We’ve heard that there is an interesting story behind the origins of the name Pierre DeRoche. Can you tell us more about it?
Yes, when I first set up the brand I thought, with a certain amount of pride, that I could call it Pierre Dubois. But there are three Dubois brothers in the family, we all live in the Vallée de Joux and two of them work at Dubois-Dépraz, so I didn’t want any confusion.
Then I remembered an old but true story about when I used to go to school when I was around three years old. I used to see a genuine farmer watchmaker who would always tell me that my parents were crazy because if your surname is Dubois (editor’s note: literally “of wood” in English), you can’t have the first name Pierre (“stone” in English). So he used to call me Pierre Deroche (“of rock”), sometimes even Pierre Caillou Deroche (“caillou” meaning pebble). When I remembered this I decided to call the company Pierre DeRoche.
How has the watch business evolved during the first ten years of Pierre DeRoche?
A lot of things have changed but I think one of the most significant developments has been the vertical integration of markets and the dominance of the big groups. To give you just one example, we exhibited at the GTE exhibition in Geneva for four years. Each year there were fewer exhibitors and finally this year the event was cancelled. Why? Because the exhibition was effectively demolished by the Richemont Group. The group managed to prevent the show taking place in two hotels in the first couple of years and because it paid for journalists to come from all over the world, it also obliged these journalists to sign a declaration that they would not visit any “competing” exhibitions. This was unheard of ten years ago.
Could regional exhibitions such as SIAR (Mexico) and QP (UK) offer a solution to this problem for you?
Yes, they are interesting for us. We have been at SIAR for a couple of years with our local distributor. But we also decided to do our own exhibition this year in China and the work involved was tremendous. BaselWorld is easy because we just take the watches with us and there is no need for customs clearance or logistics. But for the other shows the costs can sometimes be prohibitive. QP in London has a very good reputation among brands but we have to consider whether it is worthwhile for us without any local partner to support sales.
As you are using ETA for your base movements, do you have any concerns about movement supply?
Not in the short term, because we have plenty of stock. In the longer term we will need to think about alternative sources but at the moment the only alternative at the same dimensions and for the same price is Sellita. But I am also considering the manufacture route, for example with Vaucher Manufacture.
Since we’re talking about movements I would like to add a word about how we design our movements. We use a modular construction with common platforms, which is widespread in the automobile industry but sometimes viewed negatively by the watchmaking press, who prefer so-called integrated movements. But I would like to point out that this modular construction has allowed us to present 13 technical developments in ten years. If we had had to develop a new movement from scratch each time, we might have launched three movements in ten years, if we were lucky.
What is your biggest challenge at the moment?
The biggest challenge is not designing or producing watches or movements. It is selling them. This is a challenge that has evolved over the years. When I look back at the forecasts I made ten years ago when I was drawing up my business plan I was very optimistic and the retail distribution situation was very different. Since then the big groups have gained much more importance and when one of the big groups is in a point of sale, it ends up competing against the three other big groups, on space etc., which leaves no room for anybody else. Furthermore, if a retailer wants to take on one of the big brands from one of these groups, they usually have to take on several other brands from the same group as well, which leaves even less window space available in the store.
What can we expect from Pierre DeRoche over the next 10 years?
As far as the products are concerned I think we will continue along the same lines as what we are doing now, in other words remain in what I call the “median” complications segment. We don’t make simple watches, such as those with just three hands. We always have at least one complication but we don’t have any “supreme” complications like tourbillons. We will continue developing our flagship Royal Retro model with new complications, and we will introduce a new complication in this line next year. On the other hand we will also work on the more classical designs as we have done over the past ten years, with combinations of complications. My objective is also to grow from a production of 200-250 watches per year now to between 600 and 800 timepieces in five years’ time.