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Telling tales, in film and timekeeping

Georges Kern, head of IWC Schaffhausen, talks to Debonair about films, watches and the stories that bind them

How do you stay cool and sexy selling a product that essentially hasn’t changed in 250 years?

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact it’s the other way around...” 

Georges Kern, CEO of luxury watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen might have spoken these words by Terry Pratchett, of Discworld fame. 

“Storytelling is a a key aspect of selling luxury products,” he told Debonair on the sideline of the recent Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF). “You’re not just selling a function, like telling time, but you're creating an emotion, and that comes through telling stories. And storytelling is obviously a key element of filmmaking. 

“That’s the common link between filmmaking and IWC.” 

The Swiss luxury watchmaker has been a fixture at the fair for five years, an engagement that’s in-line with the company’s involvement with film festivals globally, including London, Tribeca, Zurich, Singapore and Beijing. 

How do you stay cool and sexy selling a product that essentially hasn’t changed in 250 years?

“Even though we’re living in a global world, the aim is to emphasise Middle Eastern feature films at DIFF, a segment that is less-developed than in other countries. We need to support local initiatives.” 

Independent of the price, we sell emotion, not function.

The company, founded in 1868, does this through the IWC Filmmaker Award, most recently conferred on Abdullah Hassan Ahmed for his project Sunrise. The award confers a grant of $100,000 to support filmmakers who have already finished their script and are finalising their film's financing. Upon completion, the winner's film is screened at the biggest festivals in the world - a Hollywood style ending for those just starting out in the industry. 

“Even though we live in a globalised world where everyone’s excited to see the latest blockbuster, we also need smaller films that tell localised stories,” Kern says.

“You can have extremely emotionally engaging stories, even if it comes from another culture.”

The brand’s ties to the region go even deeper, following the recent release of its first watch with Arabic numerals on the dial. “Fundamentally, IWC is a local-global brand with a local approach; we will always focus on localising our communication and being close to our partners and clients in this specific region. We’ve been building on that relationship over the last few years with many new boutiques across the Middle East.”

Personally, Kern prefers films with happy endings. “Either there’s a good ending, or I’m not going. I’ve got enough problems; I don’t want to walk out of a movie theatre, or any form of entertainment or discussion, with a bad feeling.”

IWC Schaffhausen just wrapped at Geneva’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), the most important luxury exhibition of fine watches in the world. Its booth was “an artistic interpretation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s thinking” and served as the ideal setting for the relaunch of its iconic Da Vinci line, aimed at strengthening the brand’s midsize segment for women. 

Commenting on the move towards digitisation, even among big brands with a long history, Kern highlights potential. “How do you stay cool and sexy selling a product that essentially hasn’t changed in 250 years? The principles haven’t changed. That’s the challenge. 

“Even the big digital brands have changed their strategy when it comes to smartwatches — there’s a greater focus on sport watches and fitness trackers, which serve a different purpose than our mechanical watches.

“Independent of the price, we sell emotion, not function. It’s an element of style for men; it’s an element of pleasure for women.” 

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