A formidable name in the world of high-end jewellery, watches and other products, the 160-year-old French luxury brand Cartier has enjoyed an unblemished reputation for its elite product range. A brand that has built its prestige on fine craftsmanship and creativity, Cartier has passed its distinctive signature creations and savoir-faire from generation to generation.
Cartier’s presence in the Middle East goes back to many decades. The company has sponsored several projects and sports-oriented events and has supported humanitarian and charitable causes. On a recent visit to the UAE ahead of the Cartier International Polo Challenge at the Desert Palm Polo Club, Bernard Fornas, President and CEO of Cartier International, spoke exclusively to Emirates Business.
La Maison Cartier was described by King Edward VII as “The jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers”. How has the brand continued to maintain its elitist reputation over the past 160 years or more?
Indeed, you said it. Not only are we “Jewellers to the kings and the king of jewellers”, but we are also the “Prince of watchmakers”. Today, our interests span many products, but in essence Cartier is the House of Jewellery.
Even our watches are works of jewellery that tell time. We zealously guard the Cartier DNA, which is our signature mark apparent in all of our products. This is our identity and this is what drives us. We ensure that our products always meet the highest quality standards.
How would you characterise and assess the performance of Cartier in the wider Middle East context, especially after the opening of two new boutiques in the UAE and plans for another two in the near future?
Cartier has always been, and continues to be, the brand leader in all segments we operate in, not only in the Middle East but all over the world. We are a truly international brand with a strong global presence. We have dramatically increased the desirability of the brand in the Middle East, a region noted as much for its economic prowess as its taste for up-market luxury goods.
Our proposed 700 square metre boutique in the Dubai Mall and another in Mall of the Emirates will add to our high profile in the UAE. We also have a strong presence in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Lebanon. I believe Cartier has both the muscle and structure to make further deep inroads in the region.
How significant is the Middle East market? Where in the pecking order does this market rank vis-à-vis the rest of the world?
The Middle East is a very important market for Cartier and I am at home and very comfortable coming to the region. It holds a lot of promise and is one of the best performing regions in the world.
What are the current and potential challenges for Cartier in the region?
Our big challenge today is to continue to develop our visibility and to maintain our excellent standards of customer service. Cartier wishes to be as close to its customers as possible. This implies we need to open more and bigger boutiques. After these outlets are established, we need trained staff. We therefore need to invest in new retail stores as well as on getting the best available and best-trained personnel for our stores.
The new Cartier High Jewellery Collection was unveiled at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai on March 27. Could you tell our readers about this collection?
It is a tribute to India where the brand has enjoyed a long and cherished relationship with both the country and the royalty of the various princely states. India is also emerging as the new economic tiger and we foresee a lot of potential in the country.
Cartier has had a close association with the world of equine polo and elephant polo. Why is the sport important for Cartier?
As a premium brand Cartier has a strong association with polo because of the exclusivity of the game. We want to be linked to the best and polo offers us that distinctive opportunity.
Cartier is now part of the giant and progressive Richemont Group. Do you believe that regrouping and amalgamation are the new buzzwords for survivability in a volatile and competitive marketplace?
I believe that is becoming a trend in businesses globally. In fact, there are not many independent companies left in the watch and jewellery industry. As the world is becoming one large marketplace and an increasingly competitive one, it is important for big brands to have an international presence and this may not be possible for smaller companies with far less infrastructure. Re-grouping may be the way forward.
Are fakes and counterfeit goods a worry for Cartier in the region?
Fakes and counterfeits have always been a matter of concern but with increased awareness and more wealth being created, it affects us a lot less because of the growth of our customer base. This problem does not bite as much as it used to.
What is your long-term vision for Cartier in the Middle East?
I am very positive about the growth of Cartier in this booming region. We have had a phenomenal showing in the Gulf and we will continue to invest and become more successful in time.
Interview by Nader Freiha
PROFILE: Bernard Fornas, President and CEO of Cartier International
Fornas graduated from the Ecole Superieure de Commerce in Lyon, France, in 1970. He obtained an MBA from Northwestern University in the United States in 1972.
Fornas began his career at Procter & Gamble and in 1976 joined the International Gold Corporation. After a long stint at Guerlain, he joined Cartier International as international marketing director in 1994.
In 2000, he was appointed corporate marketing manager. In 2001, Fornas was appointed chairman and managing director of group company Baume et Mercier, and in November 2002 took over the reins as president and CEO of Cartier International.
A symbol of timeless luxury is the ‘jeweller of the kings and king of jewellers’