A Watch C.E.O. Credits Lessons She Learned Racing Cars on Ice

“Former ice racer” usually would not rank high on the résumé of a chief executive and creative director for a watch and jewelry brand. Yet for one — the Frenchwoman Coralie Charriol — it helped prepare her to run Charriol, her family’s Swiss company, after the death of her father in 2019.

The sport — which dates back to races in Australia in 1923 and has grown in popularity since the 1970s — involves driving custom-made hybrid cars, some built without gears or brakes, at high speed on ice. Ms. Charriol’s father shared his passion for it with her, and her participation in the potentially perilous activity helped her define her leadership style in the male-dominated watch world, she said in a video interview.

Charriol was created in 1983 by her father, Philippe Charriol, who had spent 15 years working with Cartier. Considered a midsize luxury brand by Swiss industry standards, Charriol makes women’s, men’s and genderless watches that are known for using a Celtic cable motif on the bands.

As the brand marks its 40th anniversary this year, Ms. Charriol, 45, who began working for the company full-time in 2000 at age 23, is taking it in a more female-focused direction.

“I have been in the man’s world for a long time,” said Ms. Charriol, speaking from her father’s former office while on vacation at the family chalet in Megève, France. Of her time ice racing, she said, “I loved the speed, but it was a real passion for him.”

Mr. Charriol, whom his daughter described as a self-made man who loved adventure, picked up the hobby when he was 50 as a gentleman’s driver, a term used to describe a skilled amateur.

“He was so passionate he would never miss a race,” she recalled. “During the Baselworld years” — once the most important trade show for watch sales, which involved back-to-back appointments and entertaining clients until late in the evening — “he would squeeze in a race during the show.”

He also sponsored cars and professional drivers, and when he tried winter ice-track racing, he persuaded Ms. Charriol, then 21, to join him as his co-pilot, each driving solo to determine the pole position on race day.

She said she hesitated at first; it is a risky sport. “He said, ‘It’s OK, don’t worry about it.’ That was Dad,” Ms. Charriol said. “He throws you in the deep end; it’s sink or swim time. Nobody taught him, so no one would teach me.”

She had just one training session before starting. “I always crashed into the snowbanks,” she said. Later, on the Andros Trophy championship circuits in the French Alps, “we would race as co-pilots, and I would go first. Dad would say, ‘Just don’t crash the car.’”

The experience left her with a practical lesson. “He said, ‘You’ll never be afraid to drive on real ice on the road,’ and it’s true.”

Her father died in a hospital in Marseilles in 2019 from injuries caused by a crash while racing on a track in the south of France. “He raced until the day he died,” she said. “He went out in full glory doing what he loved best.”

“When my dad passed away, I had just turned 40” and was living in New York, married and raising a family, she said. “His death was a sign that I needed to move to Geneva and take over the family company.”

Still living in Geneva, she is married to Dennis Paul, a senior adviser at The Blackstone Group and the founder and Managing Member of the private equity firm Thyra Global. They have three children.

“It was intense to sit in his chair,” she said in a later video call from Charriol’s headquarters in Geneva. “He was fearless and a risk-taker, and he always gave us tips,” she said, recalling one in particular: “‘Act like you know what to do.’”

During Covid, she worked on “how to make the business survive the pandemic and where I would take the business,” she said.

Up first was a redesign of the brand’s St. Tropez watch for women, making the bezel and the signature cables slimmer, and redesigning the mariner chain that hangs from the watch as well as the lugs that attach the watch face to the band. The updated St. Tropez retails from 1,290 to 2,990 Swiss francs, or $1,384 to $3,209, depending on materials.

Charriol plans to intrafoduce two new collections when the company takes part for the first time in the Watches and Wonders show in Geneva this spring, including what will tentatively be called the St. Tropez Surf diving watch and the St. Tropez Cruise for everyday use.

“I think about what I want, so I first concentrate on the ladies’ style,” Ms. Charriol said. “Normally brands make the men’s sports watch first, and the women’s is just a smaller version.”

Charriol also makes a twisted cable band for the Apple Watch, intended to draw Gen Z into the luxury watchmaking world. The band was introduced in August 2022.

The brand, industry figures indicate, appeals most to the female buyer.

“Charriol is female-led in a male-driven industry and has the positioning to speak to women,” Stephanie Phair, group president of the online marketplace Farfetch, said by email.

“Ultimately, she designs for herself, she wears it well and shows different uses for it; the inspiration and aspiration. She lives that lifestyle: well-traveled, a surfer and activist, and the more people get to know she is the face behind the brand and grown up with it, it will really resonate. Especially if women want a story behind the brand.”

Ms. Phair said Charriol sales experienced “healthy growth” since joining Farfetch to sell its watches and jewelry. (The platform earns a commission for each sale.) The watches are also sold at Charriol’s 208 free-standing boutiques and other retailers, such as Macy’s.

Ms. Charriol said she plans to address what she feels is a dearth of complications in watches designed for women. Currently, the watch market tends to produce and market date, chronograph and travel complications, as well as tourbillon and moon-phase features predominantly on men’s styles.

“Women don’t want complicated movements they don’t understand because no one explained it to them in the language they respond to,” she said. “I want to explain the movements and make them appealing, sexy, functional and interesting.”

A GMT quartz version of the St. Tropez Surf watch sums up what Ms. Charriol sees as her mark on the brand: “Great craftsmanship, great price, gorgeous and complicated-within-reason movement, but fun to wear.”

In the past, the company offered men’s mechanical watches whose tourbillon complications fought the effects of gravity, priced at $70,000 or more. It won’t be offering new tourbillon styles at the moment, though a women’s version may be next.

“I will slowly move in that direction,” Ms. Charriol said. “We know how, but I need to make sure the female market wants it.”

Sumber: www.nytimes.com