Former Australasian head of Rolex Patrick Boutellier opens Rolex Boutique in Melbourne CBD, invites customers to “come and tell your story” Former Australasian head of Rolex Patrick Boutellier opens Rolex Boutique in Melbourne CBD, invites customers to “come and tell your story”

Former Australasian head of Rolex Patrick Boutellier opens Rolex Boutique in Melbourne CBD, invites customers to “come and tell your story”

Andrew McUtchen

There is a saying that when one door closes, another one opens. The only problem with that for Patrick Boutellier was that when he closed the door on his time at Rolex by declining the invitation to relocate his career to Switzerland after 11 years at the brand’s helm in Australia, he found himself standing back at the same door not too long after. The one with the big crown on the door, and those famous five letters beneath it.

Boutellier Montres Melbourne Rolex
The entrance to the Rolex Boutique, 70 Collins Street, Melbourne

“Where do you go when you’ve worked with the best?” he asks, shrugging. It was a question that he simply could not answer.

A stint in cars? Perhaps becoming an agent for another watch brand? Many doors that Boutellier was curious about did open, but none appealed in the end. It probably begs the question, why leave in the first place? The answer will warm the cockles of even the coldest Australian heart. Boutellier has fallen for the place. Despite feelings of guilt, and of betraying his Swiss heritage, he became an Australian citizen in 2017. His children and wife Claudia are equally attached to Australian life. The lure of an ongoing illustrious career with “the best” was not enough to dislodge him from a country and a lifestyle that he loves.

So we had a dilemma. A brand that Boutellier was finding it difficult to move on from. And a country that he had committed to his family to never leave. The dream solution would not only see both paths continuing, but also the closing of a circle that began in the earliest memories from Boutellier’s childhood. We lay our scene in Brügg, 20 minutes out of Zurich, at a jeweller that carried his grandfather’s name over the door.

Boutellier Watches & Jewellery Maison, Brügg, Switzerland. Image courtesy @boutellier_montres

A watchmaking and jewellery family

“That’s where our family business started in 1934 that my grandfather opened. Obviously, I have very fond memories of Christmas not only being a child but also being part of a watch and jewellery family. Christmas was always a very hectic time, but also a very beautiful time because I still remember like it was yesterday when I looked at my grandmother who was on the shop floor and would know every customer who entered the door by their name and would know the family, would know the children, would know their birthdays. Just the time that she would have dedicated to each individual is something that always stuck very strongly in my mind.

Patrick’s Grandfather opened Boutellier Watches & Jewellery Maison in 1934 in Brügg, Switzerland. Image courtesy @boutellier_montres

“Normally, when you have a busy family, you get involved in things. You know, I remember when I had days with my grandparents and my grandfather would be in the workshop repairing watches and grandmother was downstairs, my dad was in the shop. And somehow, even though you were still only a toddler, you were involved in it. So yeah, I have very fond memories of that time and … the happiness that you create for your customers, because a purchase like that is not only linked to Christmas, but it’s linked quite often to an achievement or a celebration of something. And to be a part of that, and part of these stories is just something which is very, very beautiful and very unique.”

Patrick Boutellier and his grandfather. Image courtesy @boutellier_montres

An apprenticeship as a watchmaker

Boutellier followed in the family footsteps by beginning an apprenticeship as a watchmaker in Solothurn in 1986 when he was just 15, the same watchmaking school his father and grandfather had attended. His decision at that time was as much to do with his distaste for secondary education as it was a sense of strong personal purpose.

“I wasn’t an academic at all. I was just craving to get out of the school system. You know, when I entered in that watchmaking school, I obviously had a clear passion for watches in general, but I knew already in very early days, that this is not going to be my life. My life is not going to be on a workbench and servicing or repairing or building watches. However, I was a very, very strong believer that if you want to be good at something that you do, you have to know the material and the product from the bottom up.”

“Obviously, the easiest [thing] for me would have been that I would take over my family or my parents’ business and step into that. But for me, that was not enough. If I’m perfectly honest, I didn’t really see myself in a retail environment at the early stage of my career. But then … I had great opportunities living abroad. I was living in London and I came back to Switzerland because I had to do the military service.”

Watchmaking proved a step into the industry, and after an early opportunity at Ebel as a watchmaker – “it was an amazing era for the brand” – he took early roles in sales and in brand management, he felt a natural game developing. And he felt an appetite for a career starting to rumble in his stomach. “I went to Hong Kong [to build an emerging watch brand] … and that step really nurtured this appetite for an international career.”

