Balancing Swiss watch traditions in the modern world

Movado Group's MENA president, Flavio Pellegrini, explains how the company is embracing the future.

Neil Churchill September 18, 2016

With no fewer than 10 brands on its books such as Hugo Boss, Concord, Ebel and Tommy Hilfiger, the Movado Group is one of the most established and diverse in the watch industry.

We’ve gone into depth before about the company's incredible founder Gerry Grinberg, who amongst other things defied Fidel Castro and helped save the Swiss watch industry when it was in real trouble.

We sat down with Flavio Pellegrini, president for the Movado Group's MENA region, to find out how the 135-year-old company is embracing the future without forgetting its legacy. 

What’s your personal history with the watch business?

I was born in the middle of the watchmaking industry in Le Locle in Switzerland so I’ve been in contact with watches since I was a child. I went to Australia to study and entered into the automotive industry briefly. But my ultimate objective when I returned was to work in the watch industry, and I found my job at Movado. 

What was the first watch you owned?

It was a Tissot that was gifted to me for my communion. The first watch I purchased myself was also a Tissot, when I was working at the company during my holidays. I still have them both. 

That’s the beauty of our industry, you always keep your watches, their life cycle is long. There can be a watch that is five years old in a shop window and still somebody can fall in love with it.

How do you balance fashion and Swiss watch traditions?

It’s two different worlds, fashion watches and Swiss watches. The life cycle for fashion watches is so fast. You can launch two or three novelties a year and it’s all about monthly retail metrics. You have to be fast, seasonal, and implement new trends.

By contrast, Swiss brands bring out a new product maybe once a year. But there are some bridges between the two worlds, and it’s good to be able to switch from one to the other.

The Movado Bold Motion is the group’s first smartwatch. Are there more to follow?

We have plans for smartwatches for all our licensed fashion brands by the third quarter of this year. But our smartwatches are firstly a watch because we are not experts in technology, we are experts in aesthetics and watch design. So even as we produce more smartwatches, they will always be a watch first. 

What is Movado’s relationship with the Middle East?

We quite often release limited edition watches for the Middle East region. We will have an Ebel La Maison special edition for the UAE, and very often for Concord we have special edition pieces.

The Middle East is the number one market for Concord and some of the watches have even been designed by our partners. You need local partners because they know the market, they are out in the field, they are our hands, and we need their input to create what is wanted. 

How did Movado begin?

The story of our founder Gerry Grinberg is incredible. He was in the watch industry in Cuba and was the official distributor of Piaget and Corum. When Fidel Castro arrived he lost everything and fled to the US. Unable to speak much English he started again with a suitcase of watches, putting them in the bank every night. Slowly but surely he secured Piaget’s and Corum’s distribution for the US, before deciding he needed his own brand. 

He purchased Concord in 1970 – at the time it was a small Swiss company but he made it huge in America thanks to the Delirium watch, the thinnest quartz movement in the world, which also quelled the booming Japanese quartz that was damaging the Swiss industry. With the money he made from Concord he purchased Movado, which was a sister brand to Zenith, and developed its iconic Museum dial. Today, every one in five watches sold in the US between $500-$3000 is a Movado. 

What is your favourite...?

Watch: Concord Mariner Diver 200
Car: Vintage Alpha Romeo Giulia
Holiday: Elba Island, Tuscany
Suit: Hugo Boss
Football team: Inter Milan