Interview with Raymond Weil CEO Elie Bernheim
In the 1970’s, the advent of the quartz watchmaking technology kicked off what later became known as the Quartz Crisis, which saw the number of Swiss watchmakers cut in half as quartz watches increasingly displaced traditional mechanical timepieces. In the midst of the industry crisis, Mr. Raymond Weil decided to found his own company called Raymond Weil and bring to life his vision of what Swiss watchmaking should be about in order to inject a new dimension to the industry.
Today, more than 40 years later, that vision is still alive and well under the leadership of the founder’s grandson, Elie Bernheim, making Raymond Weil one of just a handful of Swiss luxury watchmakers still in family hands, preserving centuries of skill and know-how through its finely crafted timepieces. In this exclusive interview with Tharawat, Raymond Weil CEO and third generation family member Elie Bernheim shares how the company’s commitment to quality and creativity helps preserve the family legacy.
Tell us about Raymond Weil and how you got involved in the company.
It all started in 1976, in the middle of a watch industry crisis, when my grandfather Mr. Raymond Weil founded the company with a commitment to make Swiss luxury watches more creative and accessible. My father Olivier Bernheim, who was married to Mr. Weil’s elder daughter, joined the family business in 1982 and became President and CEO in 1996.
I myself have been immersed in the Raymond Weil universe as far back as I can remember – I grew up in the industry watching both my grandfather and my father build the company. Watchmaking has always been in my family’s blood and it was evident for me to join the family business in 2006 after graduating from the prestigious Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, a top school for hospitality. I started in the marketing department, and my first task was to undertake a re-branding of the entire corporate identity of Raymond Weil. From then on, I began designing actual collections and successfully launched the nabucco and then the freelancer collections. I was appointed CEO of Raymond Weil in April 2014, succeeding my father, Olivier Bernheim.
What does Raymond Weil’s operations look like today?
Raymond Weil curently belongs to a limited circle of family run Swiss watchmakers, and is a recognized brand worldwide with more than 3,500 point of sales in 95 countries. Our company will soon celebrate its 40th anniversary, commemorating years of developing and consolidating the brand as one of the leading names in the Swiss watch industry. We do not act as a manufacturer, but instead we work with the best suppliers to assemble all our products, and we have an internal R&D department that works on developing the right quality and design of our watches.
What is special about Raymond Weil timepieces and what sets its collection apart other luxury watch brands?
Raymond has always been imbued with a deep affinity for the arts and especially music. As a music-loving family – we are all musicians and I personally play piano and cello – music definitely plays a major role in the company’s source of inspiration and it is part of the brand’s DNA. My latest creation, the nabucco Cello Tourbillon, is entirely inspired by music, reflecting how it continues to play a role in product development in a very real sense. This is what makes us unique as it allows us to combine our watchmaking expertise with cutting-edge creativity.
What are your thoughts on the advent of the smartwatch and its potential affect on the Swiss luxury watch industry?
Like it has always done in the past, especially after the 70’s Quartz Crisis, the Swiss luxury watch industry will manage to get through this by reinventing itself, promoting its recognized know-how and offering newly developed horological products.
What are the advantages of being a family business in the luxury watch industry and how has your family’s involvement affected how the business is run?
In a world that changes faster every day and in an industry dominated by big groups, a family company is a gem. The know-how is meticulously transmitted to the next generation while long standing relationships with partners are privileged, which in turn guarantees continuity, trust, and loyalty.
As a family company, we are much more flexible and thus able to react much quicker than our competitors. We can come up with an idea about something in the morning and begin working on it on the same day! It gives us a lot of opportunities to adapt to changing market conditions and we can count on our highly reliable partners with whom we have built lasting relationships with since the very beginning. It is absolutely an advantage for us to be both a family-owned and family-operated company, and this lean, nimble model will continue to set us apart from other brands.
What are your thoughts on carrying on the tradition of your family business as a third generation member?
I grew up together with the brand as it developed into a premier luxury watchmaker. It has always been part of my childhood and my life, which makes it my long-standing passion!
Though my role as CEO began just last year, I believe I am certainly prepared for what the job requires because I had already worked for the brand for almost 10 years being directly involved in strategic decision-making. I feel very proud to take the reins of the family company that began 40 years ago and am honored to represent the third generation at the head of Raymond Weil.
What is your and your family’s ultimate vision for Raymond Weil?
Our success today lies in the long-term relationships that my grandfather and my father have developed over the years and in our clearly defined positioning: elegant and affordable products. It is my duty to keep the same vision alive and to keep developing this exceptional family legacy in the years to come.
What advice do you have for those looking to start their own luxury watch collection?
The emotion it brings is what makes a great timepiece unique. Embark on this exceptional adventure and follow your instinct!