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Forging successful relationships

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon • 10 min read
Forging successful relationships
Stefanie Ng on the challenges she faces as CEO for Southeast Asia, including India and Australia at Audemars Piguet
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Stefanie Ng has faced one of the biggest challenges in just a few months of taking on her role as CEO for Southeast Asia, including India and Australia at Audemars Piguet. She quickly made changes when the pandemic struck and has hit on a successful formula.

Stefanie Ng has, since 2012, been an elegant and eloquent presence at every single Audemars Piguet timepiece launch. She is clear, concise and to the point as she shares with the media the many salient points of a watch.

Over the years — first, as Regional Marketing Manager for Southeast Asia to Marketing and Operations Director — Ng always strikes a friendly, yet professional rapport with her staff, client and her endearing relationship with the media that has earned her the title of CEO for Southeast Asia, including India and Australia at the end of 2019. She is the first Asian and first woman to hold such a position in the watch industry that has long been dominated by men.

When Ng took over her CEO role in late 2019, she could not have anticipated that she would face the biggest challenge yet and that was the Cov- id-19 pandemic. One would think that many plans will have to change. On the contrary, she says: “Our plans remain the same. It’s just how we prioritise them. Face-to-face engagement went totally out the window. We couldn’t even continue to do this kind of interaction with our customers. How are we going to continue building that relationship with the customer? We had to change our ways and increase our service level between our boutique team with our clients. I would say that was the key, pivotal change that we had to make”.

Her plan all along was to improve and enhance the relationship with customers but that changed to either virtual or through social messaging. She adds: “People still miss that kind of physical interaction. As social restriction guidelines start to ease, that’s where we take that opportunity, then it becomes the intimate group [sessions] instead of how we normally do with larger groups”.

Whether small or large groups, Ng has proven her competence when she is hosting an Audemars Piguet event or taking a group of media on a press trip to visit the manufacture in the Vallée de Joux, at the heart of the Swiss Jura where masterpieces are created such as sporty models, classic and traditional timepieces, ladies’ jewellery-watches, as well as one-of- a-kind creations.

Audemars Piguet is the oldest fine watchmaking manufacturer still in the hands of its founding families (Audemars and Piguet). Since 1875, the company has written some of the finest chapters in the history of Haute Horlogerie, including a number of world firsts.

It may seem that Ng is all about work, 24/7. The media has seen flashes of her personal life when she scrolls through her phone to show us images of her epic safari trip in Africa she took a few years ago. She is also known to let her hair down at a Backstreet Boys concert.

For this interview with Options, Ng is — as always — immaculately turned out in a baby pink dress and a white blazer and high heels which she later swapped for flats to get comfortable which puts us at ease too. Ng is articulate and speaks very clearly about her passion for what she does.

What strategies are you adopting to lead Audemars Piguet out of the pandemic as Asia begins to slowly open up?

The keyword here is relationship. And I think this pandemic has really emphasised the importance of relationships between people, whether Is it the company with employees, or even the clients with the company, the clients with the staff. That has been, I would say, the key to how we keep our brand strong and how we keep our customers interested in wanting to know more about the brand.

You have been with Audemars Piguet since 2012 and we are sure you have seen some changes along the way. What are some or one that you remember clearly, can you share that with us?

The first one was definitely our route to focusing on retail. The shift, it was really a business shift, since I joined in 2012; it has been part of the team to witness this whole change. It has been and still is very enriching, we learn, we get to know our customers; we have become closer to our customers; we have our ears on the ground. And that was one key change that I’m very lucky to experience the shift from a wholesale business to a retail business.

The next key change was a new initiative which was our association with contemporary art. We started the relationship with Art Basel in 2013. That partnership — and it’s still ongoing till now — is an extension when I joined in 2012.

The biggest project that I was handed over with was the Royal Oak 40th anniversary celebration, and that’s where the team explored working with contemporary artists. And this extended into the Art Basel partnership and our art commission programme. Up to now, we are still going strong with these initiatives.

What are some of your favourite timepieces launched last year?
I would say two references. The first one is Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet with the burgundy lacquered dial. I particularly like how red is incorporated into such a contemporary timepiece and how the colour stands out yet subtle in its own ways. Of course, the other one is the Royal Oak concept ladies flying tourbillon, something that is both aesthetically fine and it has a technical uniqueness to it.

Any hints on this year’s collection?

Novelties are in the pipeline and it is going to be centred around three key themes: Harder, stronger; be yourself and serious fun.

