Business / Business of Luxury

Chadi Nouri discusses the Future of Swiss Watchmaking for Designers, Brands and Retailers

Entering the luxury industry in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, Chadi Nouri has paid her dues through the ranks at Cartier and Audemars Piguet and today she is an entrepreneur and consultant for the industry at yet another time of great economic uncertainty.

Jul 13, 2020 | By Jonathan Ho

Nouri is not a familiar name but when you are one of two Nouris, a pair of unforgettable sisters in leadership positions within a male dominated luxury watch industry, one inevitably remembers. Of Swiss-Italian and Iranian heritage, Chadi Nouri spent a few years with Cartier before joining Audemars Piguet, eventually becoming their Product Director. Her sister, Chabi, is the CEO of Piaget, the first woman CEO of a Richemont brand but the stratospheric career trajectories and accomplishments are where the similarities end. Taking a leap into the unknown, Chadi ventured outside the relative safety of large luxury conglomerates and into the cut-throat field of independent luxury retail.

Entering the industry post-Global Financial Crisis in 2009, she has paid her dues in marketing with Avakian, a niche high jewellery brand and today she runs Chadi Luxury, a global e-commerce platform dedicated to vintage luxury goods, and rare objets d’art. Chadi also consults with various brands and suppliers across the luxury segment (not just fine watchmaking) where she advises the entire spectrum of soft and hard luxury, from fashion brands to jewellery brands, from very small businesses to big businesses. An insider with an outsider’s perspective, LUXUO caught up with Ms. Nouri to talk post pandemic luxury design and the threats to retail that now plagues every brand regardless of the size of its pre-covid balance sheet.

Czapek is the latest brand to introduce a luxury sports watch, is the industry going through a creative dry spell? Or are consumers ultimately to blame for everyone jumping on the luxury sports watch bandwagon?

I believe that the sports market in general is expanding throughout all aspects of our lives, whether within the Luxury industry with its sports watch segment, or within the Fashion industry with its increased ‘athleisure’ offer.

Nowadays, men and women tend to favour comfortable accessories which will blend in with their lifestyles throughout the day and sports watches are a perfect example of this need for style and comfort. In my opinion, watch brands should definitely continue to fulfil their sports watch proposal and further grow their women’s offerings as well.

The wait time from authorized retailers is around 10 years on average. And that’s after Patek Philippe raised retail prices on all steel Nautilus models by 20%.

Can there be too many sport watches or is it basically an unmet supply issue as a result of high demand for Royal Oaks and Nautiluses?

There is always space for new sports watches at various price points. However, more sports watch references will most certainly not decrease the demand for timeless, exclusive and instantly recognisable pieces with audacious designs that are Royal Oaks, Nautiluses or Rolexes. Nowadays, in this fast-paced world, watch collectors are more and more looking to invest in timepieces that are perennial and that will both keep their value overtime and be ‘cool’ enough to be passed on to the next generation. Therefore, I believe that there will always be a high demand for timepieces that know how to fulfil just that.

It’s been 50 years. Do you think it’s hard to design another luxury sports watch?

It is definitely hard to design ‘THE’ sports watch even though there are many extremely talented watch designers out there. The key is to be able to design a piece that will enter the elite club of timeless classics with a dashing twist which can captivate the audience not only in the ’now’ but over time and for a long time.

Do you think the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo meets the standard for the 21st century?

The Octo Finissimo definitely meets the standards of today: a well thought out, well designed, thin, sports looking watch.

How do you think the Swiss watch industry will approach their dependence on China?

Is it an issue if you’re counting on one region to be your sole growth engine? Of course it is always an issue to only count on one region of the world to flourish one’s business. However, not all watch brands are, to this day, dependent on China and with the pandemic that we are going through, I believe watch brands will make even more efforts to think outside of the box not only in terms of distribution or product but a total 360° watch ‘think tank’ where everything they did or knew so far is re-thought. A brand that is successful today and in the long run should seek a well-balanced turnover on all continents.

What are some of the positives the pandemic will bring for the Swiss watch industry?

