You’d be hard-pressed to think of two more influential men in the world of watches than Richemont’s Franco Cologni and LVMH’s Jean-Claude Biver. They are both bastions of the old guard – working their way up from the bottom in the 1970s to become true visionaries and decision-makers in this space today. Cologni began his career selling licensed Cartier-branded cigarette lighters and eventually became not only CEO of Cartier for some time, but also later chairman of Vacheron Constantin and Panerai, both of which he was instrumental in bringing into the Richemont group. A board member for some time, Cologni is responsible for a lot of what we see at Richemont. And Biver, well, you know his story. And so when one ribs the other, and publicly no less, you have to take note.
What many may not know is that Geneva watch week, which many have taken to calling the one week of the year in January when all Richemont-owned brands show their wares to journalists and retailers, is actually not that old – it was started in 1991 with just a few brands exhibiting. And, really, the entire week began as an effort put on by Richemont to support its Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), and continues to be such to this day.
But when the other watchmakers see a city full of journalists, retailers, and collectors, would you expect them not to try to lure some of them away from the SIHH brands? Franck Muller puts on a small show. F.P. Journe holds a press conference or two. We’ll occasionally see Breguet or Blancpain throw a shindig one night. But the most obvious effort made by a competing group to steal the attention of those in Geneva in early January comes from LVMH and its portfolio of Hublot, TAG Heuer, Zenith, and Bulgari.
…the fact remains that by hosting his inaugural party on “his” boat on the same date and at the same time as the one for SIHH, Jean-Claude Biver demonstrates a singular lack of propriety for a captain…
Franco Cologni, Richemont Executive
In the past, the group would occupy a floor or two at a downtown lakeside hotel. This year, however, Mr. Biver decided to take up residence on a boat docked in the lake just in front of the Hotel Beau Rivage – the very boat that, until recently, was rented by Richemont to host its guests for after dinner drinks each evening of the SIHH. This is one thing, but what’s more is that LVMH hosted a “Kick Off” celebration on this boat at the very same time that Richemont hosted its opening reception. And it did not go unnoticed. In fact, Mr. Cologni wrote an open letter to Mr. Biver on the FHH’s HH Journal blog.
Mr. Cologni’s letter is extremely elegant – complete with a Fellini reference – but his intention is clear. Richemont found this act distasteful. He states, “…the fact remains that by hosting his inaugural party on ‘his’ boat on the same date and at the same time as the one for SIHH, Jean-Claude Biver demonstrates a singular lack of propriety for a captain…”
The reason we thought you should read this letter is because you so seldom see personal responses from senior management at these groups about senior management at another. Read the full letter from Cologni right here.