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July 21, 2010updated Feb 10, 2014

Thierry Chaunu

By Chris Boyle

Thierry Chaunu

Expressions d’Artistes International

Following long stints with Cartier, Chopard and Leviev, Thierry Chaunu decided it was time to let his entrepreneurial side take control. In February he left his position as Chief Executive of Leviev, a high jewelry brand he had launched four years earlier after moving over from Chopard. His new company, Expressions d’Artistes International (EAI), is a partnership with a former Cartier production chief and the two veterans hope to use their intimate knowledge of the luxury world to create new and innovative products. Their first launch is Spyker Timepieces, stemming from Chaunu’s relationship with Dutch business whiz Victor Muller who resuscitated the Spyker car brand and recently acquired Saab from General Motors. Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan lunched with Chaunu at Opia before the dashing executive headed off for one of his bimonthly trips to Europe. The conversation ranged from Chaunu’s plans for EAI to what it’s been like to step out on his own.

ET: There are lots of watches for car companies. Tell us about your launch product, Spyker Timepieces, and what makes it different?

Thierry Chaunu: You are right. There are a lot of collaborations between car and watch companies, but usually there is no closeness with the spirit of the car. In this case [Spyker owner] Victor Muller was involved in the entire process. He was very passionate about having a Spyker watch, and in fact he came out of a meeting for the acquisition of Saab to review the designs. Every detail of the watch is connected to the Spyker car. The leather strap is from the same leather as the interior and the stitching is the same as the car interior. There are two ladies in France who I have known for a long time and they hand-stitch each strap—and they can each do at most four per day, so it is very exclusive.

And as you look at the dial, the pusher, the rotor, every part of the watch relates back to the car. For me this is what true luxury is about, the details and the craftsmanship. The pushers are inspired by the exhaust tailpipe. The crown is the gas cap. The rotor is the wheel. The clasp is inspired by the hood, the power reserve by the gas dial.

ET: And the cost?

Thierry Chaunu: They will range from $9,750 to $30,500 with variations in steel, rose gold and white gold.

ET: Your partner has a background in production.

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Thierry Chaunu: Yes, Jean Francois Vernochet was formerly head of production for Cartier. As you know, it is possible to dream in luxury, and it is harder to create. Jean Francois understands how to produce watches, and that is one of the reasons we can go to the market with confidence that we will deliver. I think Jean Francois and I make a very good team with our combined expertise.

ET: So let’s talk about your decision to step away from being a hired gun.

Thierry Chaunu: If you wait for the stars to be aligned, you’ll never do it. I talked to my father and he said, “don’t wait until you are on your deathbed.” I’ve never been happier. The decision-making is immediate. I don’t have to deal with bureaucracy and as much as I loved each of the companies I worked for—and they are tremendous companies, with terrific people—when you work for the big groups they put a damper on your creativity.

ET: But you’ve also given up the infrastructure and support staff that the big groups come with.

Thierry Chaunu: I’ve always in my positions spent most of my time traveling, and you know, with technology you can accomplish quite a bit by yourself with the click of a mouse. And you have to understand the click of a mouse is more powerful than hours of meetings. When we design products it is me, Jean Francois and in the case of Spyker, Victor. In the groups, it becomes design by committee.

ET: Did you think about calling the new company Chaunu?

Thierry Chaunu: Frankly, no.

ET: When you came to Lev Leviev to launch a retail brand you used his name, however.

Thierry Chaunu: Mr. Leviev was a legend in the diamond industry so it was only natural.

ET: What are the plans for EAI after the launch of Spyker?

Thierry Chaunu: There could be more products with Spyker, such as accessories. Victor has really built a brand that generates passion, so there are more opportunities there for sure. We are also in the process of acquiring brands. I like very much to work with other entrepreneurs, and there are many talented people out in the market who for one reason or another don’t fit nicely into the corporate mold.

ET: Do you worry as EAI grows that you will create the same bureaucracy that you deplore?

Thierry Chaunu: I think it will take us a bit of time to grow to where that is a problem, but I think my experience will help prevent it. Most of what needs to be accomplished in an organization can be done without the formality of a meeting in the boardroom. I want the people who work with me to enjoy that same spirit of the entrepreneur I want.

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