François-Henry Bennahmias was born in Paris, beginning his career as a golfer. As an avid player, he was even ranked 25th in France. But his professional sporting days soon came to an end when he decided to pursue the world of luxury fashion and timepieces. Bennahmias first worked in the fashion industry for brands like Giorgio Armani, Gianfranco Ferré, Les Copains and Vilebrequin, before later moving to a career in Haute Horlogerie.
In 1994 he arrived at Audemars Piguet, the Swiss watchmaker, and after three years was promoted to lead the brand’s operations in Singapore together with taking on the added responsibility for Audemars Piguet in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Brunei, Australia and Malaysia. In 1999, he assumed the role of President & CEO of Audemars Piguet (North America), Inc. while he also advised the Audemars Piguet Group on the development of the South American market, including Mexico and the Caribbean.
Now at 52 years old, he is CEO of the 141 year old family-owned company, which is still based in its ancestral home in the Vallée de Joux, a remote spot in the Jura mountains, regarded as the cradle of Swiss watchmaking.
Do you think the luxury watchmaking market is changing?
A few weeks ago, in Switzerland, a journalist mentioned that the watch industry is too expensive and we should reduce prices. I said it was the biggest joke I’ve heard during the 23 years that I have been at Audemars Piguet. When you talk about luxury, price doesn’t matter, it is only an issue if something is missing from the product and the emotion isn’t there. If you are capable of creating and delivering emotions within the product, then price should be the last thought. However, some brands may have gone too far with their volumes, and are chasing revenue by increasing volumes, which removes the luxury element. Whereas, we announced that we would make 40,000 watches and we would stick to that limited number for a minimum of five years. This gained respect from our customer who felt that the brand is staying true to its value, whilst keeping the desire and rarity of the product.
You’ve been with the brand since 1994, what are you yet to achieve?
I want the brand to be the best brand ever and we are not there yet, but we are on our way. There are so many things to do, but we are on a good path. 2022 is the 50th anniversary of Royal Oak, and 2025 is the 150th Anniversary of the company. We are planning to introduce a new classical line, together with a lot of new inventions and innovations coming up.
What can we expect at SIHH 2017?
The beast has awakened! We have something great coming up. For many years, for whatever reason, all our designers were very stuck with ideas, and so we decided to look back at what we have created over the past 10 years, and this has inspired new designs.
Are women’s watches important to the brand, and what is your strategy for growth in this sector?
It is becoming increasingly important every day. The watches are small, innovative, and emotional products. The Frosted Gold is a good example, we teamed up with Florentine jeweller Carolina Bucci to create four watches with a frosted gold finish. Creating for women by a woman is the perfect pairing, and by adding the jewellery aspect we mix both worlds together, which couldn’t be more authentic for someone who loves Audemars Piguet and jewellery.
What are the challenges in the market today?
The biggest challenge is to make sure we keep ourselves spread equally across the globe. The Middle East has been increasing like crazy over the past three years, and the success of the brand has been fantastic, however scary at the same time because we don’t know where it will stop. This year has been particularly positive, many other brands in competition are not performing, but we are skyrocketing.
Do you aim to focus on one market or spread across them all?
We never focus on one market and try to spread ourselves across all. A lot of brands have been focusing on China for almost 10 years, but that wasn’t our only focus. We look at all the markets, the Japanese are coming back strong, and Switzerland has never been stronger. So, when we look at the geography of ourselves we are happy with where we are right now, yet we need to ensure that in years to come we are not tempted to slide.
Can you tell us about your personal style?
My style depends on my weight. If I am slimmer I can enjoy more clothes, but if I’m bigger it is a strain on my wardrobe. In my closet, you will tend to find a collection of basics. I have six blazers, up to forty pairs of shoes, which are mostly one brand, lots of polo shirts and turtle necks.
What is your key to unwinding and switching off?
When I come home in the evening and I want to relax, I like watching a TV series to help my brain unwind, rather than reading a book. I am currently watching an American series called Ballers with Dwayne Johnson. I’ve always loved sports and this series is about the world of professional American football, which I very much enjoy.
What is your relationship with music?
Music is my life, and I like all types of music. If I didn’t work with watches I could have been a producer, or something in that domain.
What is a life lesson that you can share with us?
Never take no for an answer, and the more you tell me it is impossible, the more I do to prove it is possible.
Do you have any regrets in life?
Not yet, but one day I’m sure I will say not spending enough time with my kids.
By Lara Mansour Sawaya