Florentine Ariosto Jones, a watchmaker from Boston in the US, founded IWC in 1868, but it is to current CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr that the burden falls to carry the heritage of this remarkable watch brand into the 21st century. And he’s doing it with a thoroughly modern approach.
When speaking at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie watch fair in Geneva earlier this year, Grainger-Herr said what was most important to the brand was that it was always evolving and finding the most effective ways to communicate with customers. “We are continuously investing in key markets and always building a high-quality, omni-channel distribution strategy,” he said.
In November 2016, IWC launched on the e-commerce fashion portal Mr Porter, which was followed with a launch on its female counterpart, Net-A-Porter not long after that. Grainger-Herr believes in the success of this association, as it positions IWC in a high-fashion environment, ultimately connecting IWC watches with a different platform, and, thus, a new audience.
But the CEO understands that an IWC watch is still a big purchase made by consumers with an understanding of and familiarity with the brand. “A large portion of the watches purchased online are still by people who have seen the watch physically, offline,” he says. “They have seen a watch on the wrist.”
Grainger-Herr and his team strongly believe that people identify with their brand through emotional connections. “Our products are about the emotional content: the symbolism, self-expression, memories, and storytelling. The wonderful thing is that, compared to any digital device, every mechanical watch is unique: the way it is regulated, no mechanical heartbeat is like another. It’s an individual piece and it is forever,” he says. “You have to tell a story. Ultimately, watches are jewellery, not a functional item anymore. People want to connect to them emotionally. It’s on your skin every day, so people want to be in love with the product.”
This translates to every level in the brand, right down to Grainger-Herr’s own Instagram account, which boasts a following of 21.4K, and which he runs himself.
“You realise very quickly that if you want your personal accounts to be authentic and to interact with your clients then you have to do it yourself: you can’t delegate that,” he says. “It’s work, but it’s something I enjoy because the feedback you get is so instant, so global, and so real. Nowadays, you interact all the time and you get instant feedback on what people do and don’t like — it’s beautiful.”
This same sense of authenticity runs through the family of IWC ambassadors. From the racing drivers, such as Lewis Hamilton, to the likes of actor Bradley Cooper — who was a fan of IWC long before he became an ambassador — as well as actress Cate Blanchett.
“We are looking for genuine relationships with our ambassadors. We are lucky that we have ambassadors who are close to the brand, and for me this is about authentic storytelling,” Grainger-Herr says. “Many of our ambassadors have been with the brand for 10 to 15 years: you can feel their passion for the product.”
- From the October 2018 edition of Wanted.