Interview: Nicola Andreatta, CEO of Roger Dubuis
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Interview: Nicola Andreatta, CEO of Roger Dubuis

Interview: Nicola Andreatta, CEO of Roger Dubuis

Geneva-based Roger Dubuis is a bold watchmaker which will readily break away from the norm. And CEO Nicola Andreatta wouldn’t have it any other way

Nicola Andreatta, CEO of Roger Dubuis

Only a handful of Swiss watchmaking brands are as rock ‘n’ roll in their being as Roger Dubuis. To anthropomorphize it – think of it as someone who’d pick Saint-Tropez over Aspen to vacation, would rather spend a day trackside at an F1 race than on a placid golf course, and one who’ll inevitably pick Tom Ford over Savile Row. Its edgy positioning is apparent in almost everything it does from its design (oversized case sizes, bold openworked movements and bezels with sharp edges), choice of ambassadors (tattooist Dr Woo, graffiti specialist Gully and visual artist Liu Wei) and partners (Lamborghini and Pirelli).

It’s a brand that is only 26-years-old, and part of the Richemont Group since 2008, which is now led by CEO Nicola Andreatta. He is keenly aware that there are only two primary and polarising views about the brand – those who love it, and those who don’t. It is extremely rare to find observers who have ambiguous or ambivalent views of its watches that have deliberately been designed to elicit sharp reactions and strong emotions.

Andreatta is the third generation of his family to be part of the watchmaking business. His grandfather had a factory that manufactured components, especially cases and bracelets, for several watch brands. His father carried on the business. “As a matter of fact, the first cases manufactured for Roger Dubuis were done by my father,” says Andreatta. However, his father encouraged Nicola to look at a world beyond watches, which is why he studied finance and started working in financial management for a company in Asia. He subsequently returned to Europe to start his own luxury brand, which he sold after the 2009 crisis. After a stint at Tiffany, Nicola eventually made his way to Roger Dubuis where he was appointed as CEO in 2018.

Less than two years into his role, Andreatta had to draw on the decades of experience he had in managing luxury brands to steady Roger Dubuis amid the pandemic. As he explains, there are three main shifts that the pandemic has forced in the watchmaking and luxury industry as a whole.

“The first one is geographical. The big consultants are telling us that Asia is going to be a bigger market for luxury in the future. Because they exited the pandemic situation before [other countries], China is a market that is growing very fast and is becoming much more of a domestic market than before. It’s an important market for every luxury maison in the world.

“The second one is channel. It’s not anymore a purely retail play or a wholesale play. We are seeing the digital environment expanding and influencing the way we shop. In my opinion, those [brands that] find the right way to coexist in the physical and the digital world, which we call the phygital environment, will be the ones that win in the future.

“The third shift is in terms of age. We see a new breed of luxury consumers coming to the market, who don’t necessarily like the same things as the previous generations. There are some firms that are telling us that by 2025, more than 50 per cent of the luxury consumers will be young adults – mostly millennials – and that clearly poses some questions on the way we do business and how we address this new generation coming into the game,” explains Andreatta.

One of the signatures of Roger Dubuis is that it ensures a significant number of its watches are certified by the Hallmark of Geneva or the Poinçon de Genève – an independent certification that confirms a watch has a very high degree of finishing and attests its performance too.

Of the roughly 20 million watches produced in Switzerland each year, only 24,000 – or 0.1 per cent – receive the certification. Obtaining it not only means adhering to extremely stringent norms, but also involves around 30-40 per cent extra production time – and proportionate costs – to meet the criteria. “We use something very objective, which is managed externally from the company so that every time we produce something, they come and check,” says Andreatta of the Hallmark of Geneva.

But for an institution like the Hallmark of Geneva, Roger Dubuis is also helping it evolve to current practices. “Since 1896, you have an institution which is managed by the Canton of Geneva, and the 12 rules of the Poincon de Genève are much the same since 1896. The Geneva seal has not evolved throughout the years, while the industry has evolved. There are new technologies, new materials and different ways of doing things over the last 100-125 years. And that’s given birth to a constant discussion with the guys at the Geneva Seal institution to talk about how we can render the same finishing when working with new and different materials.”

Andreatta cites the example of the use of carbon fibre, a material that made its way into mainstream watchmaking a few decades ago. “Three years ago, we came up with a movement which was made in carbon fibre. Now clearly carbon fibre cannot be finished like stainless steel, or platinum or other metals. So how do you convey the same kind of finishing on carbon fibre? We came up with an interesting solution, which was that of working on the differentiation between the parts we were using on the carbon fibre and the carbon fibre itself. In the end, it was approved and stamped by the Hallmark of Geneva. We’re proud of evolving the Geneva seal into the future with what we do.”

