Next we traversed those Alps, heading for Switzerland to discover the luxury watchmaking industry in the heart of the Jura Watch Valley, Neuchâtel. Our introductory lecture on ‘Swiss Watchmaking’ was given by François Courvoisier, Kaloust Zorik, and Maria Bashutkina.
The Jura Mountains are where much of the Swiss watch-making industry was first established and remains to this present day, cradling centuries of tradition and rigor. The know-how of the great Swiss watch houses’ skilled artisans has forged their world-renowned reputation. Here, the world’s most expensive watches are made!
In Biel we visited the HQ of Omega, seeing not only their production lines and museum but also enjoying a brand presentation by the CEO and discussion of the brand’s marketing strategy. In addition, we had the good fortune to visit the museums and production lines of Audemars Piguet, Longines and Hublot.
Our time in the Watch Valley ended with the obligatory cheese fondue and presentations at the University of Applied Sciences ARC on ‘Organization of watch industry distribution and retailing’ by Jérome Biard, CEO of LPI and ‘The importance of sponsorship in the watch industry’ by Maartens De Winer, Co-founder, Sponsorize.
Finally we arrived in France, exploring the Montagne de Reims Champagne Route. Reims is France’s de facto capital of the Champagne region, home to many of the well-known champagne houses that offer tastings and cellar tours. Meticulously restored after both world wars, Reims is endowed with handsome pedestrian boulevards, Roman remains and a flourishing fine-dining scene.
At NEOMA Business School, Prof. Nathalie Spielmann lectured on champagne marketing after which we had the opportunity to visit a Champagne House – G.H.Mumm – followed by a gala dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant, Les Crayères. This experience created a holistic understanding and appreciation of fine dining and champagne, which only comes from interacting with highly knowledgeable and passionate local experts.
Before heading to Paris, we had lectures on ’Luxury and prime locations’ and ‘Leveraging savoir-faire in the luxury sector’ by Stéphane Fourneaux and Fabien Seraidarian (Mazars) respectively. For that is the essence of travel today – the ability to be elsewhere quickly, the abundance of first-hand knowledge, which leads to the ability to learn about the world in a variety of ways.
When it comes to diving into iconic French luxury brands, Paris is the place. Catherine Bruneteaux-Swan and Benoît Davaillon spoke to us on the core luxury marketing and retail concepts; to be steeped in the French concept of savoir-faire, hôtellerie and boutiques, we had visits to the flagship stores and boutiques of Hermès, Shang Xia, Cartier, Fred and Mauboussin, all of which exuded brilliance, artistry, finesse and a lesson in retailing and visual merchandising. Our final task was taking the mystery-shopping journey and critiquing celebrated luxury brand stores such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior on Champs Elysées, Montaigne, Cambon Avenues and Galéries Lafayette. This was a great amalgamation of perspective, both from the brand storytelling and consumer viewpoint. The study tour wrapped up with dinner at La Coupole that stretched into the Paris midnight.
I think the tour gave us much more than just a window inside the top heritage luxury brands, but also inculcated a strong sense of urgency, tenacity and efficiency. Overall it embodied the best of luxury in the specific place and time.
In conclusion, this trip will always be a major landmark of our MGLux journey and its true essence is this – ‘a mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimension’!