By Thomas Shambler
As one of the few women leading a major Swiss watch and jewellery maker, Piaget's CEO Chabi Nouri understands the importance of diversity in business
There are not very many companies in the watch and jewellery industry that have a woman CEO. In fact, you're only the second in all of Richmont Group's history. Why do you think there are not more?
First of all, I am extremely proud to have this amazing opportunity with Piaget. I don't think that there is an imbalance in the industry, I think it's quite well balanced.
A lot of women work in watches and jewellery; less at the CEO level, it's true. But I'd say it's more down to a matter of personality, leadership and talent. I have worked for a good number of brands, and I have never felt a glass ceiling, or I never felt that my opportunities were different from my male colleagues.
Do you think that you'll bring a fresh perspective to the brand? Are we going to see changes at Piaget with regards to diversity?
I think that things have already changed quite a bit. Diversity is almost a non-topic in some companies, not because it doesn't matter but just because it's just the way things are done. It's automatic.
Gender diversity is one thing, but the most important aspect for me is nationality or cultural diversity. It gives people a different filter, a different approach to challenges. I also think we have learned that diversity also brings with it more robust strategies, and the ability to be more flexible and agile. So we'll continue doing just that, having a different mix of people from various backgrounds – it's just good business.
The number of companies – just in Switzerland – that make watches is ballooning. There's now almost a thousand. For someone who is not familiar with Piaget, what makes you different?
Piaget is all about timeless elegance. The brand, the maison, and the family started a hundred and forty years ago.
Piaget's real aim at the time was to work on movements, and we've made sure to make that the most important element in everything we do. Our watches are technically impressive, despite what they look like on the outside – what I mean by that, is just because we have a piece that looks particularly impressive, it's not just skin deep.
Most people will know about Piaget because of our records in ultra-thin timepieces. The first movement was the 9P – produced over sixty years ago. It was the one that revolutionized the watch industry, as it was just two millimetres thin.
Three years later, we came out with an automatic movement that was just 2.3 millimetres thin, and that's still a record today. By making the movements smaller, that helped the entire industry start to experiment with their watches – dials began to get bigger, and with less space taken up by the movement, companies started working and playing with decorative elements.
So in many ways, our movements influenced the design of our watches – and this has remained the same for the past 140 years of Piaget.
It's a bit of a tumulus time for the industry at the moment. 2016 wasn't a good year for many watch brands, and the outlook for 2017 doesn't seem the most positive. Most companies seem to have battened down the hatches and are hoping to make it through. Do you feel the same way at Piaget?
I think that's a very negative way to look at it. At Piaget, we concentrate on the opportunities first – it's always been a main driver of the brand. We always look at places we can grow, we are always looking forward. We're quite lucky in that respect, as we have developed both watches and jewellery lines.
We have many different types of clients, across a good number of segments. We are also truly worldwide, so just because some markets are slowing down, we still have opportunities elsewhere. This allows us to constantly accelerate, be it in watchmaking or perhaps the development of jewellery.
Of course, we are also expanding at the same time. A good example is the Piaget Polo S watch. It opened up a new audience for us, for a sporty timepiece in steel. It's still Piaget – by that I mean it's elegant and not just a watch for everyday – and very thin.
Already we've seen the watch bring us, new clients, that the brand did not have a few years ago. You're going to see more of that type of thinking from us in future.
Richmont is a very diverse group, with a large number of watch brands, including Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, for example. How much interaction do you have with yourself and the other CEOs? Are there discussions about which segments each brand should participate in? Is there much competition?
Every maison is run completely separately. Yes, of course, we talk to each other. We are often in various meetings, but while every brand is integrated into Richmont, each is managed completely separate from the rest.
What can we expect form the brand over the next year?
We have various collaborations around the globe – such as Art Dubai – but this year is really the sixtieth anniversary of the Altiplano. Sixty years of timeless elegance, and sixty years of a watch that has become somewhat of an icon for a man looking for a refined watch.
So we're celebrating that fact with a limited edition that we presented this year at SIHH. It takes a lot of design inspiration from the original, including the dial and the logo. We actually have eighteen limited series of that piece. In fact, we came out with the first big complication for an Altiplano, the Tourbillon. It's incredibly thin and light – as you might expect – and has an off-centre tourbillon cage, which is quite a challenge to design.
It's an example of us trying to push boundaries with the movement. We have this motto which goes, 'Always do better than necessary". And I think this watch serves as a great example of that.
Piaget has also partnered up with scientists? Is that true?
Yes, we've put together a Piaget Scientific Award, and now collaborate with the biggest and most important engineering university in Switzerland, which is called École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne - or EPFL.
We have a jury composed of our research and development directly, but also from the EPFL – one is a professor from Harvard, the other comes from Shanghai University. They look at post-doctorate and PHD candidates who are working in the field of miniaturization, and the winner receives support from Piaget to finish their research.
So the idea is to champion making things smaller?
Exactly. At Piaget, we are always trying to make things smaller and thinner.
Will we see new watch ranges, like the Polo S in 2017?
I can't say very much, but I can tell you that we have a surprise in store for later this year. It will be announced in September or October; it’s a concept watch. The only thing I can tell you is that it is mind blowing, and very much supports all this work in ultra-thinness.
There have been some new regulations around the 'Swiss Made' label on watches. It has been rolled back, meaning some brands might be able to print the label on a dial when large parts of the watch have come from elsewhere. Do you think the new regulations are open to being misused? And where does Piaget stand?
First of all, we completely comply with all the rules. So this new rule doesn't make a huge difference to us at all. All of our components, our movements, are cases – everything is produced in Switzerland.
How has growth in the Middle East been for Piaget?
The region is one of the most important for us. In fact, Piaget was one of the first maisons to arrive in the Middle East in the 1960s. We have some great partnerships here and view it as an immensely important region for us.
I think that customers out here are more advanced than many other regions, which is great to watch and see what works and what doesn't work. It's also a great region for watches and jewellery, not one or the other, but both.