GPHG President Raymond Loretan

And The Winner Is: Watchonista Interviews GPHG President Raymond Loretan

We sat down with the man in charge of watchmaking's biggest award to talk about the upcoming ceremony and future changes coming to the Fondation's voting system.

By Thomas Hendricks

Grab your popcorn! Awards season is finally here! The Fondation du Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) awards - the unofficial Oscars of watchmaking - are set to take place on Thursday, November 7th at the Théâtre du Léman in Geneva. Here, winners in each of the 14 categories will be crowned, and the watch world will be, well, watching.

Ahead of the ceremony, Watchonista caught up with GPHG President, Raymond Loretan, in Mexico City at the Salón Internacional Alta Relojería (SIAR), the premier horological trade show for the Latin American market. The fair featured approximately four dozen of the top brands in watchmaking - including those old and new, large and small. 

The Fondation du GPHG had their own display at SIAR, anchoring the main room with a central, raised platform showcasing each of the 84 pre-selected watches. Whereas other brands at SIAR recruited beautiful Latin models (in the hundreds it seemed) to welcome visitors to their booths, the GPHG booth featured only the requisite armed security. After all, these are the cream of the crop for watches in 2019.

Introducing GPHG President, Raymond Loretan

To get the inside scoop on all things GPHG, Watchonista sat down with Raymond Loretan, the President of the Fondation. Loretan has been in his post since January 2018, succeeding Carlo Lamprecht, who had served as president since the Fondation’s beginning in 2011.

Although he now works in the world of watches, Loretan has held several high-profile diplomatic positions throughout his career. After earning law degrees from the University of Fribourg and the University of Strasbourg, he began his professional career at the United Nations and The Hague. From there, he moved to the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, then to the Federal Department of Defence and the Federal Department of Justice and Police, before serving as the Swiss Ambassador to Singapore and Brunei. Not bad, huh?

Watchonista will be covering the 2019 awards in-depth on our site and social media channels, so stay tuned! In the meantime, enjoy our one-on-one interview with President Loretan, where he discusses the challenges facing the global watch industry and the changes he’d like to see in the GPHG. 

Watchonista Interviews GPHG President, Raymond Loretan

Thomas Hendricks: Mr. Loretan, thank you for sitting down with Watchonista today. I know it's been quite a busy couple of days for you. How is SIAR going for you?

Raymond Loretan: Great! I think it's a win-win approach for us to be involved with SIAR and to have the opportunity to bring this exhibition here in Mexico. And, I think it's also good for SIAR to have the Grand Prix because we are helping each other to promote each other. And for us, it's also very important to promote the watch industry and the Grand Prix in this region, which we neglected, maybe a little bit, in the past year.

TH: Since you have, let's say, a bird's eye view of the watch industry, have you noticed any recent trends that have surprised you from particular brands or the industry as a whole?

RL: Surprised me? No, but I think that the watch industry - of course, there are ups and downs - it's in synchronization, a little bit, with the world economy, the ups and downs in the watch industry. But that means, on the one end, that the watch industry has to reform itself permanently. Then you have to make a differentiation between high-end watches and middle-end and low-end watches, and it's not the same evolution.

But, globally speaking, the watch industry has to renew itself permanently to remain attractive to the public. Because I think that the watch industry and watches will always be interesting because they represent more than the timepieces themselves. The watch industry is transporting, also, a lot of values - it’s a kind of bridge between past and future traditions and innovations. But, of course, it has to be innovative to be able to play this role as a bridge. So, I'm very optimistic about the future only under the condition that this industry is able to renew itself in terms of creative and technical innovation.

TH: Have you seen watch consumers, have you seen their attitudes change over time or in the past couple of years? Or, has it been fairly consistent

RL: No, I think that what one of our challenges is also to - and that's one of the challenges we believe is part of our challenge - is to get young people interested in the watch industry and that's why we see also in the Grand Prix and the educational dimension. 

So, we are trying when we travel to different places in the world and Geneva, to attract young people. For example, in Asia - in Singapore and Bangkok - we invited students from technical schools to visit the exhibition. And we presented the watches and explaining how we make the watches to stimulate interest in the watch industry.

At SIAR, we didn't have this opportunity. Still, I want to increase this educational dimension of GPHG not only to create a new passion for the watch industry but to sustain the passion for the watch industry that exists.

TH: Finally, what does the future hold for GPHG?

RL: Well, maybe just the fact that next year we're going to transform ourselves. We're going to try. We're studying the opportunity of transforming the selection system. 

Now we have a system based on every brand registered, and then it's selected by a jury of certain people around Switzerland. Next year we want to create an academy with 300-400 people worldwide, and they will choose the watch. Once a watch is selected, we will ask the permission of the brand to keep it in the competition. So, the whole selection system is going to be transformed into a more democratic selection process.

I think once we do this - and we succeed in this process - we will really be able to say that this is our Oscar for watches.

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

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