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de Grisogono - In Full Colour

de Grisogono In Full Colour

De Grisogono is known for its design exuberance and its bold statements in jewellery form. CEO Céline Assimon shares her unfiltered take on what’s to come for the 26-year-old brand.

Céline Assimon is a woman leading a brand with a predominantly female clientele. Ironically, this makes her a rarity within the watch and jewellery industry, where the vast majority of brands are helmed by men — even brands that ostensibly address the feminine customer. Assimon is also the person behind the company’s newest design initiative, Creativity in Residence, which welcomes up-and-coming talents to create gorgeous, youthful pieces imbued with the genetic code of de Grisogono. WorldTempus sat down with this dynamic leader to hear more about the company’s unique creative philosophy, its groundbreaking place in the high jewellery world, and charting the next generation of de Grisogono.

It’s a year now since you joined de Grisogono. What do you think has been the most important thing you accomplished in the last 12 months?

This was no ordinary challenge for me — you know, it's my first time in a CEO position. I was prepared for it, but it's a big step. The company was at a crucial turning point in its history after 26 years of being led by a visionary founder, Fawaz Gruosi. I only accepted the position because I felt I was ready and confident that I could take on the challenge. Also, I had some conditions for taking the job — one of them was that the board could approve the Creativity in Residence project.

In Full Colour

Céline Assimon © de Grisogono

That’s such a strong initiative, and we can see why it’s so important for a young brand to take a step like this, especially a brand that has always been anchored to the creative actions of its founder.  

De Grisogono will always belong to its founder. But we also have a team of jewellers and designers in our atelier, who have been going through cycles of mentorship and nurturing, cultivating the codes of the maison. You could say the brand belongs to them, too. It’s quite beautiful to be part of the path towards the brand standing on its own, becoming a more institutional version of what it was when it was born. It’s incredibly exciting — we had to put some things in place really quickly, because the world is moving fast and there’s no time to waste if we want to keep up. I’m really grateful to the team for believing in the new direction I brought, because it’s not always easy to shift quickly in this way.

What do you think first got people excited about de Grisogono, being such a young brand in an area as established and traditional as luxury?

Well, when you look back 26 years ago, the world of high jewellery was very different from how it is today. It was pretty much owned by a few traditional maisons, mostly based in place Vendôme, and you had some really niche and specific brands. You could say that high jewellery was not accessible at all. Fawaz came up with this crazy idea that high jewellery could be bold, it could be big and it could be colourful. And when I say “colourful” I don’t just mean the familiar white-and-green, white-and-red combinations, but bursts of colour and volume. That was the idea behind Melody of Colour, which is still one of our most successful collections today. We were able to take the industry by surprise, because while everyone else was using noble stones, we mixed amethysts and black diamonds. Creativity is at the core of everything we do and it’s how we got our first success.

We see this creativity in the timepiece collection as well, for those who remember the Meccanico with its digital display and the Occhio Minute Repeater. Now there is the New Retro, which is creative in a different way, because it’s not a classic round watch, but there is something really elegant and beautiful about it.

Yes, it's our most successful timepiece at the moment. It’s elegant, it’s refined and, at the same time, it's very bold — for example the way the crystal is curved makes it very strong looking. That’s something that our clientele really appreciate. 

In Full Colour

Meccanico © de Grisogono

In Full Colour

Occhio Minute Repeater © de Grisogono

People tend to put jewellery and watches together in the same category, because you can say that there are a lot of similarities in the creative process and on the production side of things. Once you get to the consumer, however, you realise how different they are, jewellery and watches. The audience is different, the way that the markets approach them as products is different, even the way you have to communicate about them is totally different. You have a great perspective on how this can be a challenge and also an advantage. Is understanding the female customer the key to balancing this situation? 

Jewellery is more of an emotional purchase for a woman than a timepiece is, unless she's a connoisseur and she's looking for something very specific. It’s the way your hand looks with that ring, the way your face looks with those earrings; that’s what makes you fall in love. This is my opinion, of course, but it’s also based on what I observed from watching women make their purchases. For watches it’s a little bit more intellectual, I think there’s a different part of the brain that goes into action when a woman is looking at a timepiece — looking at the movement, at the balance beating like a heart, at the complexity of the whole thing. 

My experience is that when a woman buys a complicated timepiece, she wants to understand how it works. These are women who run their own businesses, make their own money, they not only have incredible cars but they also drive these cars themselves — instead of sitting in the back with a chauffeur in front. So I think there’s been a shift over the last 10 years. For sure, as you said, watches and jewellery are still status symbols, but the approach of the customer is completely different. A woman is very unlikely to buy something that she doesn’t understand. She feels the pressure doubly to know how it works if she’s asked, to really own the piece that she’s wearing. How can you say you fully own something if you don’t understand how it works?   

It’s not unusual for a man to be leading a female-targeting brand; in fact this is currently the norm. We could conclude from this that gender doesn’t really matter in terms of leadership, but I think it’s a little naïve to think that being a woman doesn’t make a difference when leading a brand with a predominantly female clientele. In your experience, how is that difference felt? 

It matters when you belong to the demographic that your product is aimed towards. We’ve seen many examples of leadership, and it’s clear that preserving the status quo and creating similar collections over and over again can be done by pretty much anyone. But if you’re chasing innovation, if you want to push boundaries, you need to understand your client. You need to understand how the product is worn, and anticipate the wishes of the clients — and it's very difficult to do. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I think it's very difficult unless you actually live with the product. 

The way you formulated your question is interesting, because you’ll hear statements about how being a woman doesn’t confer any advantages, because male CEOs are capable of understanding the female client and putting themselves in her shoes. That’s true to an extent, of course, you need to be wired properly and to be smart. But you also need to live the product, you need to wear it. If a pair of earrings has not been tested for comfort, that is a big mistake. You don’t experience the product in the way that your customer does and you miss the last stage of development that can make or break your product. You turn your head a little too quickly — your earrings hit you in the face — those are not earrings that will be sold. It doesn’t matter how beautiful a ring is, if I can’t drive while wearing it, or it scratches my child’s hand when I hold it. 

In that sense I think women in leadership positions at female-targeted brands have a unique position. It’s natural for us to take that last step that is often missed, to make sure that what we create can really be worn and enjoyed. 

In which aspect — whether creativity, design or business practices — do you still see de Grisogono being a leader within the industry?

Definitely still creativity for us, I think. The way we approach the creative process as well. The Creativity in Residence programme is proof of the inclusive way that we do things, involving the younger generations of creatives, naming them and valuing their contributions. This is one way in which we try and show the path forwards for the industry, while also introducing audiences and customers to new and exciting talents. We had Emmanuel Tarpin this year for the first capsule. His way of approaching our DNA has really been a breath of fresh air. We’re exploring talent for next year’s collaboration now, and we have more surprises up our sleeves. 

One last question just to bring it back to us watch geeks — there are quite a few of us who know the amazing stuff Denis Giguet (Atelier Director of de Grisogono) can do. We’ve been looking forward to seeing something really special ever since he joined the company. Are our expectations going to be rewarded soon?

I can’t say more, but 2020 is going to be an exciting year!

 

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Keen to develop technical timepieces with a refined and distinctive aesthetic appearance, in less than twenty years de GRISOGONO has successfully carved out a niche in the world of watchmaking. Its audacious design ethos is expressed in firmly contemporary, off-beat timepieces.

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