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Meet the Guy Behind Some of Today’s Best Vintage-Inspired Watches

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Guillaume Laidet talks resurrecting Nivada and Vulcain, his first watch, his next brand and more.

a man wearing a watchZen Love

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Watches in the 2020s often look like they’re straight out of the 1960s or ’70s. Nostalgia is the flavor of the decade, and at the forefront of that retro obsession is a 38-year-old Frenchman named Guillaume Laidet. He’s not just resurrecting forgotten watches, but entire brands — and with great success.

illustration of guillaume laidet
Watch revivalist Guillaume Laidet
Adam Cruft

A rising force in the industry, Laidet spent several years at major watch manufacturers before launching a Kickstarter-funded startup, making millions, then selling it only a few years later. Under his entrepreneurship, long-defunct Nivada and Excelsior Park are once again producing killer watches just like they did back in the day — actually, almost exactly like they did back in the day.

If that weren’t enough, he’s also behind the revival of storied watchmaker Vulcain. But lest you think you’ve got this watchmaking star pegged as a vintage-reissue one-trick pony, wait until you see his latest, totally modern and avant-garde project, SpaceOne.

You went from business school to operating multiple brands in under a decade. How did it happen?

I was working for Zenith and Jaeger-LeCoultre in Switzerland first, then I quit and I made a brand on Kickstarter named William L. 1985. It was my first entrepreneurial venture. I raised $200,000 in a few weeks, then I made a few million online and with retail. And it was all with affordable watches priced from 150 to … 500 euros.

“Without wearing this vintage chrono, I wouldn’t have had the idea to launch my first brand, and I wouldn’t be here right now.”

I sold William L. to the Korius Group, and I had an ambition to relaunch a few brands: Nivada Grenchen, Vulcain, Excelsior Park and Universal Geneve. The Montrichard Group in Hong Kong had been producing my watches, and it was through the CEO of Montrichard, Remi Chabrat, that I met the owner of Nivada and I was able to acquire the rights.

I bought Excelsior Park from the Tourneau Group, but Universal Geneve is owned by City Chain. We were in contact with a lawyer in Geneva who represented the brand, but they didn’t want to sell.

Was it always your goal to make watches? Why did you choose this industry?

I thought I was going to work for the wine and spirits industry because I’m from Cognac, and all my family is in the cognac business. My uncle has a small vineyard and he sells wine to Hennessy for making cognac. I did my internship at Moët Hennessy working on Belvedere Vodka and Hennessy Cognac.

But when I graduated, it was 2009, the financial crisis, so it was a shit year to get a diploma. There were no jobs available on the LVMH website for Hennessy or other wine and spirits, but there was an opening in watches

Was there a single watch that had an impact on you personally, or on your professional trajectory?

There were two watches. There was an Omega Constellation that I was always borrowing from my father, and that was the first beautiful mechanical watch I dreamed of owning. Then, he finally offered it to me for my business school graduation. He gave it to me … but in fact I already had it, so it’s more like he gave in.

The other one was a vintage chronograph from the ’50s that I inherited from my great-granduncle [when he was] moving. It was rusty, without a band and needed a full restoration; I had it restored in La Chaux-de-Fonds. I would wear this watch and a lot of my friends would ask me where to buy it, but it was too expensive for a young student.

So an idea came from this, from this watch: that was the vintage chrono that inspired me to create William L. And I think, without wearing this vintage chronograph, I wouldn’t have had the idea to launch my first brand, and I wouldn’t be here right now speaking to you about Nivada and Vulcain.

a man wearing a watch
New watches from Excelsior Park (top of page) and Nivada Grenchen (above and below) are near-exact replicas of vintage models. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Laidet says.
Nivada

What influenced you to make reviving brands your focus, and how did you arrive at your model for doing so?

I took a marketing position at Zenith; it was with Jean-Frédéric Dufour, who is now the CEO of Rolex. He was relaunching Zenith after [some] very complicated years and, in fact, he gave me the idea. He taught me a lot. I learned about how to relaunch a brand with heritage, because he relaunched the El Primero Chronograph 1969 and the Elite collection. And it was always based on a very interesting book about Zenith’s history with all the best chronographs.

And that’s a bit like what I did with the Chronomaster Only book and reviving Nivada. That book is the bible for Nivada.

How do you identify a watch brand to resurrect? What are the factors that make it possible or worthwhile to pursue?

There needs to be something I like in the collection. For example, it was easy for Nivada, with the Chronomaster or the Depthmaster. And then, the rights to the brand also have to be affordable, not owned by a big group — because if they’re owned by a big group they’ll sell for big money.

a watchNivada

You also have to check if there’s enough traction — if there are enough vintage pieces, for example, on Chrono24.com at a good price. That’s a big thing to know: whether there’s a secondary market. If there is no secondary market, that means the brand has no traction and no serious fan base or collector base.

Then, you need to check, for example, the brand’s hashtags on social media and if you have enough people already posting about the watch. Then, you can see the level of the community’s engagement. And you can check on Google Trends if there is some traction, too. So with all these tools, you can see if there’s enough potential or not to relaunch it.

Why focus on vintage reissues? And why is it important for them to be faithful reproductions?

I prefer to be true to the original and to make re-editions as close as possible to the vintage ones because I think something like the vintage Chronomaster is perfect. The size is perfect, the look is super cool. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel and make a big, fat, 44mm, automatic motherfucker.

That’s what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to do it like TAG Heuer does. I think for me it’s: stay true to the size and thickness, [because] that’s what the collector wants. I try to always make [the watch] the most authentic I can — to be slim, to be 37mm, for example, to have the right indexes, to have the right crown … so my engineering team hates me, but in the end, you have something perfect.

3 watches laying on a black jacket
These Super Antarctic watches derive from the original Nivada Antarctic collection launched in 1950.
Nivada

What other brands, entrepreneurs or personalities do you particularly admire?

I would say Max Busser. It’s insane what he’s doing with [his brand] MB&F, and he started from scratch. What’s crazy is that he was a product manager at Jaeger-LeCoultre and then he was at Harry Winston very early. And then he created MB&F. This guy is very inspiring for what he’s done and what he’s still doing.

[Then, there’s] Jean-Frédéric Dufour, because he taught me the basics. I was also impressed by Jerome Lambert when he was CEO of Jaeger[-LeCoultre]. I think he’s probably one of the most clever minds I’ve met. He has a computer in his head, he remembers everything. He’s now the Richemont Group CEO.

How do you grow from here? What’s next?

Right now I have a lot on my plate. And I would like to spend more time on Excelsior Park, to be honest, because Vulcain took a lot of time and Nivada is growing up. We’re opening at Watches of Switzerland next month, and my goal for this year would be to open more points of sale.

“I prefer to be true to the original. So, my engineering team hates me but, in the end, you have something perfect.”

And, in addition, there’s my new crazy brand, SpaceOne. This concept is not only for watch geeks like me, it’s also for tech guys and Star Wars guys or Star Trek guys. It’s a bit avant-garde, like an MB&F or De Bethune for the masses.

I’m working with a French watchmaker, Théo Auffret, on it. He’s making five to 10 handmade tourbillon watches per year, but he also has crazy ideas to make more affordable watches.

So we use a Soprod P024 movement with a jumping hour module made by Théo Auffret, and the watches will be in steel, titanium or carbon; they’ll be assembled in France, and [available] starting at $1,500.

So I think for now, it’s enough to keep me busy. Unless the Universal Geneve guy comes knocking, but it seems that’s not going to happen for a few years.

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