Exclusive interview Frederic de Narp, CEO Harry Winston

Frederic de Narp, CEO President, Harry Winston Inc

Frédéric de Narp – Chief Executive Officer & President, Harry Winston Inc has recently spoken exclusively to CPP-LUXURY.COM about his company’s strategic expansion plans, how luxury relates to lifestyle and diversification.

Harry Winston has been expanding internationally, especially in emerging markets. What is your business model for retailing in mono-brand stores? 

This is certainly an exciting time for Harry Winston, as we continue to build the brand around the world. We currently have 26 mono-brand retail locations, with plans to increase the number to around 50 over the next few years.

For Harry Winston, with any location we open, the key objective will always be about the experience that we are able to bring to our end clients around the world, to ensure that they continue to receive the finest selection of products shown in the best environments for the brand.

I think a solid example of this can be seen with our first flagship salon in Shanghai, which opened in April.  Working alongside William Sofield and Studio Sofield, the award winning architectural team in New York, we developed a contemporary concept for our retail space that plays off many of the traditional elements of Harry Winston, but with a fresh perspective that is more conducive to the brand today.  For example, we implemented a new layout into the salon with special areas designated to high jewelry, collections, bridal, and timepieces – each with their own style and feel, as if you had mini-salons within the grand salon space.  This layout allowed us to create a more streamlined and enjoyable shopping experience for clients.  So you can have a young couple searching for an engagement ring equally comfortable and at ease as a client looking to purchase a rare, one-of-a-kind high jewelry design, while both benefiting from the intimacy and privacy of the Harry Winston space.

It’s important to also mention, though, that as we continue to grow our retail locations around the world, we are also focusing on the development of our wholesale distribution channels, which remains equally as important  to our growth.

What do you think about franchising versus directly operated stores in      the case of high end jewellery brands? What are the pros and cons.

First and foremost, the constant goal for Harry Winston is to provide our clients with an incredible and compelling shopping experience.  This means showcasing our products in the best possible environments for the brand, with sales executives who are true experts in fine jewelry and watches.  While the majority of our retail locations are directly operated, there are certain markets where there is a great advantage to working directly with local partners on our brand development.  This is especially true for partners that have successfully sold our timepieces for many years.

For example, in both the Middle East and Russia, Harry Winston has aligned with strong partners to bring our fine jewelry and timepieces collections to the market.  This has been a successful formula for our business throughout the regions.  Our partners know and understand the clients, and can help us best cater to the needs of the market.  In balancing owned and franchised retail locations, we are better able to mitigate risk and maximize profit potential.

Many international jewellery brands such as Cartier and Bvlgari have expanded their product range to accessories, bags, fragrances. Would you consider such diversification for Harry Winston? 

I think for any brand there is an inherent risk in extending beyond the realm of your expertise, often times diluting your brand message.  As a brand becomes more mass it is difficult to maintain your sense of exclusivity and the quality of service that you are able to give to your clients.

That being said, there certainly are many brands today that have successfully extended into other product categories, but it is not something that we see as being an appropriate development for Harry Winston.  For the past 80 years the brand has stood for the most exclusive name in fine jewelry and watch making, particularly with the highest quality diamonds and noble materials such as platinum and gold.  This is our expertise, our passion, the core of our identity and heritage, and where we are committed to staying.

To what extent the Harry Winston brand relates to luxury lifestyle?

I think this is an interesting question, particularly for Harry Winston.  While the brand name and the products we are known for do reflect a certain “lifestyle,” Harry Winston cannot be classified as a “lifestyle brand.”  Our products and offering remain very focused on hard luxury products of jewelry and timepieces, and are concentrated at the very top end in terms of their rarity, quality, and exclusivity.  This is what our clients have come to expect from us for the past 80 years, and where we remain committed to in terms of our brand positioning.  We are not interested in branching out into other product categories such as fragrance or accessories.  I find this very concentrated focus on a certain product segment is becoming increasingly rare for brands today.

