When speaking to Jonathan Purnell, Chairman and Co – Founder of Cecil Purnell it becomes clear that there is one driving force in his life: the passion for the craft of watchmaking. His grandfather, the brand’s namesake Cecil Purnell, studied the craft in the early decades of the 20th century. Following the tradition of the 18th century Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, Purnell became fascinated with the intricate and sensitive tourbillon mechanism. His fascination and knowledge of the tourbillon watch was passed on to his son and later his grandson, Jonathan. In the early 2000’s, after working in the watch industry for many years, Jonathan Purnell and his business partner decided to honour the Purnell family legacy by building a company dedicated to tourbillon watches under the name of Cecil Purnell. “Like my grandfather, my father was passionate about watches, but I was the first to found a business around our family name and honouring a passion that has been with us for generations.”, he says. Cecil Purnell is indeed an interesting case of a family business that has been founded by the third generation.
Often considered the pinnacle of watchmaking, the tourbillon mechanism requires a great attention to detail and an eye for the intricate. Jonathan Purnell proudly states “We are the only Haute Horlogerie manufacturer in Switzerland that focuses exclusively on Tourbillon and we will never do anything else.” Staying true to his grandfather’s vision of the ultimate watchmaking method, Cecil Purnell only produces up to 50 watches every year, most of which are customised to their client’s wishes in their workshop in Geneva. The company’s founders aim to bring something new to the market every year, despite the challenges of being a small, niche brand. Jonathan Purnell sees the philosophical aspect of it, and points out that “you have to be passionate about what you do in this industry. It is unrealistic to expect to compete with the big brands; they have a tremendous asset as derived from their scale and access to financing. Keys to our success are delivery of consistent quality, innovation, and managing our business with much care and industrial savvy.” Mentioning the hundreds of hours of testing that goes into the production of just one new watch, he points out that “maybe that is also the reason why there are so many families in this field: Working with family members or according to the values that were set by the family involves more emotions and more passion than you will usually find in a business. This is what makes you last in an industry such as ours.”
Proudly pointing out that his own son Nikolas, as well as his business partner’s daugher Alexandra are today working in the business, Jonathan Purnell sees the challenge of family business continuation in the watch industry, he says “Today, many young people do not want to follow the passion of their parents.”
Tharawat Magazine, Issue 19, 2013