The current good health of DeWitt can largely be attributed to Mrs Viviane de Witt, who took over as CEO of the brand in 2012 after it had gone through a rough spell, to say the least. But having already invested considerably in the brand, Mrs de Witt was not about to let it go under or be sold off. After all, her husband is a descendant of Jérôme Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, and DeWitt styles itself as something for the “new emperors”, so legacy is important.
"We need relatively few customers to stay afloat"
With the first in-house base movement scheduled to roll off the production lines this year, and an unparalleled level of in-house expertise in dial production, the brand is well equipped to forge ahead independently over the coming years. In fact, the problem faced by Mrs de Witt is not how to find customers (“we need relatively few customers to stay afloat,” she says) but how to communicate with them. “I recently looked at our target customer,” she explains. “Their average age is 30, they live in an exotic way, for me, and they travel a lot and travel light. They don’t read – everything they need is on their iPad.”
Aside from monitoring the sales figures every day, Mrs de Witt also clearly knows her customer… or “micro customer” as she calls them. “I tried to frame them but I can’t,” she says. “There is a lot of variety.” This variety encompasses everything from the macho South American to the thrifty north American, the classic tastes of the European, the preference for big gold watches among eastern Europeans and “very big” gold watches among Russians. Her research also dispels a couple of myths: “People told me that the Chinese prefer small watches, but they buy tourbillons. We sold our last X-Watch to a Chinese customer! And in the Middle East men don’t buy gold watches, but ladies do.”
Profiling one’s customer is all well and good, but reaching them is a different matter, even when the price factor is practically irrelevant, as Mrs de Witt freely admits. “Price is not a problem. The problem is getting known among the kind of people who can afford to buy and want to buy our watches. The very rich do not walk down the rue du Rhône,” she says, referring to the street in the centre of Geneva where brands fall over themselves for shop frontage.
The answer, according to Mrs de Witt, is a more exclusive sales approach. In Harrods in London, an oasis of luxury retailing, in addition to being on display in the watch showroom, DeWitt’s timepieces are also presented and sold behind closed doors, in private VIP sales rooms. But it would seem that the big cities are not necessarily where customers are likely to buy their DeWitt timepiece. The latest arm in the brand's sales arsenal? A new distributor in Malta. “The very rich buy when they are relaxing with friends on holiday,” Mrs de Witt reveals.