Chronopassion The Picciotto Approach
WorldTempus sits with Laurent Picciotto, owner of the renowned Chronopassion boutique, in his home in Paris to talk today’s retail environment and the importance of being unique.
Stepping into Laurent Picciotto’s home feels like stepping into the rock’n’roll Hall of Fame—there is barely an inch of wall or shelf space that doesn’t have a poster, a black and white photo or a musical ornament of some kind that harkens back to the days of Zepplin, Bowie, Floyd, and other rock stars of the past—and all the photos are thoughtfully framed and hung up in order.
The space screams character and style, which is fitting for a man who, when he opens the door to his home to greet me, casually wears a black sandblasted Bulgari Octo Finissimo on one wrist and silver chain bracelets studded with precious stones on the other while padding around his home in blue socks. There’s personality, warmth and a confident ease to his demeanor—which about sums up his unique approach to watch retail for the past three decades.
In 1988, Picciotto opened Chronopassion in Paris, a premium luxury retail space for watch collectors. In 32 years, Chronopassion’s mark on industry has boomed, as has Picciotto’s. Collectors have rerouted private jets to get pieces from him; even basketball legend Michael Jordan followed his guidance on buying his first Urwerk: “Michael Jordan came to the shop years ago and he was focused on several pieces that he really wanted, like a Chronographe Suisse, Jaquet Droz, a Panerai,” recounts Picciotto. “And once he had made his choices, we asked him if we could play a little game. He said okay, so we blindfolded him and put the Urwerk on his wrist, and we said we wanted his first reaction when we took off the blindfold. When we took the blindfold off, he said, ‘Okay, yeah, you win.’”
Laurent Picciotto © WorldTempus/Joy Corthésy
For Picciotto, advising clients isn’t about pushing a product on them, but rather encouraging an open mind: “A client can look at a watch and immediately say it’s not for them. But once on the wrist, something happens. We just try to discover new and interesting things and share that with people. I want to stay true to myself; I don’t carry brands or watches I don’t believe in.”
And yet, back in 1988, watch retail looked completely different. “At the time that I opened (the shop), most of the people who were involved in the in the watches were jewelers,” explains Picciotto. “For them watches were not the vocation but just something on the side. But when I opened, my decision at the time was to open only with watches, and most of the people in retail thought it was nuts.”
Clearly, 32 years on, a move that was thought of as “nuts” proved to be him tapping into a niche market that would boom in the following decades. This instinct of spotting untapped potential in a market, a product, or a brand—Picciotto has that in spades. A clear example is Richard Mille, a brand that he cofounded: “What is funny is that in the beginning, the price (of the Richard Mille RM-01) was a remarkable attraction. In 2001, I was showing the RM-01 to a lot of people, and they all thought it was cool and different. And they would give it back then ask for the price, which at the time was €176,000, they would be surprised, they thought less, and ask to see it again.”
And while he has helped usher in a wider appeal for larger brands, such as Audemars Piguet and Hublot, whose monobrand boutiques in Paris he managed for years, Picciotto has a clear soft spot for the independent watch brands. Championing talent and craftsmanship, Picciotto was one of the first to call Max Busser, creator of MB&F, in 2005 after Busser left Harry Winston and said, “Whatever you’re doing, I’m in. I want to be your retailer.”
For someone who has a talent for spotting emerging brands and products, what does he think the future holds for the watch industry? In light of tech giants like Apple surpassing the number of mechanical watches sold with their Apple Watch, it looks like technology is gaining ground on replacing traditional watches on people’s wrists. And Picciotto says we should’ve seen it coming: “I cared about the launch of the Apple Watch since the beginning and talking to people in the industry, they didn’t think it would be that big of a problem at first, that it wasn’t the same product. And I agreed, but I also said that the wrist is not our property, we cannot think that we will own it forever just because it has been the norm for centuries.”
So, what’s going to be our saving grace? Women, says Picciotto. “I think the women’s market will survive much more efficiently. Because of the way they perceive jewelry, women continue to advocate for watches like they do jewelry. You’re more likely to see men with Apple watches than women.”
And if Picciotto is the guru for all things watchmaking as well as knowing what a client will like, then we can have high hopes on his predictions for the future.