Established in 1874, Geneva-based Clerc Watches is a family establishment headed by third generation family member Gerald Clerc. Gerald Clerc and his wife Nathalie sit opposite, a charming team in their private as well as business lives. “I was born into it. I started sitting on the watch maker’s bench observing the workers performing their craft,” Gerald Clerc beams as he remembers. “When I was 14 years old I started helping out at the office with small tasks. I slowly climbed the ranks of our family business and finally launched my first collection in 1998.” At this crucial moment, Gerald Clerc was given the full responsibility for the business which coincided with a shift in strategy: Clerc started to distribute and promote its watches worldwide. “There was a natural evolution from craftsmanship to a fully-fledged brand,” explains Gerald.

Clerc watches have been worn by figures as storied as Salvador Dali, Maurice Chevalier, and Princess Grace of Monaco, amongst others. Today, the list continues to grow as many celebrities advocate the brand’s timepieces. Still entirely owned by the Clerc family, we ask whether the intention is to keep it that way. Nathalie responds laughingly: “Our children are 13 and 7 years old but are already eager for us to retire. So we are hopeful!”

The other factor driving the success of the Clerc family is the know-how accumulated over generations. “There’s wisdom that’s been transferred from one generation to the next. And I think passion is the most important ingredient for success,” says Gerald Clerc who is driven by trying to transmit this passion for the business through his products and to his customers. “It also places responsibilities on us because obviously, for someone who starts from scratch, the aim is to make something entirely new and break with the past. We on the other hand are the custodians for the next generation, and the way we treat our customers has to be in line with our founder’s vision.”

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Nathalie adds to her husband’s words: “Our name is on the dial of our watches. There is no greater commitment to quality than that. We’re not offering an anonymous product. We’re offering something that we created, something that we manufactured, and something that has our name on it.”

But with such global reach, the larger question is how the Clerc family can maintain its high quality standards. “Many brands when they take the leap of distributing internationally, they want to go too fast,” Gerald wisely remarks. “They want to be in too many markets at the same time. But if you are a family business then you have to be more careful. You have to take a step-by-step approach to the matter and make sure that the values are preserved.” This is also the reason why partners remain with the Clercs for extended periods. Explains Nathalie, “You would be surprised, but sometimes even big groups are happy to deal with family-owned business, because they see what we can offer. It is agreeable for them to get to know the people who stand behind the name. They appreciate the continuity and focus in management of family-owned businesses.”

Even though Gerald Clerc never met his great-grandfather, the founder of the business, he still feels that it is his duty to run the company according to his values and wishes: “I think he would be surprised that we’re in the Middle East, in Asia, in the US, and in the Caribbean. I hope that he would be impressed into how many markets his vision expanded.”

Tharawat Magazine, Issue 19, 2013