Jerome de Witt started his namesake watch company a decade ago by accident. With a flair for eye-catching design and a passion for detail, he established DeWitt as a collector’s favorite gaining the second highest price (410,000 Euros) after Patek Philippe at Monaco’s Only Watch Auction last September following a similarly amazing result in 2007 with a 400,000 Euro auction price. After stepping back from day-to-day activity for the past two years, it was not an accident that he is back in charge. With his wife Viviane Jutheau de Witt joining him to look after the business side, the energetic duo took time out to meet with Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan at their Geneva headquarters to give an update on their new, old adventure. While it has meant certain sacrifices, any weeds were certainly hidden by the couple’s excitement and joy.
ET: How was Baselworld?
Jerome de Witt: I had over 45 meetings a day and each member of the team had 25 meetings a day. We have never had more meetings, and fortunately the response was very positive.
Viviane Jutheau de Witt: Basel was very good. It’s 50 percent of the year’s sales. It’s half the year in one week.
ET: Are you planning any changes in direction?
Jerome de Witt: We are a niche maker of exclusive watches. It you cover the name, there is a DNA—you must be able to recognize DeWitt by the shape of the case. We continue to do it the artisan way, with hand engraving, precious materials. However we also want to make sure what we do works. There are lots of brands fighting so you always see new this and new that. There is pressure to do new things just for PR. We are careful in experimenting with new materials because we want to make sure the watch lasts and what we make can be repaired if needed. I look at some of the things being used and I wonder if they are sustainable for the customer. Watch making has become watch marketing. It’s words, not facts. I prefer to have a beautiful product and not be about marketing. Some of the marketing I see is so dramatic that no matter what is presented you are going to be disappointed. I want people to be thrilled when they pick up my watch.
ET: Are you still following on the goal of vertical integration?
Jerome de Witt: Our goal is to be completely self sufficient and not dependent on sub-contractors. We are better than halfway there.
ET: Are there any new watches you are planning?
Jerome de Witt: Nothing to say today apart from what we showed in Basel. Sometimes I just get a vision. I keep paper next to my bed so I can make it a reality.
ET: And how about your goals for quantity produced?
Jerome de Witt: We will continue to be a small, exclusive watchmaker; mainly by-hand timepieces
ET: Any changes?
Jerome de Witt: In our museum I am putting back watches that represent our history. It’s good to be able to look at your past everyday because that helps inspire the future.
Viviane Jutheau de Witt: De Witt is a sound company. The team is good. The product is good.
ET: Are there are some things your husband has had to give up now that he is back full time?
Viviane Jutheau de Witt: Repairing vintage cars and gardening. Everything in the garden. He plants all sorts of flowers and trees, and then the next year he redoes everything.
Jerome de Witt: It’s a permanent work in process.
ET: The cars must have been a big sacrifice?
Viviane Jutheau de Witt: For my 60th birthday he took me to the garage and showed me this old, rusted shell that was a car. I pretended to by excited. It took him four years to restore it, but he did everything by hand including making a cover for it. It ended up being my 64th birthday present but you could see the passion he has for vintage cars is the same passion that has made his watches sought after by collectors.
ET: Are there any other talents he has beyond watches, cars and gardening?
Viviane Jutheau de Witt: He’s a great chef but he never remembers his recipes so when you ask him to make something again, he makes something different but it’s always good.
ET: Watches, Cars, Gardening, Cooking. Can you sing also?
Jerome de Witt: Once I was in China. They said try karaoke. I said no, and they kept telling me to try. So finally I did and they said, ‘stop.’ You have to have a good spirit to be successful.
Viviane Jutheau de Witt: If you lose the spirit you lose everything
ET: Mrs de Witt, How are you finding the watch business?
Viviane Jutheau de Witt: This was the first time I have been to Basel as part of the company, and it really is a different perspective. I’ve done lots of other things. I was an auctioneer in Paris for 23 years. I organized several different fairs here in Geneva. I own a radio station here in Geneva. And I am really enjoying being here at de Witt.
Jerome de Witt: It’s better than fighting. She is easy to work with.
Viviane Jutheau de Witt: Jerome is an artist and I am here to support that role.
ET: Are there any new rules?
Jerome de Witt: Never leave two or three artists together. We get totally out of control. We were talking for two days without sleeping, then all of a sudden we fell asleep for two days and nobody could find us.
ET: Anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Jerome de Witt: I dislike to speak about myself. The product speaks for me. We want to be modest and we think when people see the product they will have a positive opinion.