One of the most iconic collections in Roger Dubuis’ arsenal is the Excalibur, which debuted back in 2005. This year, the collection was refreshed starting with the Excalibur Double Flying Tourbillon whose pink gold version with a bezel and crown set with baguette diamonds was priced at $605,000. It followed that up with the Excalibur Single Flying Tourbillon in April, the Glow Me Up version of which featured grooves with diamonds set inside them and filled with rainbow-coloured Super-LumiNova.

Also this year, Roger Dubuis announced that it was teaming up with three leading contemporary artists, Dr Woo, Gully and Liu Wei.

“We decided to connect with the world of contemporary art. We started collaborating with Dr Woo, who is probably the most celebrated tattoo artist in the world and who has perfected tattooing using a single needle with a very specific style. Gully, who is a street artist is very active in France, and has over the last 20 years moved into galleries. He started using a new technique with a spray [can] where you never detach your hand from what you’re doing, and that gave birth to a very specific way of working with graffiti,” explains Andreatta, who says that each of the new collaborators were chosen for a fresh perspective that they could bring to Roger Dubuis. “We asked them to give us their perspective on how they see Roger Dubuis. We are almost ready with something that we have co-designed and co-developed with them which will be launched very soon and which is linked to the restyling of the Excalibur.”

The momentum with some of its existing partners, Lamborghini and Pirelli, has also picked up pace. In September, it launched the Excalibur Spider Huracàn which uses a new material developed by the watchmaker called Ceramic Composite Fibre (CCF), which is 20 per cent lighter compared to regular carbon. The month prior, the watchmaker released the new Excalibur Spider Pirelli that has rubber inlays from certified race-winning tyres and interchangeable straps, crown and bezel.

Here in the Middle East, and specifically the UAE, the watchmaker has a well-entrenched presence. “One of the first boutiques that Roger Dubuis opened was the one in Dubai. It’s been always a very important market for us. In fact, the biggest boutique we have in the world today is the one we have in Dubai Mall which we opened in 2019. We have been always very active in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where we also had a small boutique, and where we plan to expand further in the next few years.”

A broad part of Andreatta’s mandate is to find new ways to target audience segments, particularly among the younger spectrum, in ways that the brand hasn’t over the past two-and-a-half decades. One of these is by tapping into the growing popularity of esports. “We recently started collaborating with LPL, which is part of League of Legends in China. We are going to continue collaborating with them to develop something connected to the world of gaming. Something pretty exciting is coming very soon,” Andreatta says, without offering more details on the upcoming collaboration.

Roger Dubuis has also found itself at the forefront of tackling other issues which resonate strongly among the majority of a younger demographic – namely sustainability. “From upcycled materials to avoiding the use of exotic skins, we can make sure our products are managed in a more sustainable way. I’m truly convinced that there is a more ethical way of doing business. While we clearly look for profits, we can also think about the new generation and what kind of a world we’re leaving to them. And that’s going to be an even more clear obsession with the company [going forward],” notes Andreatta. He adds that the brand is also working on AR/VR models that will further augment the digital shopping and browsing capability of digital-first customers.

His other obsession is to ensure that Roger Dubuis, which eschews the traditional aesthetic for contemporary boldfaced designs, finds its place at the horological high table. “Sometimes I’m a bit upset about the fact that we are not considered as among the best and most sophisticated watch brands in the world. We master all the different complications, but we give these complications a more expressive and contemporary look. I think it’s really time for us to find the right place [among the] younger generations in the overpopulated world of fine watchmaking. Recently, a big collector was invited to visit us in the manufacture. He came back to my office for lunch and told me that he thought we were making 40,000 watches a year. He didn’t know the level of craftsmanship and perfection with which our watches are made, and by visiting us, he understood that.”

Ultimately, Andreatta’s grand mission will be to find ways for the craft, the product and the ecosystem around it to evolve. It has already done so with the Hallmark of Geneva, the innovative use of carbon fibre, and when it debuted the radical world’s first movement with four sprung balances in the Excalibur Quatuor a few years ago. “In terms of watchmaking, we’re going to continue taking inspiration from the tradition of haute horlogerie and evolve that into the future. We don’t really know where this is going to take us in the future. But we believe we can create the future of watchmaking by evolving it into something that doesn’t even exist today,” says Andreatta.

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