Interview: Brice Le Troadec On Grand Seiko’s Grand Scheme
In the waning days of 2021, we caught up with Grand Seiko's U.S. President Brice Le Troadec to discuss the brand’s journey in the U.S. market, celebrating that success; and what it all means for the watchmaker’s future as a global brand.
In addition to being a seasoned professional, Grand Seiko Corporation of America President Brice Le Troadec is one of the most erudite and charming players in the watch industry. A conversation with him can easily veer into performance automobiles, fine art, jazz, cuisine, diving – many of the things that make life worth living. So let’s get to it!
You came on board just before Grand Seiko formed a separate corporation in the U.S. I can only imagine what your marching orders were, but what were the opportunities and challenges as you saw them?
The creation of Grand Seiko Corporation of America in 2017 as a separate entity, detached, in a sense, from the parent company, not only presented a unique opportunity for us to grow Grand Seiko’s success, but it formed a new strategy that will feed global expansion across the board.
The challenges we saw revolved around: How do we define a Japanese luxury brand in a way that will resonate universally?
What role did Grand Seiko’s retail presence play in that effort?
In the U.S., we grew from 30 doors in 2016 to 70 in 2021. We could have added many more retail outlets. But we wanted to be selective and focus on working with partners that were not only outstanding in their regions but were also excited about spreading the word on Grand Seiko.
We wanted to communicate our unique quality story to a core group [of retailers] that could take it to heart and create a win-win situation that delivered an unmatched level of dealer satisfaction. That inclusive two-way street was critical to the success we’ve seen.
You’ve produced a number of U.S.-exclusive models and editions. Has that strategy played out well for you?
Absolutely. It’s been a critical factor in our success here, and we will continue to produce exclusive editions for the U.S. in the future. These exclusive don’t necessarily just create “halo” products to attract customers and spur collectors; we want to offer accessible pathways to experience and appreciate the spectrum of Grand Seiko timepieces in a curated way to provide some thoughtful guidance and insight.
What concrete steps have you taken based on your recent experience?
The Spring Drive has become a top priority calibre for us, with sales of it outpacing our traditional mechanical movements. We’ve also tightened our offerings into the Masterpiece, Elegance, Heritage, and Sport lines. And we’ve reduced our SKUs based on sales performance and eliminated somewhat redundant design. We are more focused on what works, and it better defines who we are.
What qualities define a Grand Seiko timepiece?
While, of course, there is some overlap and sharing of technologies and expertise with the timepieces of our parent company, Grand Seiko’s product philosophy is its own. You will always see a greater degree of finishing in a Grand Seiko watch. Grand Seiko has its own design language.
The calibres we use, and the functions we include, carry a specific sense of luxury that appeals to high-end collectors. Yet, our evolving use of technology gives us an interesting and unique point of appeal.
But, above all, Grand Seiko timepieces are exclusively crafted by Grand Seiko watchmakers – artisans that represent the “cream of the crop” and have received the training and carry the expertise and artful skills to earn that credential.
How did the pandemic and quarantine impact Grand Seiko?
We’re of the opinion that watch buyers took some time during quarantine to educate themselves and expand their knowledge. Now, savvy watch consumers are walking in the door of retailers and asking specifically about Grand Seiko and Grand Seiko models.
Movements technologies like the Spring Drive and the Hi-Beat, design features like the “snowflake” dial – while they don’t require any extraordinary understanding to appreciate – they certainly invite a compelling, more in-depth investigation. If only to help you tell the story of what you’re wearing on your wrist better.
So how do you address the aspect of “continuing education”?
That’s exactly why we expanded the GS9 Club globally. The site is open to all and provides a “deep dive” into what makes Grand Seiko special. Full membership, which includes access to special events, opportunities, and exclusive content, is reserved for Grand Seiko owners. But it is an enormously successful platform; our membership numbers are growing exponentially.
With expansion comes the need for additional connective promotion. How do you choose to get the word out with your more lifestyle-oriented partnerships?
The relationship between art, nature, and time is an important keystone in Japanese culture. We approach our promotional relationships through that filter. The notion of time needs to be captured creatively. We are more interested in being associated with art itself as opposed to an artist or single individual.
Can you give me some examples?
We are an official sponsor of Jazz at Lincoln Center and work closely with Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis. That partnership kind of redefines the cliched role of an “official timekeeper,” don’t you think? Those are the kinds of partnerships you will be seeing from us.
So, what can we expect from Grand Seiko for the new year?
This year is going to be extraordinarily important for Grand Seiko. Of course, we are eagerly anticipating our first participation in Watches & Wonders in Geneva this spring. Not only because it’s our first time there as an independent entity, but we will be providing many exciting moments during the show, including models based on some innovative new bespoke calibres, which I can’t really get into right now.
Oh, come on…
Let’s just say that our experience in the U.S. has informed our plans globally. The U.S. is not only a critical market. It is a challenging and complex one. Our success here is the result of a lot of hard work, but we also spent a great deal of time listening to the desires of our “pioneer spirit” customers. What we reveal in Geneva will hold a new level of appeal you’ve not seen before from Grand Seiko.