An Interview with Nicolas Sestito, COO of Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry Co.
Heavily decorated with elegant black and white photographs of horses and equestrian events and furnished with rich leather chairs and coffee tables covered in zebra hide, the Ralph Lauren club-styled booth at the last Salon International of Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva suggested sophistication and glamour, channeling the world of the American designer who has spent nearly 50 years defining a certain American style. Lauren may have started small in 1967, designing ties, but brick by brick he has built a fashion empire with a turnover of $7.4 billion last year, extending to multiple new brands over the years such as Ralph Lauren Home in 1983, Ralph Lauren Paint in 1995 and Rugby by Ralph Lauren in 2005. And in the process has offered the world his vision of a prized lifestyle.
Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry Co., was launched in 2007 as a 50-50 partnership with the Compagnie Financière Richemont – owner of some of the world’s most renowned luxury brands, such as Cartier, Piaget, and Van Cleef & Arpels, amongst others. With the unveiling of the first Ralph Lauren timepieces in 2009 at SIHH, the brand immediately sought to position itself in the luxury timepiece business leveraging on the strength of both partners to present a strong aesthetic with high-end mechanical movements made by Piaget,Jaeger-LeCoultre, or IWC.
“Ralph Lauren is the soul of the project, and the watches. He is the designer, the creator, he is involved in every aspect of the watch brand,” explains Nicolas Sestito, who has been COO of Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry Co. since 2010. “With Ralph, it’s always about the concept, the idea. Like in the case of the automotive collection: Ralph has a personal interest in vintage cars, he loves those and has an important collection, which he has even shown to the public in 2011 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs,” remarks Sestito. “This (watch) collection started with the interior of his 1938 Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic Coupe, in particular its wood dashboard. He wanted to incorporate that beautiful wood element onto his watch so we started thinking about different woods that would bring back that rich atmosphere. The result I think is a very strong design,” Sestito says. Some of the pieces of the latest 2015 Automotive Collection feature a wooden bezel in amboyna burl, while others display elm burl wood on the dial. “For Ralph it’s all about emotion, more about feeling. Everything is about the aesthetic, and then you think about the movement. Here, the design is not at the service of the technique, but it’s the other way around. It starts with the design,” Sestito says, adding “With him we have the opportunity to work at 180 degrees, he is very open to new ideas. But I have to forget all my principles in my classic watchmaking training to think differently. We have to realize Ralph’s vision and put the world of Ralph Lauren into the product. It is still an incredible challenge, but it’s a real pleasure. I’m very privileged to work with Ralph because he works on all the products, he’s very involved in details; the product is totally him.”
Ralph Lauren timepieces already have strong identifiable styles, with the stirrup-shaped cases of the Stirrup Collection inspired by the equestrian heritage of the Polo label, the wood of its Automobile Collection, the ‘aged’ blackened steel finish (also called Gunmetal) of the Safari Collection and the vintage fashioned, Art Deco style of his 867 Collection, named after the iconic New York flagship store at 867 Madison Avenue, with its smaller vintage size and distinctive barleycorn guilloche pattern on the dials.
This year, Ralph Lauren launched 13 novelties, primarily adding to the Automotive and Safari collections, with the main talking piece – theRL Automotive Skeleton; this is the first time the brand is featuring an open-worked, hand-wound mechanical movement framed/highlighted by a lustrous amboyna burl bezel that recalls a steering wheel. Sestito said the company’s aim right now is to consolidate its current ‘families’ of timepieces, though Lauren could decide to add “one or two more inspirations” on top of the current four collections. The company would also like to re-launch the jewelry business that was first started in 2010, Sestito says. “This is something we want to push more, reactivating that project. This is a great opportunity and challenge for us. We’re still in the process to define the strategy, but we need the same concept as the watches. A right balance between the design and the craftsmanship.”