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Czapek & Cie - Xavier de Roquemaurel: “Detecting Future Trends Could Almost Be My Job Title”

Czapek & Cie Xavier de Roquemaurel: “Detecting Future Trends Could Almost Be My Job Title”

WorldTempus catches up with Czapek & Cie’s CEO Xavier de Roquemaurel to talk about his unique way of running an independent watch business

A little birdie tells me that you have a couple of new products, but you aren’t officially launching them yet. Why is this?
We have stopped launching products because we can see that we have too many watches on order, but everyone knows that we have new products and they are asking to see them. So, we show them and let people take pictures, etc. so it is more of a soft launch. 

One of the last big launches was the Split Seconds Chronograph, how did that go?
Fantastic, it took 57 minutes to sell, a great result for a timepiece priced at over 40k CHF. This was possible because we work hand-in-hand with our retailers. The difference between having one person talking about the launch, or 20 people shouting from the rooftops, makes all the difference. 

We launched with one-third for our own boutique and e-store and two-thirds for retail. Many would call such a product a boutique launch. We never believed in that. We even had a system of kickbacks on the watch if we sold directly in a market where we had a retailer, considering that they would have probably done the job of selling the watch initially or at least presenting it. It is a system where you say look, every penny that corresponds to your work is going to be paid to you. They understand and appreciate that very much. This system is strengthening our relationship with our retail partners and thus fostering our growth, and it is relatively rare in the industry. 

Xavier de Roquemaurel: “Detecting Future Trends Could Almost Be My Job Title”

Antarctique Rattrapante © Czapek & Cie

Who is the Czapek client?
Most of them are watch collectors, but I would say that with the split-second chronograph we saw a new group of really serious collectors, owning timepieces from ultra-high-end independent watchmakers in their collections. That was a surprise for us. The typical client though has 10, 20, 30 pieces in their collection and they are looking for something special. 

We have also noticed that some of our clients are quite funny because they never followed the trends in the industry and bought any “iconic” or “mainstream” timepieces. I get the impression that they aren’t even looking for something different, but then they discover us, and they are like, I want to buy this because it is different. They like the watch, they like the people, and they like the story. 

You have a unique set-up with shareholders that are an integral part of the company. Is it true that they are involved in the design of the products you create?
Although the shareholders don’t decide, they get to influence things heavily, and in different ways. First of all, when you have a certain number of shares, you get to have a bespoke watch made for you. If you are at a lower level, but dream of having a bespoke watch, you still get my attention and my time. So, it is true that I am playing the role of product manager inside Czapek and that has helped me become a better CEO. 

The bespoke activity often gives birth to beautiful watches, incredibly beautiful watches, which can be problematic as then you are like, we should do this in a limited edition. For example, we are going to launch a purple chronograph and that was an idea from one of our shareholders. I told him: “Look, I cannot let you have this as a unique piece, it has to be a limited edition because it is too nice.” And I saw Nick Foulkes (A Financial Times journalist) wearing purple and he looked super cool, and I realized that it was becoming a trend, and totally in l’air du temps. So, smelling l’air du temps, detecting trends, could almost be my job title.

Xavier de Roquemaurel: “Detecting Future Trends Could Almost Be My Job Title”

Xavier de Roquemaurel, CEO © Czapek & Cie

Can you tell me about your retail network, how it has evolved, which direction you want to take it in the future?
We recently opened India, and Dubai was opened at the beginning of the pandemic. We plan to have 50 partners worldwide. Our biggest network is in Japan, followed by the US. We are also present in Hong Kong as well as most of the European countries. We have a mix of logic and no logic, but there is always a logic behind the no logic! We were not planning to open India, for example, but the CEO of this Indian retail company was super friendly, super nice, and really funny and he persuaded me to say yes. In the end, we like people. We have to stick to our motto of collecting rare people. So, decisions aren’t just driven by business logic, it is also about the people that we meet. 

When you look back, what are you the proudest of?
Well, when I look back, I think about my wife because she has always been there and without her, I wouldn’t have succeeded. We have had challenges, sleepless nights, and a lot of difficulties. The success now is almost so strong that it is worrying; we have moved from barely surviving to an avalanche of orders, but I am not complaining!

Other big moments have been going to Japan, opening the workshop in Le Locle (which we are about to leave to move to a bigger space in La-Chaux-de-Fonds), opening the boutique in Geneva, and the launch of the Antarctique, the collection powered by our first in-house movement, in May 2020. We took the major decision to keep going with the project at the beginning of lockdown, and we had to work so hard to make it happen in May, with a digital-only subscription. I think that is the thing I am most proud of as it was the right decision. We sold all the first 99 pieces in a matter of a few weeks It would have been easy to give up at this stage, but we didn’t give up and now we are reaping the fruits. 

Xavier de Roquemaurel: “Detecting Future Trends Could Almost Be My Job Title”

Shareholder's Atelier © Czapek & Cie

 

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