An Open Letter To Watch Brand CEOs: Why You Should Enter The 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG)
Gentlemen and Ladies:
Greetings! Whether you know it or not, you have – collectively and individually – made a real difference in my life. Your products have brought me countless hours of joy, and the people I’ve met through watches have become many of my very closest friends.
One of the happiest side benefits of my active involvement in the watch hobby over the years has been the opportunity to interact with, and learn from, many of the industry’s business and creative leaders. If I’ve met you already, I consider it to have been a privilege; if not, I hope to make your acquaintance in the future and hear about your perspectives, goals, and challenges.
Right now, you have an opportunity to make another real difference, this time to the health of the mechanical watch industry and the prosperity of your own brand. Whether or not your brand has participated in the past regularly, occasionally or not at all, 2020 is the year for you to commit to entering your best new pieces in the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve.
Why listen to me?
For those of you who don’t know me, I hold the somewhat fanciful title of “Resident Collector” here at Quill & Pad. I’ve been engrossed with timekeeping and timepieces for as long as I can recall. I have been building my watch collection since the early 1990s and have been actively involved in online and in-person watch communities since the early 2000s.
Over the years, I’ve owned watches from pretty much all of the major groups, the big free-standing houses, several smaller brands, and many of the great independent creators of our time, from Philippe Dufour, Kari Voutilainen, and F.P. Journe to Konstantin Chaykin, Ludovic Ballouard, and Romain Gauthier, and back again.
In my day job of 40+ years, I am a veteran business strategist, broadly published management author, and small-firm CEO of many years’ standing.
For the past two years, I have served as a member of the GPHG jury; and while the 2020 jury has not been named, I remain a member of the GPHG Academy. When asked to join the jury in 2018, I was flattered to be described as an “all-rounder”: someone with broad interests, an open attitude, and no particular biases for or against any brand, creator, or watch.
It is in that spirit that I solicit your participation.
Why join, and why now?
It’s no secret that for the watch industry, and for its Swiss branch specifically, the recent months have been tough. The real threat of life-changing illness, travel restrictions, political and social unrest, shuttering of retail outlets, and economic uncertainty are only some of the factors that the industry is grappling with as it seeks to sustain its connections with consumers and rebuild demand.
With the demise of Baselworld and the steady drip of new-product introductions throughout the year, we now seem to have lost much of the excitement associated with the big event-centered marketing opportunities of the past.
And while there’s likely no going back from (and real benefits to) spreading introductions across the calendar, wouldn’t it be great to have a focused event that shines a spotlight on the entire industry, gets consumers’ juices flowing, and stimulates both active debate about the relative merits of different timepieces and reminds buyers of watches that they might consider adding to their collections?
Four big reasons for you to join in:
Showcase: Once each year, all eyes – including those of tomorrow’s potential major customers – are on that stage in Geneva, where the “Oscars of Watchmaking” are presented, and the choices of the jury are then dissected, praised and criticized, just as with film and arts awards around the world.
But what if at the Oscars Sony, Universal, and Disney declined to participate? It just wouldn’t be the same. But the real point is that they wouldn’t consider such a thing: the visibility associated with the awards has proven butts-in-theater-seats benefits that make the effort, expense, and “risk” of losing absolutely worthwhile.
The GPHG is an under-leveraged platform for you to build brand awareness and reputation.
Community and solidarity: Yes, you compete with the other brands, but at the same time you depend on each other to raise the profile and prestige of the industry, support the livelihoods of countless suppliers, and give consumers reasons to buy another watch rather than a car, boat, or case of wine. I’ve also spent enough hours attending panel discussions involving executives from multiple brands and even more hours propping up the bar at Basel’s Trois Rois to know that many of you actually like each other!
Yes, our small world involves watches, but it’s all about the people. Aside from Only Watch, GPHG is perhaps the only regular opportunity to advance this principle in a material and publicly visible way.
Feedback: In my business life, and for that matter in life in general, I hate losing more than I love winning. But in every business loss, I gained valuable (if painful) information about how to interpret potential clients’ desires, needs, and obstacles in a more compelling way in order to win the next time.
Especially with the new Academy structure established for 2020, you have the opportunity to hear what more than 300 deeply-interested industry participants see in your watches – and don’t see.
In 2020, for the first time the new Academy model has given a broad group a blank slate to propose this year’s new watches of particular merit. If you or your team have been approached by the GPHG organization with the news that the Academy encourages you to enter one or more of your watches, you’re already winning. Enjoy the positive feedback and act on it!
Fresh faces, new inputs: The Academy is a central element of new GPHG president Raymond Loretan’s improvements to the 2020 process; this diverse group not only identifies worthy potential entrants, but will be the assembly that votes to select the six finalists in each category – and it will also have a voice in the jury’s final selections of the winning watches.
As for the jury itself, it is being entirely reconstituted for 2020 and half of the members will be drawn at random from different sectors of the Academy, providing more fresh perspectives.
Addressing your objections
I’m not naïve, so let’s talk frankly about some reservations you may be harboring:
The competition is “fixed”: First of all, see “fresh faces, new inputs” above.
Second: having sat in the jury room for two years, I don’t see it. Many of the jury members are folks I’ve known for very many years and for whom I have great respect, and I see them as neither corruptible nor even particularly subject to influence.
And remember: the jury can only select among the watches that are entered. Do lots of independents seem to win? Well, many of them enter, and I’d challenge you to tell me why a Rexhepi, Voutilainen, Grönefeld, MB&F, or Greubel Forsey isn’t a worthy contender, just as your entered watches would be – if you entered them.
To be fair, I’m on the record previously having said that while I believe that everyone I’ve interacted with on the jury is trying very hard to do the right thing, their definitions of “the right thing” seemingly cover a range from selecting the objectively best watch in each category (my core principle) to also considering the merits of various manufacturers, rewarding longevity, and so on (views that have come up in conversation but which have then been actively challenged by other jury members, myself included).
The categories are odd: Okay, you’ve got me there. Again, I don’t sit in on the policy discussions of the GPHG leadership, and some of the additions, deletions, definitions, and combinations of prize categories do seem downright odd to me. Once you are an active participant in the process, I hope that you will push for more transparency here as I do in private discussions.
We might not win: In a lot of ways, that’s really not the point of participating in this event, is it? A fair process that gives you added visibility and raises the fortunes of the entire industry can’t be so bad to play in, in my humble opinion, regardless of who gets to wave the trophy.
Is the GPHG, even in its revised guise, ideal?
Of course not. You know from your own experience as a corporate leader that all systems that involve humans are a diverse blend of rationality, emotions, and politics – and the GPHG is no exception.
That said, while I don’t participate in any of the internal discussions of GPHG leadership, I do see this year’s changes to the model as good-faith efforts to reduce further the political aspects of the event; and who ever said that watches and watchmaking weren’t deeply steeped in emotion?
So, go ahead, try it. Oh – and one more thing – you might just win.
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/gphg-2020/rules
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