Elie Bernheim is caring for a family legacy. As the grandson of the late Raymond Weil, founder of the Swiss watch company that bears his name, Bernheim took over the company as CEO from his father Olivier Bernheim in 2014 and quickly got to work. One of his first marks as CEO was to ensure that Raymond Weil’s historical links to music remain prominent as a design theme for new Raymond Weil watches. In addition, Bernheim ushered into production the first Raymond Weil automatic movement. Today, that movement (a joint project with Sellita) is prominently displayed from both sides of the open-dialed Raymond Weil Freelancer Caliber 1212.
Bernheim joined the company in 2006 after graduating from Hospitality Management School of Lausanne. With expertise in watchmaking, marketing and company management, he’s been steering the company his grandfather founded forty-one years ago toward autonomy in its chief markets while also expanding the firm’s deployment of limited-edition designs, most with direct links to the music world. iW recently spoke with Bernheim about Raymond Weil, watchmaking and music.
iW: Why is music a theme around which Raymond Weil develops its watches?
Bernheim: Music has always been at the center of Raymond Weil’s universe. My grandfather was passionate about music and the arts, as is my entire family (my mother is a concert pianist and I play the cello). My grandfather named his first collections after his favorite operas (Parsifal, Nabucco, Othello to give you three examples).
We decided many years ago to continue to use this true passion as the main inspiration marketing communication for the brand globally. We wanted to expand our music DNA into product design and thus created our music special editions campaign.
We started the campaign back in 2014, working with artists that were selected for their musical achievements– doing things slightly different to others, such as 2cellos, Labrinth, Milos Karadaglic.
The following year we partnered with Frank Sinatra, Gibson Brands and Nicola Benedetti and began truly using music inspiration in our product development and design. Last year (2016) saw Raymond Weil collaborate with The Beatles, the world’s most successful band of all time. This year, we launched partnerships with David Bowie and launched version two of The Beatles and Gibson Brands due to the success of the first editions.
Are you a musician?
Yes, I play the cello and piano and also have started learning the electric guitar as Gibson have been kind enough to send me some of the most incredible guitars in their collection. My entire family is musically gifted, including my son and daughter.
Why should a collector consider a watch from Raymond Weil as opposed to a watch from another Swiss watch company?
Firstly, the design and manufacturing process of any of our special edition products takes approximately six to twelve months. We pride ourselves on how we use our horological know-how to interpret intricate details of all of our music partners into our products. We work hand-in-hand with our partners to ensure that our products are true to the DNA of the band, artist of brand.
These subtle design details are the difference between a good special edition product and a superior special edition. We also pride ourselves on delivering a substantial product for the best price possible – again, adhering to the vision of my grandfather.
Lastly, we put an emphasis on the packaging of our special edition products, ensuring the essence of our partner is adorned in the design. Lastly, we are very careful in terms of the number of units that we manufacture. We have never exceeded 3,000 pieces per special edition and in some cases have manufactured just fifty pieces.
Which Raymond Weil collections are U.S. buyers most interested in?
This year we have launched some fantastic new products that each offer something new to the existing offering. The introduction of the new freelancer Caliber RW1212 is very exciting for us as this is the first timepiece to house our first ever, fully in-house designed movement. On the ladies side, we launched a new freelancer ladies range called “Lady freelancer” and also introduced diver models in the tango 300 range. On special editions: The Beatles maestro, the freelancer Gibson Les Paul and of course freelancer David Bowie have all been resounding successes. Sell-in has been the best we have ever seen and sell-though is looking fantastic as well. Any of our retailers are now selling our special editions on pre-order, creating waiting lists for the product therefore as soon as the product arrives – it is sold.
Can you tell me about the movement you've developed for the RW1212 Freelancer?
We are delighted to have been able to launch our first ever, fully in-house designed movement, which has been manufactured in collaboration with one of our movement partners – Sellita. The freelance Caliber RW1212 movement represents the first time that we have designed a movement from scratch, created by our in-house R&D team, specific to Raymond Weil’s requirements.
This is a significant advancement for our company and is an indication of where the company is moving. It is essential that Raymond Weil continue to demonstrate its horology and watchmaking know-how, which has been handed down from generation to generation.
We are extremely proud of our history and Swiss-Made credentials and as one of the last remaining family-owned and operated Geneva-based watchmakers, the Freelancer Caliber RW1212 certainly puts a marker in the sand in terms of our future ambitions and intentions.
Will we see an increasing number of mechanical pieces from Raymond Weil?
Our current sell-through on mechanical versus quartz is approximately 60% mechanical. As customers become more sophisticated and understand mechanical movement, the importance of our advancements in the mechanical movement market become more and more important. Over the past years, Raymond Weil has quietly launched many ‘market exclusive’ movements on behalf of Sellita.
We do not make too much noise about this, however mechanical movements are very important to the future success of the brand. Our key objective is to offer the latest advancements in movement manufacturing as reasonable prices through close collaboration between our R&D team and our long-term partners.
Can you offer any teaser, or a short preview, of what we can expect from Raymond Weil in 2018?
More musical special edition partnerships, with some of the biggest music acts on the planet. We are also focusing on our mechanical offering as well as our product for the female market. Raymond Weil remains one of very few brands that have an also equal split between male and female customers.
Will you be making any changes to Raymond Weil in the US? We have just moved our team in the U.S. to new offices in New York. We are excited by the opportunities that the U.S. offers to Raymond Weil. Our new office has been designed to showcase our watchmaking know-how by positioning our watchmakers right next to our reception desk so that any visitors to the office can see the intricate workings of our products. The U.S. remains our biggest market and I am pleased to be able to be part of the day-to-day workings of the team and the office.
What's your own very first fine watch?
A Raymond Weil of course… My grandfather gave me my first Raymond Weil watch – a W1. They had been produced to attract a young and trendy generation. It was the first Raymond Weil watch featuring carbon fiber.
For as long as I remember, I visited my grandfather and father at our offices in Geneva. As they say, Swiss watchmaking is in my DNA.