Interview: The CEO Of Raymond Weil Talks Ambassadors, The Beatles, And The Brand’s Strategy For Success
Passionate about horology, literature, and gastronomy, Raymond Weil's CEO, Elie Bernheim, is the third generation of his family to helm the Geneva-based brand since taking over in 2014. But as he continues to develop and transform the brand, we can’t help but wonder: What is the “new” Raymond Weil all about? Here is what Watchonista learned during our interview with Mr. Bernheim.
The brand has been evolving fast over the past several years. How has it become a “new” Raymond Weil? And in what ways is it different from the Raymond Weil you inherited in 2014 when you became CEO?
It’s a good question. I wouldn’t say it’s a “new” Raymond Weil, per se, as we have a strong identity and an important presence in some countries via more aspirational products. Plus, we continuously develop interesting products to reinforce our brand presence and horological legitimacy in the market.
So, is it a new Raymond Weil? No. We are who we are. Still, it is true to say that we are slowly, but surely, evolving towards more “horological” pieces.
Since 2014, everything changed, not only in terms of organization and structure but also in terms of the product itself. We used to sell 80% quartz and 20% mechanical pieces, but today it’s just the opposite. The market changed and we had to adapt to it; to be aligned with the worldwide demand. The distribution of our watches is another issue; digital distribution has become far more important to our brand than it used to be.
What is the most successful distribution channel for Raymond Weil?
It is still a mix between physical and digital distribution. Regarding specific markets: the US is definitely the most important for us, followed by the UK, and plus additional key markets.
But when I took the company reins, I integrated my idea of “small is beautiful,” which means that it is more important to be strong in a few markets than to be an insignificant player in all of them. This was a significant change from the past when we believed it was more prestigious to be present everywhere, no matter how small your footprint.
In my understanding, working with key partners and retailers in a smaller number of markets is far more impactful for a growing brand.
How have you adapted to today’s market?
It has been a big stress on almost everyone, but, professionally, 2020 was my toughest year to date. Not only did I begin to doubt our structure, but I also had to make decisions for a future that I couldn’t even begin to predict. If in June of last year, you had asked me what I saw in the coming months, I would have said, “I am blind, I don’t know where we have to go…I don’t know how to manage my production and the team.”
Now in 2021, things have gotten better. To the point that, from the end of Q1, business kicked up again for the best. The challenge then became consumer demand, which was far higher than we could have expected a year ago. Nor would we have ever dreamed of it.
Indeed, we lived through a polarization of our energy that caused a new challenge – that production cannot follow demand when you almost stop production for a certain period of time.
Speaking of brought up 2020, how do you look at the post-COVID 19 luxury industry?
The fact that we have lived under certain constraints and limits for two years has created frustrations but, at the same time, also fostered desires to do things differently. What was considered a real luxury before 2020 is not necessarily one today.
For Raymond Weil, it is also very important because we have always been seen as a brand creating valuable timepieces at a reasonable price. And post-pandemic, we’re going to be conveying that message even more, meaning we will highlight the idea that you don’t purchase just a watch, but also the emotion that comes with it.
We want to live more in quality, the experiential value, and with the self-awareness of why we are interested in this or that object. We are more interested in a better understanding for the price of a luxury item.
How does Raymond Weil approach collaborations and ambassadors?
I definitely think that the best collaboration is what we are doing right now with you. By that, I mean, interacting with the key players and experts in the watch industry, like Watchonista. That is more impactful than any single ambassador or even a whole lineup of ambassadors.
From the other side, it’s important to continue building the brand’s DNA, and that’s why we will be even more involved in the musical world going forward, because it really is our core inspiration. The concept of collaborating with big bands, like the Beatles, as opposed to individual celebrities, like a pro athlete, is key for us to disassociate ourselves from others.
Do you have any special approach to the younger generation?
This generation will be a key factor in the future success of any brand. That is why we need to make sure that we create interest for the watch industry by highlighting horology’s importance to their everyday lives.
The use of social media is definitely one of the main channels of communication with these customers and the way to pass our core messages.
Let’s talk about the products themselves. What are the principal innovations that Raymond Weil has presented in 2021?
Our most iconic releases have been in collaboration with The Beatles, which began in 2016. And a few weeks ago, we launched our fourth Beatles collaboration: the Maestro Skeleton Let It Be Limited Edition.
For the first time, one of our Maestro models comes equipped with a skeleton movement that is revealed by a subtle, UK-figurative cut-out. It’s a self-winding timepiece with 38-hours of power reserve, created in celebration of the UK and the legendary band.
We have a strong relationship with Apple Corps, which manages the rights to The Beatles, and we will continue to develop that relationship further in the future.
Another important milestone is the development of the Skeleton Freelancer. Powered by our in-house movement, it features, for the first time, a bronze bezel and crown.
What is on your wrist today?
A piece that has not been released yet [smiles]. It's a prototype of a chronograph (in a rather trendy color) that will be released in April of next year. For the moment, I have to keep it secret!