Sowind Group – Girard-Perregaux – JeanRichard
Luigi Macaluso is the president of the Sowind Group, under whose roof a watch manufacture and the brands Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard are united. Since signing a long-term strategic cooperation agreement with PPR—the France-based luxury conglomerate that includes Gucci, YSL, Stella McCartney and Bottega Veneta—in June 2008, Macaluso has also joined the Gucci Group Management Committee and the Boucheron Board of Directors. Firmly convinced of the value of a genuine manufacture, Macaluso has stood behind the development of an integrated production strategy. With his modern eye and knowledge of architecture (he has a degree in the field), he has been closely involved in the design of the brand’s most beautiful creations. Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan visited Macaluso in New York recently to find out how the company has weathered the recession and what his plans for the future entail.
ET: Tell us about your relationship with PPR.
Luigi Macaluso: They own 23 percent of the company, but it is a very deep friendship. It was a personal friendship before business, and it is for both of us a very interesting partnership. With François [Pinault], I feel like an older brother. He is passionate and very competitive, and so it is great to be able to talk with him and learn. For PPR, they are not highly involved in making complicated watches and for us, PPR is a very large global company with very broad experience. For example, opening the boutique here in New York they were able to provide a great deal of support.
ET: Recently you have been expanding your own boutiques.
Luigi Macaluso: We really don’t think of it as a boutique or a shop but as an embassy for Girard-Perregaux. So we like to say “the Girard-Perregaux Embassy on Ginza, or on Madison”—it is Italian design and influence. The chairs and chandeliers are collector’s pieces from the ’70s. Also at our embassy we have a very skilled watchmaker who can work on tourbillons and minute repeaters. So, for an enthusiast they can come in and really learn about the watches or have a conversation with a watchmaker instead of just a salesperson. It is really nice if they are interested because it gives us an opportunity to build a very strong relationship. There is also a state-of-the-art conference room downstairs with video conferencing linked to our headquarters in La Chaux-de-Fonds so it is easy to stay connected. It is also an interesting contrast because Girard-Perregaux is a true watch manufacture and focused on tradition. We produce everything in-house. We make our own movements, but we also understand that the world is a modern place.
ET: How many embassies do you have?
Luigi Macaluso: We have eight including Gstaad, Hong Kong, Beijing and Macau. We are also opening one in Beirut, but obviously the United States is a very important market for us and so we plan to have a lot of focus here. In fact, the United States is my third country I call home after Switzerland and Italy, and for 25 years I have had an apartment in this very building where we now have our store, so it is interesting how things work out. There are a lot of other brands here: F.P. Journe, Hublot, Breguet, Blancpain, but this is a good space for us. The ceilings are very high so it is very inviting, and I hope that some of your readers come visit.
ET: The last couple years have been difficult for the industry. How’s business?
Luigi Macaluso: Asia is in really good shape. The Chinese market is really expanding and they are really gaining an appreciation and love for great watches. India has potential but there are infrastructure and trade issues that make it difficult. Everywhere is improving, but in some places a little bit less. Because, as I said, we produce everything in-house, we have to plan ahead 18 to 24 months. Right now demand is ahead of our production plan. The 1966 is absolutely hot, and now the challenge is to produce the orders we have taken. We also want to limit production because the first focus has to be on quality. Quality is our DNA; we live quality.
ET: Has business recovered to pre-recession levels?
Luigi Macaluso: First I think the industry realized, particularly the luxury industry, that 2005 to 2007 were not normal years. We had an exaggerated situation. We are back to a real situation where luxury is something that is limited and cherished. Through March we were 48 percent ahead of 2009 and 25 percent ahead of 2005. Last year we were in a fog. It was impossible to figure out which direction to go in the crisis, but everyone was in the same fog whether or not they want to admit it.
ET: You created a bit of controversy during the Geneva show in January when you introduced a limited-edition men’s quartz watch.
Luigi Macaluso: It was the thirtieth anniversary of the quartz movement and we were the first Swiss watchmaker to produce a quartz movement, so it was more of a tribute. Obviously our strength is complicated mechanical watches, but with that said we did gain some nice publicity.
ET: And when you’re not looking after business?
Luigi Macaluso: I think you know I used to race cars, so motorsports are my passion. It is also part of my DNA. I also love art which is something I share with the Pinaults. I like to collect both art and cars. I have a lovely country house in Tuscany. If you’ve seen the cover of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” you have seen my house. So I have lots of things that are wonderful. It is also nice to have my sons Stefano and Massimo as part of the company to share challenges in and outside of the business.