CEO of Harry Winston, Frederic de Narp, in a tête-à-tête with Mitrajit Bhattacharya, elucidates why Harry Winston is the ‘numero uno’ American luxury brand
What does the brand Harry Winston stand for?
Harry Winston is the most exclusive watchmaker as well as jewellery maker in the world. It has a very exclusive distribution system; 19 stores around the world and 170 points-of-sale. Also, the quantity of products that we manufacture makes us exclusive. We do the high-end in jewellery and watches but with limited series and lesser quantity. So it is not all about quantity, it is about quality as well that makes us a unique brand.
What are the American sensibilities of the brand that makes it stand apart?
Most of the jewellery brands in the world are either French or Italian. It is a well-known fact that the Americans are very fond of diamonds. The only true American luxury brand in the world is Harry Winston. It stands for luxury and uniqueness in the world of diamonds and high jewellery. It all started with the determination of one man; Harry Winston himself. He founded a company nearly 80 years ago with a vision to get the best out of every single stone. He found the Lesotho 901 carats and the Jonker 602 carats. Harry Winston not only cut them in 18 pieces but also sold one of the most amazing pieces to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis for his wedding to Jacqueline Kennedy. The whole vision of the company started with the vision of Harry Winston, who was an American.
Thanks to Shinde, we Indians feel very close to Harry Winston.
That’s right. I would also attribute it to the visionary sense of Harry Winston to have taken Shinde out of nowhere in India and use his designs.
How would you define Shinde’s sense of vision regarding designs?
Shinde was particularly good at diamonds. Harry Winston identified Shinde for his talent to use stones of different cuts on the same piece of jewellery. This also is how Harry Winston gave birth to the Cluster range. The Cluster is this vision of using different stones of different cuts, setting them on different angles to capture the sparkle of light and bring the fire and the beauty of the stones out. This is what Shinde was doing. And even today we have a necklace for example, the Caftan necklace, which is inspired by India and Shinde, who used baguette cuts, navette cuts, oval cuts, and briolette, which are very much from India. So, this really is a partnership between the culture of India using the stones in all different sizes together with the design and the expertise of Harry Winston himself.
If I am not mistaken, even now there are many unused designs in your archives?
We have more than 100,000 sketches and drawings in our archives. Of course it is a great joy for us to be inspired from the archives of the past and project the brand towards the future.
Could you please throw some light on the Opus series and how you plan to take it forward?
Harry Winston is the most prestigious brand today but also the most humble one. Opus is the example of this humility. Along with humility we also have a knack of identifying the most talented people from around the world; be it Shinde from India or a watchmaker from Switzerland. Every year we try to identify the most creative watchmakers and partner with them. What we do is that we promote the watch, the Opus design, along with the watchmaker. So, Opus for me is the celebration of partnership, of friendship, and also the recognition of true talent.
The watch industry has just gone through a downturn. What is your prediction for the future?
Harry Winston, like all other luxury brands, has suffered from this crisis. The crisis started in New York, where Harry Winston is based. So, the impact was strong. Now I can tell you that at Harry Winston, we feel that it is behind us. We see light ahead of us, which is very bright for different reasons. Well, the first reason is that confidence is coming back the world over. Even though Harry Winston is based in New York, it is spread all over the world and we can see confidence returning. We also see that Harry Winston has not developed in so many countries, for example in India, where Harry Winston is still so small. India and China are two countries, where the future of the world lies, in terms of development, population, mindsets, technologies, etc. Believe me, we will take Harry Winston to India and China.
Do you strongly believe that Harry Winston is comparable to the best of manufacturer brands of Switzerland, who are at the top in terms of technical quality of watchmaking?
Absolutely, we have just finished work on our manufacture in Geneva. We don’t have our own movement. But we have the best in quality. One of the most modern manufacturer today, we simply use and work with the best watchmakers in the world. We are proudly celebrating the 10th anniversary of Opus. The 10 watchmakers identified by Harry Winston through the years happen to be amazing people. I will even tell you that our clients often tell me that Harry Winston is as important and high in their mind as other brands, which took 250 years to develop while we have a history of only 21 years.
Do you think that a proprietary movement is important to be in the top league? Do we see you developing one in the near future?
Yes, in the future we will develop proprietary movements. I think it would make perfect sense. We have our buildings and the best craftsmen. So, why not? But if you ask me if it’s necessary for the success of Harry Winston, I would say, not necessarily.