I believe that the Swiss watch industry is an industry that will thrive throughout time. It is an industry that has always found ways to keep up with its surroundings and changing environment. Most likely brands will question the current status quo, they will focus on being more creative than ever before in all fields: product, distribution, production, staff training, etc. They will most likely continue to consolidate their reference numbers and focus on launching timeless classics that will dazzle watch connoisseurs now and in the years to come. I believe that they should focus on helping each other and stop working in individual silos. Retailers and suppliers should also be part of this 360° watch ‘think tank’. Finally, watch brands should no longer leave the digital potential on the side and start embracing this market opportunity as it can totally live side by side with the classic timepieces without cannibalising one another just like Tag Heuer did so well lately with its connected piece.

Moharrak with her TAG Heuer Connected

Some Swiss brands went direct to consumer during the quarantine, some retailers were unhappy about that especially when priority for stock allocation was given to their own brand sites – are we at an inflection point where the middle man is about to be cut from the eco-system?

It is the current foreseeable trend and for some brands it is the path to go, to only sell through their own distribution channel whether through a brick and mortar boutique located at the most wanted locations or like Audemars Piguet with their AP House concept. For other brands like Rolex which is one of the most successful watch brand there is, they work exclusively with retailers. This just shows that although the current trend is to cut out ‘the middle man’ for most brands, both strategies work. Perhaps the traditional way of doing business with retailers needs to be improved and streamlined and solutions to modernise this distribution channel should come from both brands and retailers.

Audemars Piguet House in Hong Kong

What is the biggest fear for the future of the industry?

Lack of creativity, lack of collaboration between brands, retailers and suppliers. The industry needs to speak as one voice, the Swiss Watch Industry. In order to perpetuate the industry’s savoir-faire and craftsmanship, brands should share and embrace their best practices but of course without revealing their trade secrets. By sharing, competition will rise even further and competition is key to promote creativity.

With the death of Baselworld and the re-introduction of watch fairs within the same month, is it inevitable that everyone is under one big show again?

It is in the interest of most brands to be present in one or two fairs during the year for the obvious reasons of bringing clients and press all together at the same time and same place. Some brands prefer to create their own paths and go directly where the clients are. Both ways of doing are, in my opinion, good as they cater to watch connoisseurs who love to be pampered either directly in their hometown or at a central focal point where all brands gather up. That being said, whether brands choose to go one way or the other, the future should hold more digital interactions with clients and press: e-commerce, online launches, creative digital presentations, online constructive sharing chats between clients directly hosted by brands, augmented reality, virtual tours of Manufactures, virtual one-to-ones with watch makers, sales staff, designers, CEOs, etc.

Baselworld ended unceremoniously when anchor exhibitors Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Chopard opted to leave. This prompted LVMH to withdraw participation as well.

Are we looking at another era of consolidation ala SMH/Swatch post-quartz crisis?

It will perhaps be the case as a number of brands unfortunately run the risk to disappear. Clients’ tastes are ever more evolving (currently wanting smaller watches, sleeker, more versatile, etc.) and some brands might not have the right offer at hand and might not have the necessary means to meet the clients’ demands. As such, some brands may benefit from a consolidation.

World’s premier luxury retailer, Harrods, recently opened its first Discount Outlet to drive Post-Pandemic sales. LUXUO will go in-depth into this nascent phenomena as more data comes to the fore

There’s plenty of negative economic impact from this crisis, do you see this as a catalyst for the eventual embrace of pre-owned watches or adoption of certified pre-owned services ala luxury car industry?

I believe that the trend towards the pre-owned business started long before the crisis happened. Due to millennials’ demand not only on quality but also on sustainability, luxury companies need to become more sustainable as a whole even in the fast-paced, fast fashion, materialistic industry we are living in. As such, some companies are early adopters and have already embraced the second-hand market instead of seeing it as competition. Those brands that will be able to integrate newness and sustainability will definitely be ahead of their competitors and last longer in time. I therefore believe that the second-hand trend for watches is, for now, still emerging but has a tremendous potential to become even more attractive in the years to come.

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