Dreaming, Daring, and Delivering
April 11, 2012
For over 121 years, the House of Mouawad has challenged the concept of beauty and all that is exquisite, redefining it in such a way that it is a near impossible feat for anyone to follow the lead they have set.
The Mouawad name has come to be synonymous with artistic excellence and technical perfection, not just because the Mouawads are pioneers in the jewelry and watchmaking industry, nor because they use only the finest of gemstones and employ superior craftsmanship, but because they dream, dare, and deliver. Their one-off pieces continuously shape and re-shape what has come to be known as Haute Joaillerie.
After introducing in 2011 the Mouawad 1001 Nights Diamond Purse, the world’s most expensive purse valued at $3.8 million USD, Mouawad breaks the record again this year by recently unveiling the world’s most expensive watch – the diamond-studded Snow White Princess Diamond Watch valued at $6.8 million USD – during the Doha Jewelry and Watch Exhibition.
Pascal Mouawad, a fourth generation co-guardian of the Mouawad Group, sat down with Today’s Outlook to give us a glimpse into just how he and his brother Fred, also a co-guardian, have kept the Mouawad legacy alive and thriving.
There is always something new going on with Mouawad! What are some of the recent activities and changes within the Mouawad Group?
Since my father retired from the business in 2010 and handed over the reins to both myself and my brother Fred, the two of us have become the co-guardians. We are the fourth generation gate-keepers of Mouawad. It was our great-grandfather who started the business, and now it is our turn to take it to the next level. We have made several changes, including an innovative corporate look for Mouawad. We hired an Italian firm and came up with a new overall concept, which we’ll be applying to all our stores. Our look and feel, including our packaging and our corporate colors, are now centered around royal gray with gold. Everything has these same patterns and color – the carry bags, boxes, etc. Also, our vision is a mono-brand strategy; we used to be a house of brands, now we have become a brand of house. We are moving away from other brands and are really focusing on Mouawad products. Now, when you walk into a Mouawad store, it is a pure experience of Mouawad products with different tiers, including high jewelry, jewelry, masterpieces, boutique items, and also Mouawad watches, which just launched this year. So, mono-branding is definitely one area we are focusing on.
What’s new in terms of expansion?
We are opening in Lagoona Mall, Doha and in Kuwait City, Kuwait in a few weeks. 15 months ago, we opened a New Mouawad Generation store in Dubai Mall, as well as in Beirut Souks about nine months ago. We are also expanding our presence to Muscat, Abu Dhabi, and Jeddah. Meanwhile, we are renovating all the current stores according to our new look and feel so that by 2013 all 14 of our stores will have adopted this same style.
It seems that you are focusing a lot on expansion within the Middle East region.
At the end of the day, although we are an internationally recognized brand, Mouawad is still rooted in its Lebanese heritage. As such, our goal is to focus on the region and make sure that we have one flagship store in each key city and therefore, full coverage. Then, our next step would be to continue our international expansion. We currently have one store in Singapore. Obviously, when it comes to big markets we are looking at the Chinese opportunity and possibly Hong Kong. We are also looking to have another flagship store in Geneva, hopefully in the next 15 months. We have always had a store there, and now we have offices for our watch business, as well as a factory. In good time, of course, we’ll also be looking to enter the European and American markets. As for the US, it has remained purely a wholesale business; we sell to stores, but have never had a flagship store in the US.
For readers not that familiar with the Mouawad brand, tell us what makes it so unique for so many of your clients.
For one, we are vertically integrated in the sense that we fire our stones ourselves; usually we buy polished stones and in some cases we’ll buy rough and cut. We acquire the raw materials, stones, and metals. We design in-house; we sample in-house; we manufacture in-house, and we sell to our stores in the market. What makes us different and distinct is that our designs are very unique and the quality of our craftsmanship is superior. We don’t compromise on quality; in our factories we have 12 quality checkpoints along the production line, which every piece of jewelry must pass through before reaching the store. We also have very nice prices; the fact that we are vertically integrated means that we have ruled out any middle man and any out-searching to other facilities. High quality and unique designs also distinguish us from our competition.
What’s new on the marketing front?
We are an international brand so we are involved in many activities all over the world, including red carpet events, celebrity dressings and sponsorships. Right now, we are sponsoring four-time offshore powerboat world champion Omar Danial, who happens to be an old high school friend, in the XCAT Middle East Powerboat Series. So, it’s fitting that we are launching a beautiful sports watch. We also had a TV campaign last year and sponsored some video clips for Najwa Karam and Ramy Ayach. Basically, we are very involved in the marketing aspect and we’re trying to get our name out there.
How has the level of pressure changed since becoming co-guardian?
It is obviously a big responsibility for Fred and me to maintain what our father built. God-willing we can take the company to the next level, just as our father did when he took over from his father 40 years ago. It is a lot of pressure, but at the same time it is fun, and we like what we do. We were born into this world, and we always knew that one day we would take over the reins. We just didn’t think it would happen so fast! Our father, being the visionary that he is, just decided overnight to hand over the company to the 4th generation. It’s a big responsibility, but luckily we have the background, education and skill to really take the Mouawad name forward. We very much believe in our team and that we are only as good as our team members and so we have been building a good management team of eight players to make sure that we grow in the right direction.
