Juan-Carlos Torres, Vacheron Constantin CEO, talks about the challenges he faces, things he would change and how luxury is evolving.
Recently, Vacheron Constantin selected Lebanon for the launch of their first ‘Mediterranean’ boutique, an embassy for their collector customers to meet, share and communicate about the extraordinary Vacheron Constantin masterpieces. During his stay in the capital, Beirut, we had the opportunity to chat with brand CEO, Juan-Carlos Torres, on the breezy rooftops of the bustling city.
Juan-Carlos Torres, or Charlie Torres as he likes to be known in the industry, started work in Vacheron Constantin in 1981, initially in an accounting role before rising to become Finance Director in 1987, Finance and Manufacturing Director in 2000, and then Deputy Chief Executive in 2002. In 2005, he succeeded Claude-Daniel Proellochs as CEO, and has been at the helm ever since. A strong leader, with a candid approach to our interview, we get an insight into the choice of destination for the new boutique, and how the Middle East customer is paramount.
How would you assess your presence as a brand in Beirut and the Middle East?
Our presence in Lebanon is for us, one of the most important for the evolution of the brand. This is because Vacheron has always been linked to this part of the world. Also, because we are the watch for collectors, we are dedicated to providing exemplary pieces for extraordinary collectors, and the Lebanese are connoisseurs in the world of watches, making them the most important people in terms of collectors. They know about timepieces, technique, and the real value of each watch, so to have this boutique here, it provides an embassy where all those in high watchmaking can meet, speak and share. We wanted to create a space which would allow customers and collectors to express their specialist knowledge about watchmaking. Lebanon for me is a very Mediterranean region, making this our first Mediterranean boutique as we don’t have anything in Italy or Spain, which is quite a landmark.
How is the brand performing in the Gulf, and what strategy are you maintaining to have a good market share in the Middle East?
The competition is strong and all the brands are fighting and pushing for customers, although the retail situation is bad, with limited customers. However, now people are discovering the Arabic customer and the needs that they desire, and for us this means differentiating our product for this market. Firstly, we need to make sure that we have right product for the market and this isn’t something small and delicate. The customer wants strong pieces, and they want to be different, so we are branching out with bigger watches and ladies’ pieces too. Therefore, through the product first and foremost, we are aiming to develop the brand in this market. Secondly, it is important to be close to the customer, and although we may not be throwing big events regularly, we have instead chosen to have selective, small gatherings, using the boutiques as embassies to come and exchange, talk and have a one to one service.
A lot of brands are directing their focus towards women’s watches. How are you going to approach women with a brand that has such strong links to men?
Surprisingly 25% of our sales are to women, and that indicates that we have a good, strong clientele. Currently, the Overseas range is a favoured product for our female customers, with the different elements and colours, that help satisfy their taste. However, we are also working on a special dedicated ladies collection, which will remain as a permanent line. As you know, this is a new position for Vacheron, and we must work on all the elements to make this a successful launch and collection. We must be focused and ready to present a ladies line, in a ladies context, which can’t be done with the current advertising that we have. I can’t launch an elegant, refined women’s watch with an old fashioned concept and advertising. It is about the product and the visibility, and we are not in a hurry, we have a strong legacy so there is no need to rush. It will come in the next 2 to 3 years.
What sets Vacheron Constantin apart as a brand?
A dear friend, Franco Cologni, wrote a lot of books for Vacheron Constantin and one day he told me, ‘Each time I write about Vacheron Constantin, I get nervous because I’m facing history I’m not creating marketing. I feel something that I don’t get with other watches.’
He continues saying, ‘These products have a soul. In Latin they call it anima. There is something spiritual with Vacheron Constantin from the way the product is developed to the way the watch is made; every step has its own soul. Each time you see the watch you see the real DNA. It is the human values inside.’
What is one thing you would change in your strategy?
With this brand, you enter the big house through many doors or windows, there are so many things to explain and loads of stories to tell. The mistake I did was that I tried to explain too much too quick, I was so passionate; I guess that’s my Spanish side.
What worries you in today’s industry?
Don’t let marketing take care of the brand, if this happens the brand is dead.
Let creative people make products, and let marketing people sell the products. Make the product first and create stories after.
What are we expecting at SIHH?
This year we will present a lot of products around astronomy and will release one of the most complicated watches around astronomy. We will also launch something exceptional which is the “Grand Sonnerie”.
Are you a patient person?
I can be passionate, but not patient.
What’s your personal motto?
That is something difficult for a man of 60 years old, but I can tell you, it is one quality, BE HUMBLE!
What’s your style inspiration?
Be yourself! Don’t be different, be the same both within your job and outside of it, during the day and during the night.
What do you promise yourself?
I am 60 years old now, and hopefully I have 30 years remaining and that is the same sum of years I spent working for the brand, so now it is looking for the future.
What’s your ideal ‘me time’?
Good times with friends. But sometimes I need my time alone to free my mind.
We know that you love music and classical cars? What kind of music you listen to?
For sure classical music, I also like modern and rock music. I collect classical cars and I just bought a Bentley Derby 1934.
How did you celebrate your 60th Birthday?
I spent my anniversary at a garage in Moscow eating pizza and drinking Coca Cola. I was taking part in a rally from Beijing to Paris, and all was organised for a big party in Moscow, but I never reached the city on time, so I spent it at the garage.
Make the maximum to be happy!
By Lara Mansour Sawaya