Friday 12 October 2012
Last Update 12 October 2012 1:30 pm
IT was in the 1980s when Philippe Charriol visited Saudi Arabia to meet his agent in one of the largest markets in the world for watches like Hong Kong. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is certainly the leading and unrivaled market.
He had already launched his own brand of watches after having spent 17 years with other leading brand, Cartier. I was curious to know how a man would market a totally new kind of luxury watch in a world already dominated by famous luxury ones like Rolex, Omega, Longines and several others that had made their mark as long ago as I could remember.
Since I was born and brought up in Aden, the former British colony and a duty-free market, I had known many of the brands because they advertised regularly in our Arabic and English newspapers. Rolex was a must to mark one’s arrival at a certain station in life like my first degree in 1958. Longines which I have used before and afterward is still one of my favorites, as it continues to renew itself unlike the traditional Rolex which is sedate and solid and remains attached to its past glory.
I met Philippe Charriol in the head office of his Saudi agency, Hussainy Trading Company in the Queens building in Jeddah which was then probably the best business address in the country.
In his company literature he is described as a devotee of art and history who drew inspiration from the Celtic culture in order to create his maiden collection in 1983. He was the first to use gold cable or steel cable as a decorative motif and as a watch bracelet. He says in his own words: I have composed my style as an alchemist marrying classicism and modernity together, as a pleasant balance of sobriety and exuberance, but always attentive to quality and never losing sight of the functional aspect. I have further enhanced my watch collections to encompass a broad range of products which now include jewelry, leather goods, writing instruments, travel ware, eye wear and fragrances. These affordable accessories serve to complete an image, a spirit, and a look, allowing customers to access the Charriol universe with ease. Alhussainy also owned the resoundingly successful Japanese Seiko agency, the best selling watch in the country, like Toyota is in the field of motor cars.
Charriol was a young handsome Swiss and full of admiration for the French people and their instinct for everything beautiful as he told me during our conversation in English which he spoke wonderfully and without accent. He had of course spent many years in Hong Kong which was a British colony where English was the official language like in many other colonies. He told me that beauty in everything was France’s instinctive characteristic, a kind of trademark as everything they made was beautiful.
He was so confident of the success of his brand that he intended to open new shops in as many places as he could including Japan. Dubai was already earmarked.
He started his venture in 1983 in Geneva as a luxury brand specializing in fine watches, jewelry and accessories. At present his products are distributed through upscale acquisitions as a prestige watch or a piece of gold jewelry. Two years ago he was interviewed by Shiva Kumar Thekkepat for the Friday color supplement of Gulf News of Dubai, one of the best newspapers in the region. In about 2,500 words Charriol spoke about his life, his inspirations and his dreams many of which have come true since 1983. One of them was to quit Cartier and start his own entirely independent brand and succeed.
He still admired the French as he did in his interview with me when he said: “I very much admire the way the French developed the art of living in the 18th century. It was incredible in the sense of the refinement they brought to everything, whether architecture or the arts, even in their furniture.
“That was probably the ultimate standard but I think at that time it was for the elite. We have advanced quite a bit, but the level of the refinement that they achieved few can attain. Of course they have had time on their hands.”
Charriol has at present 3000 retailers, 450 corners and 100 boutiques and is still expanding.
— Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah.