them as inspiration for our product development of the Ingenieur.

IWC Ingenieur Automatic Carbon Performance
Among the innovative materials used in the revamped collection are layered carbon fiber (in the Ingenieur Automatic Carbon Performance, above) and high-tech ceramic (in the Ingenieur Automatic AMG Black Series Ceramic, below).

IWC Ingenieur Automatic AMG Black Series Ceramic

WT: So the agenda going forward for the Ingenieur will be that as Formula One technology evolves, so will this collection and its materials?
GD: Yes. We have signed a three-year agreement with Mercedes Formula One Petronas and we believe that we will continue in this direction.

WT: Is it difficult, with six watch families and one being the focus each year, to devote attention to the entire line?
GD: Quite simply, it is impossible from a budget standpoint to focus [our marketing] on all the lines at once. So we must set our priorities. This year, we need to make sure that the Ingenieur line is built up in the market and will be a commercial success, which we are 100 percent sure it will be. It doesn’t mean that we don’t talk about Pilots or the Portuguese, but the major focus this year, through all our marketing channels, is clearly the Ingenieur.

WT: IWC opened its first flagship boutique last year, and has opened them in several other cities since. Are there plans to expand further?
GD: Opening a flagship boutique in New York was a decision made by Georges Kern about three or four years ago with my predecessor, Benoit de Clerc. They wanted to make a statement in the U.S.A. and to create a new benchmark in distribution — to send a clear message to the market that these are the distribution standards we want to achieve all over America. We’ve been very successful in New York and we continue to invest in strategic boutique environments like Miami, Los Angeles, and South Coast Plaza in Orange County. We’ve recently opened a boutique at the Wynn in in Las Vegas, and we are looking into potential new markets where the opportunity arises. We feel this will raise the bar of our distribution and of our service, and that it represents the experience and the lifestyle that we want to communicate to our end customer.

WT: Many luxury brands have been starting up their own boutiques; do you see that as the future of the luxury watch business? Is there going to be a de-emphasis on other retailers at some point?
GD: Absolutely not. I think that a healthy mix of both makes sense. We are very much in need of quality partners that support the development of the brand, and we cannot do it without them. That’s the strategy that we are focusing on for the future.

Gianfranco D'Attis at NY IWC boutique
D’Attis addresses the crowd at the Ingenieur launch event at the IWC flagship boutique in New York

For a look at more watches from the new Ingenieur collection, check out Alexander Linz’s report from the 2013 SIHH on

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