With him at the wheel, 150-year-old IWC is headed for world domination, the luxury brand’s new global CEO tells 1010.
When driving your dad’s cherished car for the first time, trepidation is a natural feeling. Especially if that car is a classic model that’s been meticulously maintained, so much so that it’s probably in better condition than when it first left the showroom.
This is how Christoph Grainger-Herr could have felt as he sat in the driving seat of IWC Schaffhausen for the first time in 2017 — after 15 years of George Kern’s (now CEO of Breitling) immensely successful stint at the helm.
However, there’s no such anxiety in Grainger-Herr’s attitude as he lays out his ambitious future for the Swiss luxury watchmaker: the vehicle he inherited from Kern is okay, but it can perform better, he feels. “I think IWC today is one of the very few brands in the market that really has the potential to be in the top set of luxury brands worldwide,” the 40-year-old says confidently.
“Oh, we are in the set of the top 10 brands, for sure. But I think there’s only very small set of watch brands today that have the potential to have major growth going forward.”
And IWC is in a position to be the world’s number one luxury brand, the German national declares.
It’s quite the time to take the hot seat. A year into IWC’s top executive position, Grainger-Herr is full-swing with the 150th anniversary of the brand, which saw the release of the Jubilee collection. “It’s a big year for us,” he says in the brand’s remodelled boutique in The Dubai Mall.
“People buy a product like ours for the symbolism, the emotional value attached to them, as they do for its functional characteristics as a luxury product.”
“The Jubilee collection spans different product families. We’re introducing three new movements and various new movement functionalities.”
The flagship is a tribute to the Pallweber pocket watch —
one of horology’s most famous jumping hours and minutes pocket watches from the late 19th century.
“For the first time, we’ve developed a newer movement that packs that mechanism into a wristwatch, which gives you a very clean design and a very complex mechanism.”
As the links to the brand’s historic narrative suggest, propelling IWC into the 2020s and beyond is all about the story of the product’s heritage for Grainger-Herr. With a working background in marketing and sales, and a years-long history with the brand, he’s in a good place to oversee that process.
“IWC is the storyteller of fine watchmaking. In our industry, luxury products, the narrative and the emotional context of products is [as] important as the product and the functionality itself,” he says, referencing the brand’s relationship with the film industry and role as a key sponsor of the Dubai Film Festival.
“People buy a product like ours for the symbolism, the emotional value attached to them, as they do for its functional characteristics as a luxury product.
“The way we construct that storytelling around products, the way we construct the universe, is similar to the craftsmanship that goes into filmmaking. At the end of the day, that creates the dream our clients ultimately fall in love with.”
Recent years in luxury goods industries has seen a shift to a younger consumer. Where before the average age of a typical consumer was over 50, now it’s beginning to hover around the 40s, with many younger people becoming prominent in their luxury spending. It’s a trend Grainger-Herr is aware of.
“If your customer base is continuously ageing, that’s one of the worst things that can happen. We are very aware of staying relevant in the way we express the brand.
“We all seem to be concerned about the millennials, but there will be the generation after that and so on. So you have to keep a brand fresh to continuously recruit young people, and we’re very happy to have a young demographic that come to IWC.”
The Middle East remains an important market for the brand, especially in women’s watches. “The region has a globally versatile customer mix. There’s a lot of Asian customers here, so this combination of Middle Eastern and visitors means we sees a higher than average proportion of ladies sales here,” he explains.
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