An Interview with Chabi Nouri, CEO of Piaget
Women are underrepresented generally in high-level management positions, and the luxury watch and jewelry industry is no exception.
Some brands are aware of the imbalance in their executive ranks. Johann Rupert, chairman of the luxury group Richemont, told investors during a presentation last November that he wanted to see “less gray men, less gray Frenchmen” in its executive ranks, adding “we have too few women, we don’t have enough diversity.” The group has 11 watch and jewelry brands — all headed by men.
That will change April 1, when Chabi Nouri becomes global chief executive of Piaget.
Ms. Nouri, a Swiss national, joined Cartier in 1998 right out of the University of Fribourg, where she studied economics and marketing. She rose quickly through the ranks to become jewelry group manager at Cartier International in 2004, and left in 2009 to work as global head of brand for Vogue cigarettes at British American Tobacco.
But she returned to the Richemont group in 2014 as Piaget’s director of marketing, communications and heritage, and was named to her current job — international managing director of sales and marketing — in September. Here, Ms. Nouri discusses her industry and Piaget.
There are very few women at the top in the luxury watch and jewelry industry. Do you think you’re breaking a glass ceiling?
I have personally never felt a ceiling and have always evolved within organizations that were and are willing to increase their diversity, which is fantastic because diversity, in my view, offers different perspectives, different filters and allows [us] to define more robust strategies. And the professional world definitely needs more diversity. I am very happy to represent that in a way.
How has your career prepared you for the new position?
I’m very curious and I like to look at things with different filters, which is why I didn’t really focus on one side of the business throughout my career. Instead, I did a lot of different jobs.
When I joined Cartier in Switzerland, I started as a watch product manager, then I went to the headquarters [in Paris] and was in charge of merchandising for all the retail stores, cutting across all the brand’s offerings. And then I went into retail, and was put in charge of boutique operations for half of the network [United States, emerging markets and a part of Europe]. I was also lucky enough to experience the fast-moving consumer goods business [at British American Tobacco] and developed my trade, finance and management skills.
All of this has given me a multicultural and multicontext background, and I think it has helped me in the last few years and will help me in comprehending the complete environment. It has put me in a good position to understand all the different parts of the business I have to deal with.
The announcement of your appointment mentioned you’ve “already had a strong impact” at Piaget.
It’s really been about refocusing on our DNA and values and bringing forward the uniqueness of Piaget.
We always had a fusion of sorts between jewelry and watches, and that’s what I’ve found very interesting: The brand was not saying we’re going to approach jewelry as jewelry, and watches as watches, it was always a fusion between the two worlds, which is very unique to Piaget. And this is really what my team and I wanted to focus on, and bring this back again to the surface.
For women, historically, Piaget has also been about trying to find new ways to wear jewelry, with the sautoir watches, the cuff watches and bracelets, and so we’ve brought those back, and recently we’ve also introduced the ear cuffs. This is the pioneering side of Piaget, its more audacious side.
I had a clear mission to balance our business and accelerate the development of our jewelry segment. So we decided to relaunch and focus on our jewelry icon [collection] Possession, and we are enjoying very successful results with that.
Are you focusing more on the high end of the market?
No, it’s really about finding a balance between the haute joaillerie, the high-end exclusive world, and fine jewelry. They are complete different worlds, with different creations, different people working on these products and selling them, and different types of clients. So you need to engage clients via specific channels.
For example, for high jewelry, it’s more one-on-one in terms of engagement and communication, while for fine jewelry, it will be more about digital campaign: two completely distinct business models, low volume versus high volume.
On the watch side, Piaget has been increasing its collaborations with artisans, bringing out collections with micro-mosaics, feathers and other unusual craftsmanship on dials. Do you see this continuing?
Absolutely. Since the beginning we’ve tried to work differently on the dials, and we’ve been able to unleash our creativity because our ultrathin movements take less space.
In the 1960s, the 9P ultrathin manual-winding caliber opened up all manner of possibility for ornamentation and color using hard stones like malachite, lapis lazuli, jade and tiger’s-eye on the dials. What’s interesting is that we’ve reached out to artisans that were usually not working on dials and asked them to interpret their own work in a smaller space. And I think it has been exciting for both sides.
Most recently, we worked with feather artists Nelly Saunier and Emilie Moutard-Martin, and we presented in January some new jewelry watches working with an artisan using an unusual gold lacework technique that she’s developed.
Last year, Piaget introduced its first steel model, the Polo S. What was the thinking?
Today we have a very large offering of very elegant watches, but more for evening-wear watches and special-occasion watches, and we wanted to have a day watch that would be more casual wear, though it’s still very thin and elegant. Of course it also allows us to talk to a different type of clientele. We need to expand our offering if we want to appeal to a wider, younger and diverse clientele.
What is your vision for Piaget?
The priority is really to raise the awareness of the rich assets of this maison. It has a very unique personality and we want to make that known much more. We have a very interesting balance between elegant and audacious creations, and going back to the origin and our DNA, it’s a brand that has always been driven by a very positive energy, a shared joy and audacity. And that’s really what we want to bring forward, what I called the sunny side of life.
As first written for The New York Times (published March 24, 2017)