Tiffany & Co. Interview with Frédéric Cumenal
At TimeCrafters in New York, the CEO of Tiffany & Co. discussed the brand’s watchmaking revival.
It’s now a year since you revamped your watch collections; how are things going?
We may have let it slip under the radar for a time, but Tiffany has been involved in watchmaking for 169 years. We’re very happy with the relaunch. In a way, it’s a return to our roots, for two reasons. First, it has enabled us to connect with Tiffany’s origins and history as part of the watchmaking tradition by launching collections linked with our history. The CT60 and East West, for example, have their own distinctive personality and a story that’s unique to them. The second reason comes down to the fact that the quality of our work has global recognition, among clients, experts and professionals, regardless of the problems currently evident in the market. For this we are humbly grateful.
What aspects could still be improved?
Many aspects, always! When you don’t improve, you deteriorate! Our watchmaking approach is long-term, and we will continue to make improvements year on year. I will just mention two major elements we intend to work on. No one can deny that we have developed a degree of expertise in selecting diamonds. We are universally recognised for this, and we need to acquire the same expertise in watchmaking, combining it with the right tone, which is how we communicate our passion to our clients. We will do this with targeted recruitment and sales force training, to ensure that our clients can seek advice from people who have an even better understanding of watchmaking culture. For our revival we chose a traditional route, targeting a masculine audience for the CT60, which carries our genetic code, since the original was on the wrist of Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he signed the Yalta Agreement. We will continue to invest in strengthening our men’s line but, knowing our brand profile, you won’t be surprised to learn that the next step will be far more feminine.
Your collections remain relatively affordable. But doesn’t a name like Tiffany have the potential to offer some very high-end limited edition ranges?
Absolutely. In fact, during our Blue Books events which are organised in April each year for our most high-end clients, we have offered gem-set unique pieces and limited edition jewellery watches. They have all been snapped up, at prices that are worlds away from those of our current collections. But we are not arrogant: our main focus is to play to our strengths and continue to innovate, while remaining faithful to our DNA. Haute horlogerie limited series nevertheless have great potential.
You opened a new flagship store in Geneva last year. Do your local clients have similar tastes to the rest of the world?
We are very proud of our magnificent boutique in Geneva, all the more so since it is located just a few metres from the first workshops set up by Tiffany in 1868. It’s a tribute to our founders, and also to Geneva’s watchmaking tradition, to which we made a major contribution at the time. The very cosmopolitan nature of Geneva, which in that respect is comparable to New York, could explain why the behaviour and preferences of the clients who come into the shop are not significantly different from what we see in other cities internationally.
Do you intend to submit another watch for the 2016 GPHG, which last year selected the CT60 Annual Calendar?
We were very proud to have been honoured by the GPHG last year, and we are hoping to follow up in 2016. We are currently looking at the options, and will submit our entries by the beginning of June. Although it may appear to have less importance outside Switzerland, it means a lot to us, because Tiffany comes from two cultures: New York, with its innovation and energy, and Switzerland, through the quality watchmaking that has been our hallmark since 1847. That is why it’s important to us to contribute to the GPHG by entering one or more categories. In fact, we think it should really be considered a duty for all respectable companies, even if it’s not every year.
Given the current climate, how is Tiffany’s business worldwide?
The international context is extremely difficult for a great many luxury companies, because of the sheer number of obstacles we have to overcome. Europe is currently in real difficulties, further exacerbated by the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels; global tourism, which plays a major part in luxury product sales, has undergone major upheavals in the last twelve months because of exchange rate volatility. China is all over the place, the USA is in the throes of a complicated presidential election... in short, all these factors contribute to making the situation complex and uncertain. Having said that, Tiffany has worked in the industry for 180 years, and we’ll still be around in another 180. Our revenues are solid, our cash flow is positive, and we are investing in the fundamentals of our brand, as you can see from the opening of our boutique in Rome at the beginning of May, for example.
Do you think that customers’ expectations in terms of luxury have changed?
They are constantly changing, and that’s a good thing! While it is important to remain abreast of trends which are sometimes of relatively short duration, to listen to them and acknowledge them, it is vital for companies such as ours to remain authentic to our traditional crafts and focus on what we do best. Millennials, for example, have a different approach to life from Generation-Xers and the generations that came before. They’re looking for a more individual experience, greater authenticity, and they are genuinely concerned about the environment and social issues. This is a source of confidence for us, because Tiffany has always upheld ethical practices, and we have a rich history, which should ensure that we retain our strong position with the new generation.