“I realised as well that I have a certain ease with talking to people. I can understand what they want and I became quite successful. I [then] had a really very diverse and fantastic career at Jaeger-LeCoultre over 13 years, starting from head office in Le Sentier to go to Amsterdam, to go to London again, and then to go to Singapore. And then after 13 years, suddenly there’s this opportunity offered to me to come to Australia and work for Rolex.”

An opportunity to “protect the Crown” and work for the best

Earlier in the interview, we mentioned that Boutellier described Rolex as “the best”. “Where do you go from the best?” he admitted to asking himself in the first days after stepping down as the Australasian head of Rolex. It begs the question: What makes Rolex the best? There are many possible answers here, but what is Boutellier’s definition?

“Well, I think first of all, the most important is that there’s an amazing and a very strong company philosophy. I always said that what Mr Wilsdorf created in 1905 at a young age is just incredible. And the vision that that gentleman had, how a brand should look going forward was just very impressive. And then I have to say, the 11 years that I have spent with the brand, I mean, when I started in 2010, the watch business in general in Australia was nowhere. But what we have been able to create here, obviously, with the global development as well has just been phenomenal.

“You know, you have to imagine when you’re at the helm of a brand for over a decade and do what you do and just make sure that you preserve these values and make sure that you give the best protection possible to the crown, to step away from that is extremely difficult, if not impossible, because you have to  stay true to your philosophy and what you believe in. I mean, even when we started with discussions with you [at Time+Tide]. I’m sure we had those conversations in the past where we were debating about the brand and what it stands for and the values and so on.”

An anecdote that shows how personally connected Boutellier feels to the brand 

We certainly did have those conversations in the past. One of them was less of a two-way chat, and more of a monologue, whereby Boutellier had noted an Instagram post on Time+Tide. It featured a wrist roll of two new Rolex novelties. The issue was, both watches were on the same wrist. The message was clear. That is disrespectful to Rolex, please do not do it. It was polite. It was curt. It left no doubt about Boutellier’s feelings on the matter. Does he remember the call?

“Of course.”

An example of protecting the crown?

“Correct. Because it’s so close to my heart. It’s almost like somebody would hurt my child.”

The closing of the circle – a return to Rolex, and to being a retailer 

There remains a very large gap in this narrative. We have Boutellier’s early years in his grandparents’ shop in Brügg. We have the years as a watchmaker. The quick ascension through the ranks in the watch industry, and through the hierarchy of brands to a pinnacle at Rolex Australia. But when did the idea start to form that he could actually bridge the future and the past, and go full circle, by putting his name above the door of a shop of his own?

Boutellier Montres Melbourne Rolex
The Rolex Boutique at 70 Collins Street, Melbourne, is designed to be more of a homely, high-end apartment style space than a standard retail environment

“My first thought was doing something completely different and stepping out of the watchmaking industry, because I thought that could be an opportunity and there are a lot of things that I’m interested in. But I didn’t know exactly what. Then another thought, which went through my mind is maybe I could import or become an agent of a Swiss watch brand for the region. But then I thought, that’s something I have done. I have done it in many ways before.”

Boutellier Montres Melbourne Rolex
Interiors of the Rolex Boutique, 70 Collins Street, Melbourne

A moment of truth

“Then I had a conversation with my father and my wife, Claudia. We were brainstorming, what do I really enjoy? I realised that obviously the watchmaking industry is an industry I absolutely love, because I love the product. I love the interaction. It’s something I have a real passion for. What I also love is actually the end consumer interaction. So I thought ‘Okay, if I want to go back into the family tradition that my grandfather started, what would the opportunity be? The dream would be to continue to work with the crown, Rolex, the brand I love. And I took that chance.”

Boutellier Montres Melbourne Rolex
Handcrafted Boutellier Montres lapel pins – only eight examples were made for the team.

Boutellier is delighted with the premise he’s found for the new boutique at 70 Collins Street. “It’s a 19th century heritage building that has been at the heart of the evolution of Collins Street since it was built in 1867. It’s at the Paris end of Collins Street, hence the name being in French. It’s perfect.”

1867: 70 Collins Street is built. 1967: Boutellier’s father begins working for Rolex in Geneva

“What’s even more amazing is my father was actually working at Rolex in 1967 in Geneva. So to have this tradition and now have a Rolex as well as partner is just, it’s terrific. I mean, how beautiful is the opportunity to be able to go to a foreign country, which I think further away from Switzerland is hard to find and to get the opportunity to continue a family tradition in a complete new country. That’s obviously very, very exciting.