Which are the key elements that make up Harry Winston’s desirability DNA?   What is your strategic approach in maintaining consistency in terms of rarity and exclusivity?

Our defining principles include using only D,E,F color and VS+ clarity diamonds for all of our jewelry creations which is at the highest end available within the industry.  We will not compromise on the quality of our materials nor the craftsmanship of our products. This ideal was instilled in the company by its founder, Mr. Winston, and one that continues to serve as our driving force today.  This unwavering commitment makes our products extremely valuable, as they are the ultimate in terms of rarity, exclusivity and quality, and they are truly timeless.

How important is Harry Winston’s association with Hollywood celebrities?

I think for many brands today there is a strong need to connect to Hollywood, but for Harry Winston the red carpet is not something that we look at as having to do, but something that is truly a continuation of our DNA and brand heritage. 

The brand first connected to Hollywood in the early 1930s, just a few years after Mr. Winston founded the business.  It happened when Mr. Winston purchased his first large rough diamond called the Jonker – and incredible 726 carat diamond, which he toured around the country before it was eventually cut.  It was the first time that a diamond of its size had really come to the United States, so there was a tremendous interest in it.  The stone was photographed alongside Hollywood stars, such as Shirley Temple.  It was even the subject of a short MGM film, which recreated the whole journey of the diamond from its discovery to its eventual cutting by Winston and his team. 

Then in 1944, Winston earned his name as the Jeweler to the Stars when he became the very first to loan jewels for the Academy Awards, dressing Best Actress winner Jennifer Jones.  So it is a relationship that has been there from the very beginning, and is very naturally a part of the Winston tradition.  We are always proud to continue honoring Mr. Winston’s legacy by showing our pieces on the red carpet each year.  In fact, later this year, Harry Winston will serve as the lead sponsor of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s fall exhibition, focused on Hollywood Costumes.

Which do you consider as Harry Winston’s direct      competitors in the watches sector? Which are Harry Winston’s competitive      advantages?

I think what is remarkable about our timepiece division is how much legitimacy and following the brand has been able to achieve in such a relatively short amount of time.  When you think of leading watch making houses today, many of them have more than a hundred years history behind them.  By comparison, Harry Winston only entered into the fine watch making arena in 1989 – so in a little over twenty years we been able to garner the same amount of interest and recognition among the world’s leading connoisseurs for its innovative developments. 

I believe a lot of this has to do with our approach to watch making from the very beginning.  The brand was humble enough to involve and partner with the world’s leading watch makers and experts on the development and design of our timepieces.  In bringing together the collective experience of all these experts, and recognizing them for the collaboration, coupled with our own traditions of creativity and quality, we have been able to achieve some truly groundbreaking designs. 

The best example of this is through our Opus Series, which we launched in 2001.  Each year Harry Winston seeks out one of the world’s top independent watch makers and collaborates with them on the design and development of a new Opus to create an amazing new way to tell time.  Almost immediately upon announcing the design each year at the BaselWorld Watch Fair, the Opus series is sold out.  That’s testimony to the success of the series, which will continue to enable us to retain our positioning in the timepiece market.

An increasing number of luxury brands have been  embracing digital platforms as a means of communications. What is your approach in this respect?

New forms of communication, such as social media, are becoming increasingly important vehicles to cultivate brand awareness, particularly among younger generations.  It allows us to bring clients who do not live near one of our 26 retail salons, inside the experience of Harry Winston.  In return we are seeing that clients coming to us, often for the first time, are already highly educated about our product offerings. 

We currently have a presence within the social media landscape – including Facebook, YouTube, and Weibo – and will continue to examine new opportunities which are right for our brand.  We are also actively working on the redevelopment of our website which will relaunch next year.  But again, for Harry Winston, it is not about being mass.  As with any new opportunity we pursue for the Brand, it is about maintaining authenticity and integrity of our DNA, and how this fits into the bigger picture for Harry Winston.