You also saw the launch of Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet, is this a harbinger of more women’s watches to come out of the manufacture?

Actually, Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet is a gender-neutral collection. And the design of this collection is meant to suit the lifestyle of a client rather than the gender. Women have always been an important part of our brand – be it through code or other collections. We will always see new launches for ladies.

When Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet made its debut, it had a love/hate reaction on the global stage. What about the markets that you cover? How was it received?

Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet really marks a milestone in the brand’s history, and specifically in the 21st century. There will always be two types of reaction when it comes to a new collection. It is somehow through the digital world and through social media that the negative [comments] tends to get amplified.

But as François-Henry Bennahmi- as, CEO of Audemars Piguet has always reminded us, let’s take the criticism in our stride and continue to do better. And that’s what we’ve been focused on. As a result, we have seen a very good following for Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet. I’ve also personally met clients who bought their first Audemars Piguet — and it’s a Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet.

Do you think your role as the first Asian female CEO in a mostly-male industry will help to bring in more female customers?

In recent years, we have already seen an increase in female clients. Women are starting to look at watches as part of their daily accessory and we in fact, have female clients who are very much interested in the technicalities of our timepieces. I certainly hope that this will continue and we would really be able to promote luxury watchmaking of fine watchmaking within the women category.

What about e-commerce? Is that another avenue to get the younger and more tech-savvy customers?
We have started e-commerce projects since 2019. Now we have a selection of our timepieces on Net-A-Porter. E-commerce will always be a complementary platform for us to reach out to younger clients.

At the end of the day, we still believe that our young customers would still like that physical interaction. And coming back to our first point on talking about the relationship, what is the strategy or one of the key focuses that we have right now is focusing on the people-to-people or human connection.

When I say younger customers, like the physical interaction, it does not even mean within the four walls. We could even be establishing relationships with customers outside of the boutique outside of a brand environment through our event or through our hospitality activations. And these are all aspects that we put in to continue on the people-to-people strategy,

From what you have observed, is your customer base getting younger?

We do see customers bring in their parents to buy their first watch.

Are we likely to see more art collaboration? Are you looking into this as lockdown in some countries is still enforced?

Our art collaboration with Art Basel continues, and so does our art commissioned programme. It’s really just how we bring it to our clients. Now with borders being closed, it is a matter of how we are going to communicate it and showcase it.

Moving forward, what plans are in the pipeline? Can you reveal at the moment and share with our readers?

We continue to launch the novelties in our own way, and that is by doing it virtually. But clients can expect to see new collections or new products being launched periodically throughout the year, not just concentrated on a certain specific period of time.

Learning to code

Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet launches five new Selfwinding date, hour, minute and second references and five new Self-winding Chronograph models.

Some of the changes include smoked lacquered dials with sunburst pattern in shades of blue, burgundy, purple, as well as light and dark grey with an extra-thin bezel with a double curved glareproof sapphire crystal.

The new dials match the beauty of the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet with its unmistakable octagonal middle case, round extra-thin bezel and stylised lugs. The unconventional case design takes the ancestral hand- finishing techniques to new heights with even more details.

Apart from the dials, Audemars Piguet has paid close attention to its Selfwinding date, hour, minute and second models as well as its Selfwinding Chronograph models with a two- tone case aesthetics with an 18-carat white and pink gold. This combination highlights the case’s aesthetic beauty.

Each watch comes with a hand-stitched “large-square scale” alligator strap matching the dial’s colour.

Royal concept

Audemars Piguet launch- es the Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT specially designed for the Southeast Asian market to honour its longstanding relationship with Southeast Asia. The timepiece features a sand-blasted 18-carat pink gold case that puts the two-tone open-worked design in the spotlight. The timepiece is curved so that it hugs the wrist comfortably, at 44mm in diameter this is a welcome feature.
The design is also a study in contrast as the 18-carat pink gold complements the grey ceramic. The case is topped off with the distinct Royal Oak octagonal bezel in grey ceramic, hand-finished with an alternation of satin-brushed and polished surfaces.

Another noticeable feature is that the dial is intentionally left out so that we can view the inner workings of the watch, in particular the advanced hand-wound micro-mechanics. The flying tourbillon is nestled in the redesigned bridges in grey shades and takes centre stage at the nine o’clock position, this heightens the watch’s 3D architecture design. On closer look at the exposed movement, you will notice the pink gold-toned inner bezel and pink gold hands, the attention to detail is remarkable.

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