37 Chemin du Champ-des-Filles
Telephone: (+41) 32-865-14-14 Fax: (+41) 32-865-14-74
Web site: http://www.int.piaget.com
Employees: 1,000 (est.)
NAICS: 339910 Jewelry and Silverware Manufacturing; 334518 Watch, Clock, and Part Manufacturing
Based in Plan-les-Ouates, Switzerland, Piaget International SA is a luxury watch and jewelry manufacturer. At the heart of the company's business are ultrathin women's wristwatches. Additionally, Piaget produces jewelry watches, gold bracelet watches, and steel watches. Its jewelry lines include rings, bracelets, earrings, and pendants, as well as wedding rings and bands. Piaget also offers several models of ultrathin watches for men. The company employs about 400 artisans at its two production workshops located in Geneva and La Côte-aux-Fées, Switzerland. Its products are sold in about 80 Piaget-branded boutiques and a network of authorized retailers around the world. Piaget is a subsidiary of Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, a Swiss luxury goods company. Yves Piaget, a fourth-generation member of the Piaget family, serves as chair of Piaget International.
Piaget International's origins date to 1874, when a 19-year-old farmer named Georges-Édouard Piaget opened a workshop in the small mountain village of La Côteaux-Fées to make movements and components for pocket watches as a way to earn money during the harsh winter months. His commitment to quality workmanship soon caught the attention of larger Swiss watchmakers, which resulted in a thriving business. In 1911 his son, Timothée Piaget, took charge of the venture.
In 1914 Europe became embroiled in World War I, during which the practical wristwatch was used on the battlefield. It was hardly a new invention, the first wristwatch having been produced in 1868 by the Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. Before World War I, wristwatches were only worn by women for decorative purposes, with the exception of the German Imperial Navy during the 1880s or by soldiers during the Boer War later in the century, but these rudimentary wristwatches were essentially pocket watches lashed to the arm. During the early 20th century watchmakers, such as the predecessor company to Rolex, began experiments with wristwatches for men. Because of World War I, the wristwatch, which was worn by army officers and airplane pilots on the Western Front, became highly associated with masculinity. In 1917 Louis Cartier created his iconic Tank Watch, which was inspired by the Renault tanks he had seen on the battlefield as a soldier. Over the following decades the Cartier Tank Watch would be reinterpreted multiple times and worn by countless celebrities.
After the war the wristwatch steadily overtook the pocket watch in popularity. During the 1920s, under the leadership of the second generation, the Piaget company expanded beyond movements and components to begin producing wristwatches and pocket watches, although the market for the latter virtually disappeared before World War II erupted. The company did not sell timepieces under its own name; instead, it produced them for other companies.
It was brothers Gerald and Valentin Piaget, grandsons of the founder, who took the next step in the evolution of the family business. In 1943 they registered the Piaget trademark. Two years later they opened a new large production facility in La Côte-aux-Fées and began producing wristwatches under the Piaget name.
Of the two brothers, Valentin was the craftsman and Gerald the visionary-businessman. According to his obituary published by Colin McDowell in the Guardian in April 1997, Gerald Piaget “realised that a major and untapped growth area for the prestigious Swiss watch was the women's market. Great watch designs, such as the Cartier Tank watch, had been primarily aimed at pandering to the vanity of the rich male, and there was only a secondary spin-off into the women's market.” Although men may have been attracted to precise time, mechanical ingenuity, and sheer heft, Piaget believed that attention to fashion opened the door to the women's market and the key to that door was slimness. Small fashionable women's watches were being made during the postwar years, but the reduced faces made it difficult to actually read the time. Piaget chose slim over small to create a larger face and movement while maintaining the elegance that women sought.
During the 1950s Valentin Piaget and his designers devoted all their efforts to creating the slimmest, lightest watch casing on the market, a task that was made more difficult at a time before quartz crystals and microchips. Having to rely on a more traditional movement design, he employed a team of goldsmiths to fashion wafer-thin parts. Finally, in 1957, Piaget introduced the caliber 9P, which at just two millimeters in thickness became the world's first ultrathin wristwatch. It also included a larger hand-stone dial that became a distinctive feature of Piaget wristwatches for about the next 15 years. Moreover, the larger dials made possible by the ultrathin casings allowed Piaget to add diamonds during the 1960s. The designs became more elaborate and over time Piaget became known as a maker of jewelry watches, not just thin watches. Also in 1957 Piaget introduced the Emperador men's watch.
Gerald Piaget added his marketing genius to the 9P, a unique product to which he added the concept of exclusivity. “So he focused on the super-rich,” McDowell explained. “Even the cheapest models cost in excess of $20,000 and a platinum watch with 295 diamonds cost $3 million. With prices like that Piaget couldn't fail; very wealthy women wanted one of his watches to show superiority over the merely rich, who had to be content with Cartier or even Rolex, both names considered rather vulgar and lacking in style by the cognoscenti.”