“And then what excites me obviously as well is that I know the market very well. I know how Australians think and what appeals to them  having become an Australian in 2017 – which was quite a difficult moment for me because I almost felt like I was betraying my home country.”

The concept behind Melbourne’s first stand-alone Rolex boutique

“What I see and what I want to achieve, my clear idea is that the Rolex Boutique at 70 Collins Street needs to be almost like a hub where people can come in and we can listen to their stories and we can share ours. What I mean by that, is that I’m a firm believer that a Rolex purchase should be and must be a clearly thought about process. It’s now quite often linked to an achievement or linked to an important happening in somebody’s lives. I want to have time for that. I trained my staff as well, that they’re here to listen to the stories and everybody gets our time. I want to create an experience environment. Does that make sense?”

It does. It’s just very much the opposite of what is out there for the customer today, wanting to experience Rolex. There is no opportunity to do that.

“Okay. I can’t change that, but I know what I want to achieve.”

What models will be available at the Rolex Boutique at 70 Collins Street?

“Everything. Everything because I want to give the opportunity as well to our clients to be able to touch and feel the brand. And not only on the less desirable pieces, but also the highly desirable pieces, because that’s part of the journey. What I’m [also] really looking forward to is to show my clients the watch that my dad wore when he was working at Rolex in 1967. I was lucky enough that my father offered me that watch when I started at Rolex in 2010.

“What watch was it? You know, my father was a watchmaker at Rolex and at that time for him, obviously a Rolex wasn’t attainable. But as you know, Tudor is the sister brand of Rolex. So my father was wearing a Tudor 7928, which is a Tudor Submariner from ’67. I will definitely have it in the store. And there are many more pieces of my private collection, which I do have here. I’m really looking forward to sharing my stories around those watches.”

On the current Rolex shortage

Earlier, we talked about the innocence and magic of Christmas and being in a retailer at that time. I put it to Boutellier that if we’re being completely honest with each other, the innocence and magic of Rolex has turned into something else in the last few years. What is Boutellier’s view on how inaccessible the brand has become for the great majority of people? How did this happen and how can it be fixed?

“It’s based obviously on the success of the brand in general. I think there are a lot of reasons for that. Obviously, one part is the world economy, it’s a phenomenon, which is not only happening to Rolex. You see a lot of other luxury or consumer goods, which are living similar situations. However, I’m a strong believer that we can get to a situation where the brand values are put at the forefront again, and where availability will be around. I’m sure and I know that they do in Switzerland, they work day in day out to make sure that the availability is getting better.”

An invitation to potential customers to “come and tell their story”

Boutellier said earlier that he “can’t change”, the current shortage situation. But, I propose, he and his team of just eight can “be the change [they] want to see in the world” with a different approach to allocating the highly sought watches that will pass through his cabinets. How will he go about the difficult work of deciding who gets what?

“You know, the key to that is going to be the reason of a purchase. Why somebody wants to buy a certain watch, to understand their conversation and relationship to it, the drivers of why a specific product or model is desired. I think that’s the key, because there are a lot of customers out there, who are buying watches today for the wrong reason. How do you qualify a customer? That’s very, very difficult, but for me, what counts is that I want to feel the real desire, why somebody wants to buy something. I’m looking forward to it.”

“I’d like a Submariner please.”

If we can tell you anything about this particular Rolex Boutique, for future customers, it is the hot tip that it is not designed as a transactional environment where you go in and say, “I’d like a Submariner, please.” In the same way that certain restaurants require certain behaviours and etiquette, the culture of this retail environment is intended to be something of a story-based meritocracy.

“That’s what I want to achieve. That’s what I want to achieve, because this is a clear message that I want to go out there. That’s also why I want to be on the shop floor. I’m not just going to be an owner operator who’s going to be sitting in his office. I want to be there. I want to be hands-on, and I want to hear our client’s stories, and if they’re interested, I’m very passionate to share my own.”

Boutellier Montres Melbourne Rolex
Patrick Boutellier and Andrew McUtchen on the opening day of the Rolex Boutique, 70 Collins Street, Melbourne

The Rolex Boutique is now open at 70 Collins Street, Melbourne. Follow @boutellier_montres on Instagram.