5 Tough Questions For: The Genius Behind Girard Perregaux 5 Tough Questions For: The Genius Behind Girard Perregaux

5 Tough Questions For: The Genius Behind Girard Perregaux

Felix Scholz
The latest masterpiece from GP – the Tri-Axial Tourbillion


Girard Perregaux is one of the grand old dames of La-Chaux-de-Fonds, tracing its beginnings back to the heady, revolutionary days of 1791. But let’s just say that until very recently GP was showing its age, with a too-broad collection of watches, lacking cohesion and mired in its past. 

But 2011 marked the start of a new era for Girard Perregaux (GP). The company started aggressively releasing awe inspiring highly complicated watches, including the lauded Constant Escapement – which won the “Aiguille d’Or” At The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie De Genève – and this year’s ambitious Tri-Axial Tourbillion. Highly complicated watches (often called haute horlogerie or high horology) are the supercars  of the watch world. They are frankly insane, often impractical, outrageously expensive and ultimately desirable. These low production watches are also an important way for brands to experiment with new ideas and technologies.

Michele Sofisti, CEO, Sowind Group.

The man who has been leading the high horology charge at Girard Perregaux, which has heralded this new era is Michele Sofisti, CEO of the Sowind Group, Girard Perregaux’s parent company. It turns out that Michele Sofisti was the perfect antidote to a chilly Melbourne morning – he’s a man of great warmth and humor, and clearly passionate about the brands he looks after. And there’s no doubt that the Jewel in the Sowind Group crown is Girard Perregaux.

Sofisti has a long history in the watch industry, occupying key positions in companies like Omega, LVMH and the Swatch Group. He also (and crucially for GP) is credited with successfully revitalizing Gucci watches. We sat down with Mr Sofisti, who was surprisingly full of pep for someone in the midst of a busy Australian tour to speak about the renaissance the venerable manufacture is experiencing under his clear direction.


QUESTION 1: Mr Sofisti, you took over the reigns of GP in 2011, and in that time it seems like the brand has shot to prominence – can you tell us what you’ve done in a few short years to put you in such an enviable position?

MS: I think we’ve done quite a radical evolution for the brand. The brand was of course an historical, beautiful brand – a manufacture for 223 years. But it was a looking back towards their rich past a little too much, instead of projecting their strategy and their product collection to the future. In terms of the changes, we started with the marketing and communications, with some innovative ways of communicating the strengths of the brand, and then of course the collections. In two-and-a-half years we’ve changed about 60% of the collection. In particular we’ve done a big things with the grand complications in the space of two. We’ve done the Constant Escapement, for which we won the Oscar of watchmaking last year. This year we introduced a tri-axial tourbillion, and we introduced a new three bridges tourbillion – very modern. But at the same time we introduced the smallest ladies manufacture movement and we introduced the first chronograph column wheel integrated chronograph. We have also worked to improve our distribution and change in the last seven months 50% of our partners. So we’ve done quite a lot.


QUESTION 2: That’s an understatement!  You’ve been making waves  with your high complications, particularly the Constant Escapement. Did the development of high complications at Girard Perregaux start with you?

MS: GP specializes in high complications. As a manufacture, complications have always been part of what we do, but they take time. The development of the silicium technology for the Constant Escapement took seven years. What I tried to do was to accelerate and prioritize the process, and launch also new developments, like the new Three Bridges Tourbillon that has been developed in the last two years. The Tri-Axial Tourbillon has also been developed in the last two years. I try to get a simple vision of the collection. In 2011 we had over 700 model variants and we came down to 120, having at the same time having renewed over 60% of the collection.


QUESTION 3: Girard Perregaux is very clever in the way you leverage off the high profile and visibility of your high horology watches to raise the profile of the brand as a whole – is this a deliberate strategy?

MS: In some ways yes. On one side we have the historical obligation of innovation. So we need to really study and take challenges, and to make the best complicated watch every year. Of course one of the positive consequences is that these watches create a strong image of the brand, of the manufacture and development capacity. It brings up the rest of the collections. These high horology watches are also very important in helping the communication efforts for the rest of the brand. It’s a key strategy, We’re doing more and more to bring the all the work in house, and I think that honestly I don’t know any other brand that was able to come out with so many great complications in a such a short time.


QUESTION 4: Is that a risk though? Is it possible to sustain this level of innovation year-after-year? 

MS: Of course there’s a risk. There are two major risks, the first is that those pieces really need deeper work. You really need to concentrate and make sure the work delivers. You need time. There are years of development before coming out with something new. So already, two years ago we started working on 2016 and 2017 watches. And the second risk is that doing this so quickly and so energetically, that you come into a loop where every year you need meet those expectations. We would like really to come out with the proper piece at the proper time. Not because we must. For the first two years we sped up, because honestly the brand needed to show its strengths. I’m not sure that in the next three or for years we should come out every year with something big. But I can say that for next year we already have something big.

QUESTION 5: Feel like giving Time+Tide and exclusive on that…?

MS: Well, let’s just say that in the great complications there are two major traditions for Girard Perregaux – one is tourbillions, and in the recent past we’ve come out with bi-axial and tri-axial tourbillions. And then of course we are renowned for our minute repeaters.

T+T: Enigmatic as always – we look forward to Basel 2015!