SINGAPORE (Nov 5): An appreciation for watches runs in Swiss-born Raymond Loretan’s veins, but he only truly sharpened his interest some 16 years ago, when he was posted to Singapore in an ambassadorial capacity. In his role as a diplomat, he was involved in all events that promoted Switzerland and, of course, that included watches.
Today, this early-on interest in watches has stood Loretan in good stead, as he has taken on the role of president of the Foundation of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), known in horological circles as the Oscars of the watchmaking world. Watchmakers from all over the world are invited to submit nominees to any of the 12 categories, following which 72 timepieces are shortlisted. The jury then selects the winner for each category and the results will be announced at a ceremony at the Théâtre du Léman in Geneva on Nov 9.
While this marks the 18th year that the awards ceremony has been held, GPHG has been part of the foundation since only 2011. The foundation was established by five members, including the Canton of Geneva, to ensure the independence and integrity of the awards ceremony. Loretan takes his role so seriously that he does not even wear a watch, and neither does he entertain questions about his personal collection. “I don’t wear a watch, not because I don’t like them, but mainly not to show which one I am wearing. You might think it’s a small detail, but nobody wears a watch [in the team]. I do have several watches — I wouldn’t say I collect them — but I have given all of them to my son.”
This level of neutrality is crucial to his role, as he does not want to be seen promoting any particular brand — a lesson of diplomacy that he has picked up in his long career. A trained lawyer, Loretan has worked in the interest of the Swiss government for more than 20 years in different roles, from being the Counsellor for European Affairs of the Canton of Valais to being Consul General of Switzerland in New York. Today, Loretan wears several hats and is chairman of Aevis, a group that runs 17 hospitals in Switzerland, and the Diplomatic Club of Geneva. He sits on the board of various companies and organisations, including the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, which resolves conflicts in war-stricken areas. “I have a past of being a Swiss diplomat, so I am [imbued with] the values of Swiss neutrality, independence and universality,” he says.
These are the same values that the foundation espouses, and Loretan sees his role in GPHG as a watch ambassador. “The only interest I have is to promote the whole group — that’s exactly the definition of ambassador; he has the interest of his country but has neither personal nor financial interest.”
Thus, for the brands that do bag top prize at GPHG, it is a great honour. Not only is it a valuable marketing tool, it also gives them bragging rights and credibility, especially for independent upstarts. Moreover, GPHG also promises exposure, as it organises roving exhibitions in selected cities around the world to showcase all 72 shortlisted watches in the months preceding the award ceremony. This year, the exhibition travelled to Venice, Hong Kong and Singapore. It was hosted here by The Hour Glass, whose group managing director Michael Tay is also a jury on the panel of GPHG. “Asia will always remain a priority,” says Loretan, when we meet a day after the opening ceremony at The Hour Glass’ Malmaison boutique. “What we are experiencing here in Singapore is really convincing, not only because it’s a good market for the brands, but we encounter real watch lovers here. They’re not only the really rich people; these are people who care for watches and are interested.”
As part of his master plan, Loretan wants GPHG to expand exponentially and gain further recognition as “the” international watch prize. In fact, the award is also open to non-Swiss brands and, this year, has accepted Malaysian and Japanese entries — a little-known fact that Loretan would like more people to know about.
Eventually, too, he believes the current format should morph into a watch academy. “There are a few things that I do want to change, but step by step because this is a sensitive industry. One thing I want to do is enlarge the number of jury members to create a sort of academy. These are things we’re thinking about and developing theoretically, but it’s complicated. We have to make the prize evolve.”
For that, Loretan will need the support of bigger horological players such as Patek Philippe, Rolex and Omega, which do not participate in GPHG. This is where Loretan’s diplomatic skills will come to the fore, as these ambitions will surely prove to be challenging. As he says, “It’s really about how to manage relations with international actors. It’s intuition, it’s like watches. When you create a new watch, you follow intuition.”
Formerly a deputy editor at a local magazine, Karishma Tulsidas is deeply entrenched in the worlds of watches and jewellery, but loves the thrill of diving deep into and writing about hitherto unknown subjects.
This article appeared in Issue 855 (Nov 5) of The Edge Singapore.