Fine plastic art? Swatch finds a niche

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Fine plastic art? Swatch finds a niche

What’s the image of a dignified man in a fine worsted-wool suit and a Swatch? Young at heart, whimsical, with a good sense of humor.
Now take that three-button look down a notch. When Nicolas Hayek Jr., the chief executive officer of the Swatch Group, the parent company of Swatch, arrived in Seoul, he was wearing a sports jacket, a checked shirt and indigo jeans.
Casual, but dignified.
“I dress like this for board meetings,” says Mr. Hayek, in his thick Franco-German-Swiss accent, throwing up his arms to reveal a large turquoise Swatch on his right wrist and a classic Omega on his left. “It’s like parenthood; I’m trying to take care of all my brands,” says Mr. Hayek, whose group boasts 18 brands including Breguet, Omega, Rado, Longines and Tissot. Since its introduction in 1983, the Swatch brand of Swiss-made plastic watches has become the world’s most successful wristwatch in modern times. The parent group, was merged in 1985 by Mr. Hayek’s father, who had reorganized the Asuag and SSIH watch companies. As a graduate of the French Film Academy, Mr. Hayek was an award-winning filmmaker before taking control of his father’s company in 1994.
Mr. Hayek spoke with the JoongAng Daily when he was visiting a new Swatch store inside Hyundai Department Store in Mokdong.

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Did your father force you to quit filmmaking to join his company?
No. About 10 years ago, the company was losing a lot of money from advertising agencies, and I knew exactly how they worked. While making movies, on the side I helped market watches through advertising and promotions in weaker markets such as the United States. The company needed a creative person to oversee it, and so I joined. A series called “Black Sheep” was one of the first campaigns I did, and it was tremendously successful.

Do you know what sells well in Korea?
I’m sure it’s one of those “Irony” watches in blue, and “Skin,” the thinnest plastic watch in the world.
In the ’70s, Swatch developed a watch unit called “Delirium” consisting of only 51 parts to make a light, thin wristwatch. That’s why we can handle 250 factories with 20,000 employees in a small country like Switzerland. To make a watch, other companies would need more than 120 parts, and we remain the leader of technological advancement by providing most of the luxury brand watch companies with our movements.

How do you compare working in the film and watch industries?
Being a boss in a company is like being a director of a movie. A director may have an idea in his head, but he would need, say, cameramen and actors, and they would have to contribute their ideas to make the product successful.
If one person constantly stands out, then that isn’t teamwork. To make a retail business work, you need to hear consumers and speak with sales staff and work together. I’m here to inspire and keep the staff motivated ― that’s the job of a boss.
For instance, in the Gucci group, there’s only one person who’s creative, Tom Ford. What happens if he leaves? How will the rest of the people [in the company] feel?
The term “exclusive” in luxury brands should not exclude people. I want to make sure every item in my group is accessible to all. Swatch watches, for example, are worn by everyone from kings, politicians and rock stars to young children.

You carry a “Phil Collins” Swatch.
Yes, I’ve worked with celebrities in the past. It was a Swatch sponsored-event that made Vivien Westwood famous in the ’80s. I’ve also worked with Peter Gabriel from the United Kingdom and Paik Nam June, the video artist from Korea.
Do you know how I got to work with Spike Lee? I was in a cab in New York and I looked at the cab next to mine ― and there he was! We said “Hi” and introduced ourselves.
Some limited editions are sold in two flagship shops, one in Place de Vendome in Paris and one on the Via della Spiga in Milan.
The funny thing is none of these celebrities signed contracts with us. They simply liked making their own Swatch designs and did it!

So why are you wearing two watches?
This classic design called “Railways” on my left is inspired by one of Omega’s earliest models in 1848, when it was founded. Omega made the world’s first anti-magnetic watches for railroads. On my right? I like the color turquoise.
I’m trying to change my own habits. It used to be that there was only one watch for life, but Swatch changed that. The mini-car “Smart” [an acronym for Swatch, Mercedes-Benz and art] project, collaborating with Mercedes-Benz, was one of our ways to change the habits of people’s lives. By designing environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient two-seaters, we wanted to change the way people use cars. We wanted to sell the car at an affordable price ― like Swatch ― but Mercedes-Benz disagreed. So we split.


by Ines Cho
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