Versace’s Paolo Marai on fashionable watchmaking

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Watch boss on plans to develop the fashionable watch brand globally.

Timex president Paolo Marai speaks to Kathryn Bishop about Versace’s plans for its high-end fashion watch line, including moving into new markets, the effect of the recent Japanese earthquake and designing with Donatella.

Versace is a global fashion brand, with followers dotted all around the globe who hang onto its figure head Donatella Versace’s every word, but few people would realise that the grande dame of Italian fashion is also playing a key role in shaping Versace watches, a range developed by international watch powerhouse Timex.

“Do you know, it takes 12 months of going back and forth with Donatella to design these watches?” asks Timex president Paolo Marai when he meets with WatchPro during the world’s biggest watch show BaselWorld in Switzerland.

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While dealing with the fashion superstar might prove to delay production times, Marai believes that it is time worth spent. Most fashion brands are now trying to get into the watch market, but not all of them are prepared to work with a watch specialist such as Timex, and Marai says that this can cause quality control issues.

“A lot of fashion brands are trying to build bridges into the watch world,” Marai explains. “It’s like having two islands: one fashion, the other watches and jewellery. The fashion houses are trying to go over to the watch island and, in my opinion, it doesn’t always work. The bridge might get completed faster their way, but the watch brands will know their product better.”

Sitting comfortably in his chair, Marai speaks with a charming eloquence as he talks through some of the new designs launched at BaselWorld, which include the very colourful  Destiny Precious collection – a revisit to last year’s Destiny collection, but this time adorned with tumbling brilliant-cut gemstones in the bezel – and a new oval-shaped version of the brand’s bestselling Eon watch, which can be rotated to change the appearance of the watch.

 “For years and years it’s been all about black and white in watches,” explains Marai. “Colour is the DNA of Versace so I’m glad that the fashion train has stopped at colour again. Everyone loves colour, and Donatella has introduced it into the runway collections this year, so finally colour is back and we’re getting a strong positive reaction from it.”

The brand has also dipped its toe into the world of ceramic watches with the DV One automatic watch, which is entirely made of ceramic, akin to Chanel’s iconic J12 watch. The new DV One has been designed with both men and women in mind, despite its large case size, and will be limited to just 200 watches retailing at €3,500 (£3,072).

 A single DV One has also been made with a black diamond-set bezel, which will be followed by a more colourful version to be launched at Milan Fashion Week later this year, with plans for a red dial, bi-colour straps and a limited number of 100 timepieces. This will then be followed by a more commercial collection. 

As well as individual collections being well received by retailers, Marai says that the mood at BaselWorld has been positive in general. “Basel has been great so far, even though we were expecting some trouble from the events in the Middle East and with the Japanese earthquake,” says Marai. “The stand was very busy on Wednesday when we were still setting up. Traditionally we don’t open the stand on a Wednesday but we had some enquiries on that day, and so on Wednesday our Basel began.”  

Marai has definite growth plans for the Versace brand and says that identifying new markets, as well as growing within already established countries, is of importance to him. “Timex has core businesses to protect, and we have new markets we’re looking at and we’re very well positioned to move into them,” he says. “The Middle East is growing for us and India and China are also very fast growing, along with Brazil and Mexico. They definitely deserve our attention.”

 India is a country that several watch brands have been showing interest in at BaselWorld, and in return, have had interest from. For Marai, it’s a place he’d love to see Versace watches blossom.

“India is my favourite country and even though a lot of watch companies will focus on China, I believe the freedom they have in India will help economically,” he says. “There is also a lot more luxury potential in India because they’re already used to luxury products with the jewellery industry there.”

 Problems with counterfeit watches has made China a difficult market for Versace, which is no surprise for a brand whose logo and styling is so recognisable. As a result, Marai has found that consumers in China are still nervous about being sold a fake Versace watch, even when the watches are sold through respected retailers.

“We’ve found that even within multibrand retailers and department stores, because China is known for counterfeit products, shoppers are scared of getting fake goods,” he reveals. “It has made it a tricky market but there is still demand there.”

Returning to the new collection that Versace has released, Marai notes that the typical Versace watch is somewhat aggressive in style. The case sizes are a little larger, even on the women’s watches, but this, he says, fits into “that European look”. 

Looking forward to next season as most fashion brands typically are, Marai says that BaselWorld is a chance to think about what to do next in terms of new product. “We can take some inspiration here, and also look back to adapting past projects that perhaps weren’t so successful or were ahead of their time,” he says. “As a fashion-led luxury watch brand we’re already in a special place, so we don’t need to change our offer or lower our lines; we don’t need watches at, say, €200, but need to remain at €2,000.”

But back to the here and now, WatchPro asks Marai which is his favourite of the Versace timepieces. At this question, he smiles broadly.

“Ahh, that’s a nightmare question,” he laughs. “We edit here, we adapt there. Making a new collection is often like having children, they’re all my babies. But I have to say the last one remains the baby, and the last one we made is the DV One, so yes, that has to be my favourite.”

Ever the charming and convincing brand ambassador, Marai lifts his sleeve to prove that he is a man of his word and reveals that he is in fact wearing just that model.

 

This article was taken from the April 2011 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. See the whole edition by clicking here.

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