He has 10 years at IWC Schaffhausen under his belt and is poised to take IWC’s ever-increasing relevance to the current and future generations of watch buyers to new heights. Because 38-year-old Christoph Grainger-Herr is the new, incoming, global CEO of the Swiss watch brand, replacing beloved Georges Kern, long-time CEO who is taking a corporate position at the Richemont Group.
Remembering the moment that Chris Grainger, IWC’s new CEO, stepped onstage at IWC Gala during the 2017 SIHH to be literally and metaphorically handed over the microphone by Georges Kern, the former CEO who has become Richemont Group’s head of watchmaking, digital and marketing, was a seamless transition from one individual to the next… It was simply magical.
The 75th Goodwood Members’ Meeting, this historic motorsport weekend-event in the south of England, was not only the perfect place to showcase the new collection (the design of which is starkly reminiscent of the first generations of this watch family from the 1950s and the 1960s), but also to meet him in person, to really spend time with him, and find out more about this courageous young man, with the insight, focus, determination and stubbornness it takes to become Georges Kern’s successor – probably the absolute MVP of the Haute Horlogerie world today.
If a woman could only invest in one timepiece, in her lifetime, which one would it have to be, according to you?
It very much depends on one’s character, on who you are and what you want. I would probably go for a Portugieser or a Pilot though, and I would then keep playing with it by changing straps.
Describe the woman who wears IWC religiously.
When you look at the majority of our female clients, you will find that they have all found their place in life. Different personalities, of different styles, but they all have quite a few things in common, true. They know exactly who they are, what they are capable of, and what they want from life. And they breathe, kind of, this timeless, understated elegance in whatever they do. They aren’t loud, or too flamboyant. They do not follow trends, although they are very much aware of them, instead, they make trends.
Every time I read the phrase “Engineered for men”, I automatically think of “heroes”, the archetypal word describing a man’s virtues really. But even a woman can very well be a super hero.
Absolutely. My thoughts exactly. The super hero idea is quite a good one, actually. It’s an appealing concept, just like with James Bond. He was versatile, very stylish, spoke fluently 5 foreign languages, traveled abroad constantly, could easily use every piece of heavy machinery, juggled with diplomacy. Think about it, and look around us. Many men and women possess nowadays all these characteristics. As part of their lives, their routine. Those who know what they want from life and work hard to get it, already are heroes. And no secret agent could ever top a woman, juggling on top of all that previously mentioned, with motherhood.
Is there something missing from the live that we live trying to be heroes?
Time. Time for ourselves and those we love the most. We live in a digital era where everything gets recorded, every step is also an Instagram story. I think about this quite often lately. A few days ago, my son said to me “Daddy, you’re always on your phone”. It shocked me at that moment, because until then this was not the perception I’ve had off myself. So, what matters at the end of the day is how much time you spent, apart from work, with those that matter the most to you. The conversations you’ve had. The relationships. So we need a digital detox regularly. To balance everything out. To switch off and sit around the table or in front of the fire place with your family, to go for a run or a walk, to sit quiet and think things through. Well, this is the new luxury.
Describe IWC using only three words.
Timeless, elegant, engineered.
Describe Georges Kern using only three words.
A great mentor.
How tough is it to follow in his footsteps?
This is a challenge, yes. But if you’ve been working close with someone, sharing his ideas, and aesthetic visions, then the implementation seems easy, because all this feels very natural.
Name your very first watch.
It was a 2004 IWC Aquatimer Chronograph in stainless steel, black dial. The ultimate sports watch, I think, although I’m not a diver – tried it once, but my ears were of different opinion, they didn’t take it well. My background was and remains in (military) skiing. And I still wear this top watch for action sports.
Your absolute favourite IWC watch?
Oh, they change constantly. What I see myself wearing quite a lot lately are the Portofino Handwound Monopusher and the Portofino Chronograph. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the are my absolute favourites. Because I still love the Portugieser and the Big Pilots.
Favourite car of all times?
The 2006 Mercedes Benz AMG CLK Black Series. Hugely powerful and understated, beautifully simple and refined. A classic.
What kind of a driver are you?
Don’t ask my wife that question (laughs). I don’t think I’m talented enough to drive the massive cars I love. I love speed, but I always drive carefully within the legal limits. And then I watched David Coulthard drive yesterday, from the seat right next to his, and thought to myself, ok, you’re just an average driver, Chris.
Name the three things you definitely could not live without, in terms of personal style.
Suits, shoes, watches.
And how do you cool off from a really hectic business day?
Sitting with my family on the sofa, over a glass of good wine.
Favourite sin to indulge into?
There is a certain Austrian dish, called Kaiserschmarn that I love to indulge into from time to time. And plain yoghurt ice cream.
What is “luxury” according to you?
This is one of the easiest and toughest questions to answer. Luxury is hugely personal. And I don’t think that it has fundamentally changed that much over the years and decades – when it comes to the details that constitute it – the absolute best materials, for instance. But the ultimate luxury, as stated before, is still and has always been, being able to do the things you love the most with those that matter the most. And it is measured in time. To me, it is the fact that I get to do what I love the most – this is my everyday job, my routine. And when I get home and it’s time to switch off, my family is there by my side. It feels to me, that I am a very very lucky man.
What did you wish to do, when you were just a kid?
Originally? (laughs) I spent my entire youth designing, tons of drawings. I was interested in film set design. Creating environments, atmospheres and spaces that take people away into a dream world. Funny thing is, working for IWC, I very often get to do this too, at several events we organize.
If you were to host one exquisitely private dinner tonight and you could only invite 4 special guests, who would they be, if I told you resurrection would be no technical issue for just that one night?
John F. Kennedy, Richard von Weizsäcker, Winston Churchill, and Michelle Obama (I’d love to meet her).
This brings along a question, I didn’t think I had to ask. Is politics something you are very interested in?
Now we’re getting philosophical, but at the end of the day, everything is politics. As CEO of a luxury brand, you are creating a value system that people buy into. And the value system of a state, a church or a luxury brand are not fundamentally that different. A leader, just like JFK or Churchill, inspires, convinces by creating a set of values that people choose to follow. And these systems work in similar ways, which is hugely inspirational.