For Xavier Nolot, it’s all about the experience. In a world where speed has trampled style, Nolot’s belief in quality over quantity is analogous to the strategy that has helped Audemars Piguet conquer the luxury watch industry.
Audemars Piguet is one of the most traditional brands in the world of haute horlogerie. Founded in 1875 in the small town of Le Brassus, the manufacture is one of just a handful of brands that remains family-owned, and which continues to operate out of the Vallée de Joux. After joining the company in 2003, Nolot was appointed CEO of Audemars Piguet North America in April of this year. For industry watchers, the move came as no surprise; Nolot had actually served as Managing Director for the year 2012, when François-Henry Bennahmias, the man who had occupied the North America post, became the CEO of Audemars Piguet worldwide. It turns out the two men’s paths have been intertwined for some time.
“Francois was the head of the US market for many, many years, and he was one of my biggest clients when I started at the factory,” Nolot said. “Francois is very organized, so every morning I was receiving the first call from him about deliveries and what was coming next. So we built that relationship 6,000 miles away from each other but being used to working very closely with each other. Two years after, he asked me if I wanted to come to the US.”
In just ten years, North America grew from a $6 million market to $60 million and now $100 million. However, the brand has remained true to its Swiss roots with a steadfast devotion to customer service. “As sales were progressing the need for maintenance and service to existing clients became more and more important, and customer service, our repair center in Florida, became even more important,” Nolot explained. “Customer service as an activity – how do we treat our clients? How do we speak to them? How do we make them feel comfortable when they’re in the boutique or just on the phone? All of that became – in the world of luxury and especially for us – a very important topic.”
While in some respects Nolot embodies the very traditional watch industry, he is equally aware of what it takes for a brand to differentiate itself in today’s crowded market. With Nolot at the helm, the brand has raised the stakes in North America with a new timepiece for NBA superstar and brand ambassador LeBron James. There’s no better incarnation of the two worlds coming together than the party that was held in Miami to unveil the limited edition Royal Oak Chronograph LeBron James. As guests like Kourtney Kardashian, Scott Disick and Michael Strahan gathered at the Herzog & de Meuron-designed 1111 Lincoln Road, a video flickered on showing LeBron getting ready and driving through the city towards the event. As he neared his destination onscreen, the video faded out, and with military precision, LeBron pulled into the party, still behind the wheel of his Ferrari 458.
“We want to tell our clients, and the world, that we care about everything we do. And this has to show in every single detail,” Nolot said of the event. “We’re not perfect, but at an event where you have somebody like LeBron, who doesn’t need to prove anything anymore – he’s already proved it in his professional and personal life. He’s such a character, and he’s also an individual who commands respect. That raises the stakes for us – we need to be at the same level and we need to make things good, not only for the association of the two names, but for our clients, for people who will see the pictures, and for people who were at the event.”
For Nolot, who trained in mechanical engineering, such events strike the perfect balance for Audemars Piguet, showcasing both their artistic and mechanical prowess. Indeed, the manufacture followed up the LeBron launch party with a very unique project. While they maintained their usual space in the Collectors’ Lounge, they also teamed up with the French artist duo Kolkoz to unveil “Curiosity”. Inspired by the name of the last Mars Exploration Rover, “Curiosity” took the form of a chalet floating in front of the iconic modernist structure of the disused Miami Marine Stadium. The installation was home to Audemars Piguet’s events throughout the week.
“I’m an engineer, and it’s still difficult for me to decide if what we’re doing is engineering, in techniques, or art. It’s a little bit, or a lot, of both,” Nolot explained. “And we want to be recognized for that. Our people who are making the watches, they consider themselves – rightfully – as artists. So the association is also very substantial from that point of view. We’re very happy about [“Curiosity”] because it’s a commitment to art, and it’s also a commitment to the city of Miami to tell them we’re here, we love Miami, we’re here to stay. We love the vibe around Miami, and we have a very good collaboration.”
The collaboration in question is Audemars Piguet’s new space in Miami, which is the first boutique in the world to feature the brand’s new retail concept. No doubt there are many more such collaborations in the future for Nolot, who has built the US network on relationships. As a New Year approaches, Nolot is evaluating those relationships, keen to hear frank feedback from the brand’s retail partners. I’m very excited for SIHH 2014, because we’re going to do several things,” Nolot explained. “Get their feedback on what we did in 2013; the strategy was clarified, and we are much more consistent in what we are doing, in terms of visibility and partnership with those retailers. We want their feedback. I believe it’s going to be positive, but we’re going to have those very meaningful conversations. How did we help you last year? Did you like it? What didn’t you like? What can we improve? What do we think you could improve?”
Although we have to wait to see what he has in store, Nolot did admit he’s excited about what the brand will present to their partners in the year to come, both in terms of development of the retail network and in terms of product. “We will open boutiques, but with partners, with several of our best clients, retailers, friends,” Nolot said. “So it’s very exciting because it’s going to increase our visibility, and it’s going to benefit the entire network. It’s a lot of work, but we’re very excited about that.”
Although it’s one of the fastest growing markets and one of the biggest brands in the world, we’ve never been more confident that under Nolot’s guidance, Audemars Piguet will continue to represent quality and consistency.
Photo credit: Donnelly Marks Photography for Haute Time.