The Gouten family has long been associated with luxury brands for at least three generations, so across the industry the surname pops up quite a bit. A fixture in Asia, Dimitri Gouten is the Asia Pacific regional Piaget President.
Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan recently braved a monsoon like downpour to catch up with the boss at his Hong Kong headquarters where despite mixed reports on China, chatter about smart watches and the inclement weather the CEO had a sunny forecast sparkling with more jewelry.
Elite Traveler: Were you destined to be the CEO of a luxury brand?
Dimitri Gouten: My grandfather was in the business, my father was of course in the business, and we come from a family of craftsmen, not as owners of companies but as faithful employees so there has always been a strong link between luxury and watches for my family.
For me it started when I was 10 years old, and I remember my father talking about the business. He was part of the team that re-launched Cartier during the Seventies with Alain Dominique Perrin, so there were some pretty famous parties and plenty of interesting stories. From a professional perspective, in France instead of doing your military service you can work two years for a French company abroad, and that’s how I got my start, working in London for Cartier.
ET: So you realized this was where you wanted your career?
DG: London is very interesting for Cartier as a big part of its archives was in the building I was working. It was interesting to see how many of the watches still being launched were from these archives. It was a very special place.
I went on to work in France for Cartier, then Piaget moving to Spain, Hong Kong, Brazil and then back here in Hong Kong for the past 12 years. I enjoyed seeing the various aspects of selling luxury and meeting customers around the world. Then on the other side you meet the craftsman, the product designers so it is a very interesting job with interesting people, and I suppose that’s why I am still in it.
ET: Tell us about Piaget here in Asia?
DG: Piaget is very big in the Asia region because historically the (Piaget) family was very good at taking their suitcase of products around the world. We had distribution and agents since the Sixties and because of that the name Piaget has been very strong, and not only its English name but also its Chinese name.
In the past 15 or 20 years China has become more interested in luxury as it opened and Piaget presented in China very early, and it is one of our strongest markets. The level of sophistication in Asia is very high and we see we have very faithful customers. Since we cater for both men and women there are a lot of interesting stories where you have the grandfather, father, daughter and sons all with wearing Piaget.
ET: Can you give us some Asia numbers?
DG: We have 50 boutiques and about 150 retailers. The past three to four years had a huge increase. In China we opened virtually all Tier One and Two cities and are now opening Tier Three cities. We have 20 boutiques in China.
ET: What’s next?
DG: The next objective is to increase the size of our boutiques. (Richemont Chairman) Mr. (Johann) Rupert during the last presentation to the financial experts said Piaget should be the third leg for the group in developing jewelry (alongside Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels) meaning there will be a very strong push with Piaget for jewelry worldwide. We didn’t buy Bvlgari or Harry Winston because we had a lot of inner strengths with the group, particularly Piaget (growth opportunities in jewelry) so it is logical for Piaget to push this category. To display jewelry you need a bit more space than we have today so we will be having bigger stores.
ET: Will Piaget remain at the top end?
DG: Piaget only manufactures about 20,000 watches per year so it is at the top of the pyramid in terms of price. We focus on gold and precious metal and precious stone.
ET: Why the upcoming Watches and Wonders show in Hong Kong and why now?
DG: The why is linked to the increasing strengths of Asia as a market for luxury and watches in particular. There are many events in Europe. The belief was all those events do not enable a lot of people from here to see these exceptional products so the idea was to give a lot more people in Asia the opportunity to see these amazing creations. Each of the 13 brands (participating) will choose what they want to do. Some brands will launch new products. Some will show historical pieces. There will be an exhibit on the history of watches.
ET: What is Piaget planning to do?
DG: Piaget will show the two paths we have taken over the years, with one path being of course Piaget the movement maker as that is how we started with our history of ultra thin movements, and the second path is of Piaget as the jeweler. We will take these two paths to show one single product that comes from both these paths. It was not shown during SIHH (in Geneva in January). We will also show the new Gala watch we are launching in September. Since our clientele is quite balanced between men and ladies so this is an opportunity to show both sides.
ET: Does Watches and Wonders take the place of SIHH in Geneva next January?
DG: Watches and Wonder is not an SIHH (an industry conference). We are inviting final consumers and connoisseurs. It is a formidable opportunity. In a time when you can read your time on your smart phone it is a good story to tell. We are selling a dream not time.
ET: Any favorite hotels from all your travels?
DG: The best memory I have is the Mandarin Oriental here across the street. In 1982 when my father took the entire family (from Europe) to live here I remember coming into this legendary hotel for the first time. It was much closer to the Harbor then. Then and now it is the center of Hong Kong, and if you sit down for a few hours you will see most of Hong Kong. I was very proud to open our flagship there last year.