"Questions of time": Flavio Pellegrini, the man at the helm of the legendary Ebe

"Questions of time": Flavio Pellegrini, the man at the helm of the legendary Ebel

What better way to get acquainted with some watchmaking personalities than asking them a few questions about time and duration. Flavio Pellegrini, chairman of Ebel and Concord watches, was happy to oblige. Here's his touching, and occasionally confessional, portrait.

By Joël A. Grandjean

For the first time in at least a half-century, the brands EBEL and Concord will not be appearaning at Baselworld 2018. The big annual event in the watchmaking calendar is faced with a serious number of defections (see our comments).

"We've stopped going because, apart from the high costs involved, the fair format is also no longer compatible with our needs given the global developments taking place in the retail market. We prefer to talk directly to the consumer" – Flavio Pellegrini, chairman of Ebel and Concord watches

At the beginning of January 2018, Mr. Pellegrini, general manager of the MGI Luxury Group, shared these thoughts in an interview with the Swiss news agency ATS. It had been a difficult year, followed by a recovery marked by a 6% increase in sales in the second quarter. The MGI Luxury Group is an economic entity based in New Jersey, and owner of the legendary Swiss watchmaking brands Concord, Movado and Ebel (to cite but a few) and manufactures watchmaking products under licence for other global brands.

The chairman heading up the historic watchmaking brands, EBEL and Concord, is an insider. He joined the MGI Luxury Group in 2003 as junior financial analyst. After climbing a few rungs up the ladder, he is now responsible for product development and marketing activities for Europe and the Middle East. Born in Le Locle and later an economics graduate from the University of Neuchâtel, father-of-two Pellegrini now likes to go running and indulge in gastronomic discoveries. Here's what he had to say to Watchonista.

So, Mr. Pellegrini, when was the first time?

A long time ago, but I still have fond memories!

Are you always on time?

Not really. I do my best, but I always tell people if I'm going to be late. This is important to me as RESPECT is my most cherished value.

When was the most embarrassing time that you were very late for something?

It was a long time ago. My wife and I arrived late at my sister-in-law's wedding… we felt very bad about it but luckily we were just in time for the closing kiss.

What was your longest day?

I had the chance to go to Australia after university to improve my English and get my first work experience. I left Le Locle at the beginning of January 2002 knee-deep in snow and was greeted by a sunny summer's day in Sydney after a never-ending trip with a few stop overs… the plane ticket was not expensive, but the trip was very, very long. I will always remember that journey.

Besides your own watch or timekeeper, which design do you consider to be the most timeless?

My Alfa Romeo Giulia GT Junior produced in 1971. I could look at the exterior lines and at the unique “due gobbe” cockpit for hours…

What is the precise longitude and latitude of your birthplace?

Le Locle in Switzerland, latitude 47.0667, longitude 6.75

Which personal object would you like to remove from the grip of time so that it may never perish?

Sorry to repeat it again but my vintage Alfa Romeo. I really take perfect care of all its original leather, chrome details, etc… I only drive it when the sun is out to keep it nice and clean!

Which “chronophage” (something that eats your precious time) do you fear the most?

Routine for me is the worst “chronophage” and I cope with it by spicing up my personal and family life by travelling. It can be a weekend in the Swiss Alps or a 3 week-tour in Brazil. This helps break the routine, but more importantly it gives you a different perspective on your regular life style back home.

If time could be summed up in writing, what format would you prefer it to be in – a book, proverb, or a quotation?

"Carpe Diem"

As the old Tuareg proverb goes, "Vous avez l'heure, nous avons le temps"  (which roughly translated means “You know the time, we have the time.”) What do you think about this saying?

Take the time you need!

What is your first memory that was related to an interval of time (either positive or negative)?

One that was both positive and negative at the same time – it was when I was a child and we were going back home to Italy for the summer break with my parents… It took so long to reach Bergamo… I couldn't wait to get there and see my cousins!

What are the moments in your life that should never end?

Family moments – I travel a lot so I enjoy every moment with my wife and my two daughters who are growing up too fast!

If you have ever cried, when was the time you thought you would never stop crying?

I don’t cry a lot, but the last time was at the funeral of my cousin who was taken from us very young due to a work accident.

How do you differentiate between time and eternity?

Time is now and eternity is yesterday, today and tomorrow.

What was your first watch?

My first watch was an Enicar, which I received for my First Communion. I still have it.

If you own several watches, what roles do they play in your life?

I have around 15 watches and they all have a personality and a good reason to be with me. It can be a gift, an icon in the industry or a watch I developed myself and am very proud of.

Which watch would you like to have most?

I think I have already everything I want, but the next one will be a Royal Oak.

Which collection watch are you most proud of, and why? Can you sum up its relationship to time in a few words?

The Ebel Sport Classic. It's a major icon of the watch industry, which was celebrating its 40th birthday in 2017 (like me!) and is EBEL's most iconic piece. This watch helped the Swiss watch industry to navigate through the quartz crisis and opened up the sport chic era, which I think is now making a strong comeback.

If you had no watch and had to put a personal object in the ground for telling the time (like the ancient sundials), what would it be?

An hourglass. I still think it's a beautiful, yet simple, object and one that gives you a very literal image of time!

The remarkable watchmaking history of a family group

The history of the Group began in La Côte aux Fées when the late Camille Pilet, then Piaget's sales manager, signed a distribution agreement for the brand in the US with Gedalio Grinberg, a Cuban exile known to his friends as "Gerry". Grinberg had fled from Castro and his secret police and managed to establish the brand from La Côte aux Fées in the promising US market. He very soon noticed that retailers who couldn't afford these gems of Swiss luxury watchmaking were requesting less expensive pieces. Around 1970, he acquired Concord, a Swiss brand founded in Bienne in 1908, which had an American subsidiary since 1909. Initially a private label company, Concord succeeded in impressing even President Truman. In 1979, the brand made its mark by launching the Delirium, the thinnest watch of its time.

Concord was then integrated into the North America Watch Corporation, which also acquired and developed Movado. This latter was another traditional company known for the famous Museum Watch, which paved the way for Swiss watchmaking into the world of universal culture. Gradually, the company became the MGI Luxury Group and it now owns a dozen or so brands including Ebel. The Group set up its headquarters in Bienne in 2006, in a return to its roots. Grinberg's sons, Efraim and Alex, are still the brand's directors.

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