In 1959 Piaget opened its first store in Geneva. Called Salon Piaget, it showcased the new watches as well as jewelry pieces the company produced. By that point Piaget had become more vertically integrated, employing its own goldsmiths and gem-setters. It not only controlled the entirety of watch production but it also diversified into fine jewelry manufacturing.
While his brother appealed to the vanity of the ultrarich, Valentin Piaget continued his work on ultrathin casings. To complement the 9P, a manually wound watch, he and his team turned their attention to creating the world's slimmest automatic caliber wristwatch. Starting from scratch, over the next two years they developed a case that could accommodate the revolutionary micro-rotor. The result was the 12P, a wristwatch that at 2.3 millimeters was barely thicker than the 9P. It was introduced at the Basel fair in 1960 to the amazement of the watchmaking world. More than a decade would pass before another company was able to meet, much less surpass, the achievement.
The 1970s were considered to be the golden age for Piaget, when, according to Rachel Garrahan in the New York Times in February 2016, “its luxurious creations in textured gold and turquoise, malachite and lapis were part of the glamorous lifestyles of the wealthy jet set.” During this period Valentin Piaget did not abandon his focus on slenderness. His continuing efforts resulted in the 1976 introduction of the caliber 7P, the thinnest quartz movement watch on the market. On the fashion end, Piaget introduced the Piaget Polo watch, which was a tribute to the chosen sport of the fabulously wealthy.
In 1981 Gerald Piaget turned over the CEO post to his son, Yves Piaget, who had been involved with the company since the 1960s. By 1987 Piaget was generating $65 million in annual sales and Baume & Mercier contributed another $45 million. The following year the Piaget family decided to sell majority control of both companies to Cartier SA. The family retained a 40 percent interest and Yves Piaget remained CEO of the Piaget company. Another family member, Christian Piaget, became CEO of Baume & Mercier. Both watch companies continued to operate as separate entities.
As part of a larger enterprise, Piaget expanded on multiple fronts during the 1990s. The Possession jewelry collection was introduced in 1990. The following year the Tanagra watch line, which featured heavily sculptured 18-karat gold cases and distinct dials, was unveiled in Europe, followed by the Tanagra jewelry line. Both lines were subsequently introduced in the United States. In September 1996 Piaget opened its first branded store in the United States, located at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in New York City. The 3,750-square-foot, two-level store was modeled after the Piaget boutiques in Geneva and Paris. Overall, it was Piaget's 10th store. Additional locations in Bangkok and Barcelona opened later in the year. On a somber note, Gerald Piaget died at the age of 79 in 1997.
The new century brought further growth for Piaget. In 2001 a new workshop opened in Geneva and a second retail store opened in the upscale community of Bal Harbour, Florida. Meanwhile, the company modified its sales model, reaching out to a wider range of customers, in particular younger women, by offering contemporary designs and lower price points (albeit those prices still ranged between $3,800 and $15,000). The company did not neglect its heritage, however. It successfully relaunched the Polo watch. In 2002 Piaget demonstrated its ongoing commitment to innovation with the introduction of its first steel watch, the Upstream. It featured a unique folding bezel instead of a traditional clasp and came in seven models and self-winding and quartz movements. That same year Piaget introduced the Possession, Dancer, and Limelight jewelry lines, priced between $1,500 and $5,000, as well as Pearlissima, the company's first pearl-oriented collection. Also in late 2002 Piaget opened a third store in the United States, located at The Breakers five-star resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Piaget boutiques around the world now numbered 28. The New York store, in the meantime, was closed for a top-to-bottom renovation. It reopened during the summer of 2003.
Movado Group, Inc.; Rolex SA; Vacheron & Constantin SA.
Andrews, Edmund L. “Gerald Piaget, 79, Maker of Luxury Watches.” New York Times, April 17, 1997.
Belcher, David. “Wrist Watches: From Battlefield to Fashion Accessory.” New York Times, October 22, 2013.
Chabbott, Sophia. “Piaget Boosts Store Count, Jewelry Quotient.” WWD, March 3, 2008, 20.
DeMarco, Anthony. “Yves Piaget Discusses the 140-Year History of Piaget.” Forbes, March 15, 2015.
Garrahan, Rachel. “Piaget: Burnishing Brand.” New York Times, February 23, 2016.
Hessen, Wendy. “Piaget Ticks in Prime Time.” WWD, September 9, 1996, 14.
McDowell, Colin. “Making Time for a Feminine Market: Obituary of Gerald Piaget.” Guardian (London), April 23, 1997.
Newman, Jill. “Cartier in Watch Deal.” WWD, April 27, 1988, 31.