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QUICKFIRE Q&A: Greubel Forsey CEO Antonio Calce

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Greubel Forsey appointed Antonio Calce as chief executive officer of the company in the summer of last year, replacing Fabrice Deschanel, who had held the position since 2017. Mr Calce (pictured top) is an industry veteran, having headed Corum from 2007 to 2015 then Girard-Perregaux until 2018. His role at Greubel Forsey is to respect the values and DNA of the innovative watchmaker while using his experience at higher volume brands to develop the business. WatchPro wanted to know how the recent rise in the stock of independent watchmakers was impacting his strategy.

WatchPro : How would you define an independent watchmaker as oppose to any other watch brand or manufacturer? Do you think it has to mean a business that hand-makes a very low number of watches from scratch every year, or is it more about a state of mind or simply being self-owned?

Antonio Calce: I can’t speak on behalf of all independents because there’s a lot of diversity, even or perhaps especially in this niche segment. Of course, any of the aspects you mentioned could be used to define Greubel Forsey in one way or another but it’s not easy to convey how different we really are.

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When I started at Greubel Forsey in August last year, first as consultant to Robert Greubel and then as CEO and Executive Board Member, I was swept off my feet. Having assumed senior positions at several well-known brands for over 20 years, I thought I had seen everything there is to see.

I was more than familiar with the brand but I really had to experience it from the inside to realize at what level Greubel Forsey operates. The level of creativity, finishing, attention to detail and overall excellence in every aspect and each step of creation is unparalleled.

At the same time we have to admit that Greubel Forsey was lacking in terms of structure, organization, management, communication, logistics and clear vision that we might find with more established watch brands.

This is why Robert Greubel, Chairman of the Board, appointed me to the position of CEO. After almost 20 years, it was time to establish a path towards maturity and we have big plans for the future.

WatchPro: How has the past year been? Some trends like acceleration of luxury watches being promoted and sold online should have helped independents. This may be less likely at your price point, so how have things developed this year?

Antonio Calce: Our main priority was to guarantee the health and safety of our team. We have implemented safety measures and successfully adapted to the current situation.

So, as of today, we are running at full production capacity. 2020 had its challenges but it did have a silver lining to it. Travel restrictions allowed us to take time to evaluate where we stand and to define where we want to go.

WatchPro: What are your most successful ways of connecting with customers? A boutique, social media, through retail partners?

Antonio Calce: We need to meet our customers on the channel of their choice and we have very ambitious goals to establish a strong presence on each of them.

We’re currently increasing our visibility in boutiques with a new retail design, we’re creating engaging content specifically for social media, we’re building a new website that will encourage and facilitate interaction with the brand and we’re working on a media plan with which we’ll precisely target certain strategically important locations, to name just a few.

WatchPro: Have any countries performed particularly well this year, and why do you think that has been?

Antonio Calce: These things tend to fluctuate with global economic or political developments. Today, we have around sixty retail partners, which is a lot for a company of our size and output.

Over the next three years, we’re going to close about a third of them, but we’re going to open new locations as well. My goal is to work with around 35 highly qualified partners with a strong commercial strategy a steady and stable turnover.

2021 Balancier Contemporain in 5N red gold.

WatchPro: What have your most successful watches been this past year?

Antonio Calce: Last year, we presented two new calibers: the GMT Sport and the Balancier S. Both timepieces have seen significant commercial success, not least because we were able to touch a new, younger customer base.

A new limited edition of Greubel Forsey’s GMT Quadruple Tourbillon is expected to be revealed this year.

WatchPro: What are your hopes, plans and expectations for this year?

Antonio Calce: 2021 is going to be a year of preparation and a very important year for us. So far, we’ve defined a solid communication and distribution strategy which we’ve already started to implement.

However, with Robert Greubel, we’ve also defined a clear product strategy, which we will implement in 2022.

We’ll be working with three pillars, the first of which (for lack of a better term) we’re calling ‘Birth’. This pillar includes our ultra-rare high-end pieces such as the Grande Sonnerie, the QP à Équation, the GMT Quadruple Tourbillon and Hand Made 1.

This is Greubel Forsey’s traditional offer for highly specialized expert collectors. This offer will remain intact and will be even rarer than before.

But parallel to this, we’re working on a completely new and complementary pillar that we’re calling ‘Growth’.

With zero compromise on Greubel Forsey quality standards, this offer in the CHF 200,000 – CHF 350,000 range will have a single common denominator with a strong identity, a powerful visual impact and a more modern design. It’s an exciting evolution that will enable us to reach out to a broader customer base.

Lastly, we’re working on a third pillar which we’re calling ‘Longevity’. This pillar consists of actions to curate the collection, offering major reinterpretations of our 30 unique calibers. For example, our QP à Équation calibre will be able to live five or six different lives in different configurations.

WatchPro: Do you have news of any novelties you could share?

Antonio Calce: We’ve already presented the Balancier Contemporain in 5N red gold in January and in February we’re presenting an incredible 11-piece limited edition of one of our most exclusive timepieces, the GMT Quadruple Tourbillon.

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