World-renowned Swiss luxury brand Charriol is now distributed by Mirar Link owners Gary and Sara Khoo, with a spanking new store at Marina Bay Sands. Charriol’s founder, French entrepreneur Philippe Charriol speaks to City News.
Contributed By Yong Yung Shin
Back in the 1980s, when Philippe Charriol started selling watches made with steel cables for straps, it did not go down well with fashion critics. “You are selling steel; nobody wants to wear steel, especially ladies!” he was told.
But to his vindication, the trend took off and Charriol became a global timepiece and jewelry brand in the next 27 years. This past week, the man himself was in Singapore to promote his flagship boutique at The Shoppes At Marina Bay Sands. This Charriol store was launched on Oct. 28, attended by socialites and local celebrities, fashion insiders and watch connoisseurs. There is a second Charriol boutique at Raffles City.
Gary Khoo, director of Mirar Link Pte. Ltd. which holds the sole distribution rights of Charriol in Singapore, has been a fan of Charriol since he was 20. Khoo and his wife, Sara, are also the owners of the Spectacle Hut chain of eyewear stores.
“It actually started with us selling Charriol eyewear. That brought us closer to Mr. Charriol and his team, and things grew off from there. It is great for Sara and I to be able to work directly with Mr. Charriol himself. Most of the owners of luxury watches have either sold off their businesses or have passed on. Apart from rare exceptions like Franck Muller and Raymond Weil, Charriol is the only other international luxury watch brand that is still owned by the founder himself,” explains Khoo.
Entering the high-end luxury market after an eyewear business was always part of the Khoos’ plan. “Sara and I have always wanted to diversify our business, moving from retail to distribution is one of our moves. Also, in today’s cut-throat and competitive market, high end luxury is the way to go. When we came across this opportunity, we immediately grabbed this chance. Big brands like Charriol are gems and are hard to come by.” They plan to expand distribution of Charriol into Malaysia in the coming years.
As one of the largest manufacturers of wristwatches in the world, Charriol specializes in Swiss timepieces, jewelry and accessories, with the signature feature being the twisted steel cable motif, inspired by Celtic culture.
When the first Charriol boutique opened in 1990 in Geneva, the brand set the trend of own-name boutiques. Fifteen years later, most luxury brands have cottoned on to the fact that these exclusive points of sale are essential instruments. “We can express ourselves fully [in standalone boutiques],” says Philippe Charriol, speaking to City News. “For a brand of our size and scope, that has now become indispensable.” Apart from watches and jewelry, Charriol also creates leather goods, writing instruments, eyewear and fragrances.
That is just one of the gambles that have paid off for the entrepreneurial Charriol, 68, who gave up a cushy job as the executive director of the fast-expanding Cartier watch and jewelry company to found his own company in 1983. He was 40 then. It was like “jumping out of a train that’s going at full speed”, a risky move which left him no option other than to sink or swim. In a reversal of the prevailing market strategy, he focused on the Asian market while basing the business in Geneva. The success achieved both in Japan and in South-East Asia subsequently enabled him to establish a significant presence in the United States and Middle East markets. Today, the brand is present in over 75 countries, with an international network of distributors.
“The clientele in the field of luxury has changed. It is currently represented by two types of consumers: the bourgeois clientele, which tends to be traditionalist; and a trendier and often daring fringe on the lookout for brands, fashions and tendencies. Charriol’s worldwide strategy aims to meet the requirements of these both types of customer,” says the luxury connoisseur of the contemporary luxury market. He also has interests in wine, fine art and motor-racing.
His parting words for aspiring entrepreneurs: vision is a matter of energy and courage. One’s conviction must be stronger than the surrounding voices, the naysayers. “You do need a little bit of craziness to do it,” says Charriol. “One can say that it is more difficult to succeed nowadays because of the competition, but it was also not easy at that time. You just have to believe you can do it.”
• 252 North Bridge Road, # 01-36G,
Raffles City Shopping Centre,
Singapore 199103, +65 6659 5717.
• 2 Bayfront Avenue, #01-55A,
Singapore 018972, +65 6688 7417.