Discover Christelle Rosnoblet, The Woman Behind Speake-Marin
This entrepreneur, coming from the retail industry, is passionate about watchmaking and is herself a collector of timekeepers. Christelle Rosnoblet is the CEO of the independent brand Speake-Marin, now based in Geneva. In our interview, she spoke with humility about her passion, her role in the brand’s success and the challenges she faces.
Benjamin Teisseire: Hello Christelle, you are known to be a watch collector. What type are you?
Christelle Rosnoblet: I started very early with a small quartz Swatch. My first mechanical watch was an Omega Speedmaster. I have a sweet spot for watches with a strong character. Panerai, Rolex at the beginning but quickly, I turned to independents like Louis Moinet or Pierre de Roche. I buy on impulse. I do not have a particular theme. I let the emotions speak.
B.T: From large retail distribution to independent watchmaking there is quite a jump. How did you get where you are now?
C.R.: Nine or ten years ago at a family board meeting, we were evaluating our investment possibilities. Based in Annecy, we naturally looked towards Switzerland. We wanted to diversify outside large distribution: chocolate, medical, new tech start-ups, everything was on the table. My passion for watchmaking came as an obvious fact to dictate the final choice. At that time, the first independent watch fair, Geneva Time Exhibition, was taking place. This is where I met many watchmakers in 2011, including Peter Speake-Marin. Most of them wanted silent partners. Yet, it was clear in my mind that I wanted to be involved in strategic decisions and bring an outside eye to the trade. Peter welcomed the idea benevolently as he saw it as an opportunity for him to be less overwhelmed by the business side of things. That's when the adventure began.
B.T.: From then on, what was your role in the brand?
C.R: At the beginning, with a mentor, I absorbed the watchmaking and jewelry culture as well as the principles of haute horology. It enabled me to share Peter’s vision and to free his creativity. I was more in charge of the back-office, so he could dedicate himself to his art. We formed an efficient, very complimentary team. Five years back, we sat down to discuss the brand’s future. We strategically defined collections: a sporty one, the Spirit, a casual chic one with the Resilience, and of course, the Cabinet des Mystères and its unique pieces. We decided to find new suppliers to increase further our quality. At the time, we went from Technotime to Vaucher Manufacture for our base movements. We set a true brand strategy with several products each telling their own story.
BT: It is hard to lose the central figure of a brand which beholds his name. How did you take up the challenge?
C.R.: It’s undeniable! But, you know, things evolve fast. Peter Speake-Marin had told me about his weariness and wish to step down. We rapidly adapted the strategy and today we produce close to 300 timepieces where we were once making only a few dozens a year. So, the transition is going well and our visibility among collectors is increasing. We focus more on the Speake-Marin timepieces than the face that started it. It takes time. Two years ago, we introduced our first in-house, COSC certified movements. We are modernizing the design while staying true to the brand’s DNA and keeping its distinctive features: the Piccadilly case, the lugs, the hands and the Speake-Marin Royal blue. The identity has been strengthened – immediately recognizable – with our small second at 1h30 and our signature at 7h30. A unique, offbeat axis in watchmaking. We keep the best from the past and project into modernity.
BT: The life and development of an independent brand is rough. What are the toughest difficulties you are faced with?
C.R: Without hesitation: getting delivered on time! We produce only limited editions in small quantities. We are very small in the industry. So the choice of suppliers is crucial. If our order book is full but we deliver two years from now, it gets very complicated. Nowadays, everyone wants everything right away. The way we work now, we can deliver in 3 months and that makes a whole lot of a difference. Distribution is the other challenge for independent brands. Speake-Marin focuses on the US and Asia (outside China), as well as Switzerland. We have revamped our network to retain only partners who are passionate about independents, recognized by collectors and able to transmit our story. Gladly for us, there are some all over the world!
BT: What are your mid to long-term goals?
C.R: To keep developing our production tool in close collaboration with the "the atelier" in La Chaux-de-Fonds. To focus on quality and certification – like the COSC confirms – and nurture our differentiating points so that they are always more identifiable and identified. Our goal is to reach 800 timepieces within the next 5 to 10 years. We do not want to go further than this number in order to maintain our quality level, perpetuate the hand craftsmanship and retain a certain exclusivity.
BT: Who is the ideal Speake-Marin client?
C.R: At the beginning, it was great collectors, probably older, with very high revenues. They are still here, of course, essentially through our Cabinet des Mystères where they can have unique pieces made. When we introduced the One & Two and the Openworked, we reached a younger audience, around 40 years old (learn more HERE). A new generation in search of independent, elegant and different watchmaking is turning to Speake-Marin. It is interesting to see that women are also attracted to the brand. And not only by the 38mm size! In January, at the Carré des Horlogers at SIHH, we noticed that women as much as men were trying on both sizes, 38 and 42mm. This is encouraging!
BT: Final question. Watchmaking is a man’s world. Is it harder to be a woman?
C.R.: Times are changing, even in watchmaking. For the last SIHH picture this year there were five women (executives)! It’s a good start! To be honest, my role has not seemed more difficult as a woman. As my father always says: “As long as the skills required are there, the question is irrelevant”.
Thank you Christelle for your frankness. We look forward to seeing what comes next for Speake-Marin.
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)