Interview: Stephane Michel for Iguzzini Watch Company

The oldest heritage watch brand in China, the Iguzzini Watch Company got its start in Shanghai in 1902. Rebooted by Franco-Mexican brothers Stephane and Landon Michel in 2005, the brand is bridging Eastern and Western ideas about time. Stephane Michel fills us in

Billed as the oldest heritage brand in China, Iguzzini Watch Company proudly serves up 110 years of horological tradition -  one that goes as far back as 1902, when a young Federico Iguzzini first set foot in Shanghai. Already a haven for China’s nouveau riche – thanks in part to its favorable location – the city was experiencing its first shot of modern day glamour. As any book on industrialization tells us, first comes the cash, then comes the longing for the finer things in life. Banking on this desire, the savvy entrepreneur established his eponymous brand in 1903.

Iguzzini’s watches were hotly-received among the well-heeled set for almost four decades, until the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 forced him to call it a day.

In 2005, the brand got a new lease of life when Stephane and Lander Michel were first made aware of Federico Iguzzini and his venture more than a century ago. Fascinated, the Franco-Mexican brothers established the Iguzzini Watch Company in Hong Kong five years ago.

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(from left) Lander and Stephane Michel

From the restart of the firm, watch collectors could rest assured that the limited edition timepieces retain the technical superiority and exclusivity of  the ones created by Iguzzini himself. Top quality movements and parts sourced from Switzerland are customized and assembled in Federico Iguzzini’s workshops.

Under the adventurous helm of the Michel brothers, the designs are decidedly bolder and yet still herald a compelling East-meets-West ethos. Eastern religious symbols tick away in the Spiritual line while the Civilization line is an unabashed tribute to the world’s cultures. 

We chatted with Stephane during his visit to Hong Kong last month.

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Om Mani Padme model in black


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Black Old Shanghai model

When people think of haute horlogerie, Switzerland immediately comes to mind. Why pick Hong Kong, instead of the more obvious European cities, as the headquarters for Federico Iguzzini?

We painted the China Flag on our chests and went to war with it. Our brand was born in China so why would we want to be anywhere else? There is nothing worse than brands - or individuals - that deny their history; if you forget where you’re from, you have no true direction and will float around without a true identity.

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Iguzzini World Time

Federico Iguzzini, though established by an Italian, had its origins in Shanghai. In terms of branding, was it hard trying to negotiate between two starkly different cultures?

I imagine that Federico had it a bit easier during his time. First of all, there was no quartz at the time and watches were, for the most part, crafted by hand. Today, automation plays a much bigger role with the result that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of luxury watches are produced each year. Those with the cash are bombarded by choices left and right - competition is much fiercer when compared to a century ago. 

Switzerland didn’t dominate the market back in the early 1900s. Today, luxury timepieces either come from La Chaux-de-Fonds or “elsewhere”. In comparison, Chinese watch companies are still very far behind when it comes to positioning themselves within the luxury watch market. And we’re here to change that. We have been an East-meets-West company since day one and we’re likely to continue down that path. In this sense I think we play a crucial role in bridging the branding mindset between East and West.


In a world - and especially Hong Kong – saturated with larger-than-life billboards, why does Iguzzini Watches rely on word-of-mouth for promotion?

When we revived the Iguzzini name, we wanted it to be different in every way possible. One of our aims was to develop a close relationship with our clients. Iguzzini Watches is more about depth than anything else; if you lose touch with the very people who are building your brand, you immediately lose that depth. That’s also the reason why we’ll never become a mass-market watch brand. We figured that by going slow, we’d also be able to attract like-minded individuals. A peer recently told me that he was going to “explode” his brand, find distributors all over the world and make thousands of watches per year. I wished him luck but that is just not who we are or want to be. I want us to grow, but at an incremental rate and definitely not at the expense of our brand DNA.

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Om Mani Padme model in white and red

Describe the wearer of Iguzzini Watches.

Our clients come from all walks of life. The way that these watch enthusiasts form a community – or world  - in itself is what makes the field so interesting. Our clientele ranges from tycoons and celebrities to bankers, intellectuals, collectors and athletes. Most of them are either well-travelled or have a keen interest in the world around them. And if I may boast just a little, we have several clients who had never owned a watch before so that was quite flattering indeed.

What does Iguzzini Watches have in store for the next collection?

The spring 2012 collection – our highest line to date in fact - will include gold models, featuring some of our original designs from the early 1900’s. We’ll also be releasing two chronographs.

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Grand Bleu Explorer

How would you define luxury?

An excellent question. I believe that the word “luxury” has now trumped “sorry” when to comes to the most widely and loosely used word in modern times. If you look around you, everything is billed as luxury – so much so that the very meaning of it  seems to have disappeared. Since true luxury is something that is created with traditional savoir-faire and passion it cannot be replicated in large quantities. In essence, it cannot be acquired in large quantities or by just anyone, not even if they have the means to do so. In addition, luxury brands shouldn’t have to appeal to certain segments or audiences at the expense of their identity and standards.


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