How big is Mouawad in terms of operation size?
We have about 400 staff members, 14 stores and two franchise stores. We have two factories for jewelry and one for watches, and we operate in 14 countries. It is quite a substantial business.
What’s the next step for Mouawad?
To keep on growing, to make sure that we provide the best customer service experience to our clientele, and to continue being purveyors of fine and magnificent pieces. We have some spectacular masterpieces and some beautiful flawless diamonds such as a 65-carat D-flawless Asscher-cut diamond for $17 million USD. We are making sure that we continue the legacy that our great-grandfather started.
How involved are you in the design process?
We have a great design team, but at the end of the day the co-guardians sign off on all designs. Nothing is produced without our final sign off. We observe the current trends and try to set our own trends. How it works is that there is a brief that is generated and according to the brief they’ll design and come to us. We meet four times a year. During that time we put all the drawings on the wall; we’ll discuss them and make any necessary changes. While Fred and I don’t sit at home and sketch and render, we are still very much involved in the design process.
How many collections are released every year and what is their source of inspiration?
We are currently releasing six collections a year, which is quite a bit, but right now we want to ensure that our customers always have that element of novelty. Over time, keeping with the fashion-forward jewelry world, we’ll drop this number to four. We are creating collections that are identifiable with the Mouawad name, and we are marketing them quite aggressively. We want our pieces to be immediately recognized as Mouawad jewelry. When we took over, Mouawad was a big jewelry store with a large variety of beautiful jewelry that didn’t necessarily target any particular look or feel in the collection. To address this, one of our strategies is to create collections that are identifiable with our name. In this way, instead of having 1,000 different designs, we’ll have perhaps just 100 identifiable designs. Every collection, typically named after French words, has an inspiration, a theme and a story.
Will we be seeing any new collaborations with celebrities?
We collaborated with Heidi Klum for five years, which was very successful. However, we don’t believe in endorsements anymore; we believe in Mouawad being the star. When you marry yourself to a celebrity, there is that element of risk that if the star’s reputation goes down, the brand’s reputation will go down as well. In other cases, the star can get a bigger share of the limelight than you; there is that risk of overshadowing or being overshadowed. This is why we would rather dress celebrities and get involved in product placements and product sponsorships. We believe the ‘face of’ strategy is overdone and that it makes it difficult for us to differentiate ourselves from the rest. Part of our marketing strategy is to be unique and do things differently; we don’t want to follow everybody else. The whole notion of endorsements is something that we’ve seen everybody do for years! At the same time, we don’t want to be associated with a star who has a history, someone who has previously worked for another jeweler – which many of the local stars have done.
Is your life as glamorous as it seems?
Thank God my life is wonderful, and I am a very happy person. However, my responsibilities are not as glamorous as they may seem. No doubt, given the image presented to the media, my life seems very glamorous, but behind the scenes there are always problems to solve and issues to deal with. It is very difficult to run a business, and the continuous traveling takes its toll on me. Fred and I spend 200 days a year on the road. Glamorous? Yes, but at the expense of a lot of traveling and at the expense of having little time for yourself. It is not easy – I don’t have much of a social life anymore.
Where are you currently based?
I am still currently based in LA, but soon I’ll be shifting my base to Dubai so I can be closer to our region. I am trying to make Dubai my home, but with all the traveling I do, I will always have multiple homes!
Does all the traveling take its toll on your personal life?
I am still single, which actually makes it hard right now because I am at a point in my life where I am ready to have a family. But the last two years have made this very difficult – how do I spend time with someone if I am always on the move? Meeting someone is not the problem; the problem is having the time to see her again.
You just launched the most expensive watch in the world; how difficult is it to sell such a piece?
Everything we create has a customer. We don’t really manufacture anything unless we know that at some point in time it will sell. In the last 34 years, all exceptional creations made by Mouawad have sold. So, the most expensive purse in the world will sell; the watch for $6.8 million USD that we just unveiled will sell. There is always a collector for our very rare pieces. In a way, the rarer the piece, the easier it is to sell.
Is it the same case with the Victoria’s Secret Fantasy Bras?
The bras are a different story; they are primarily a PR stunt. They are made to fit the model’s body and so clearly, although they are for sale, they don’t sell and we don’t expect them to sell. The Victoria’s Secret Fantasy Bras are diamond-encrusted and cost millions of dollars, so when a new bra gets released, it gets a lot of publicity, and after six months we take it apart again. The beauty with jewelry is that you can dismantle it and the only thing lost is your labor. The amount of publicity we get outweighs the cost of our labor. So, 6-8 craftsmen spending four months on a bra, which is typical, is justified. We are happy to do that and invest in that.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your favorite vacation spots and your hobbies?
I am a Pisces. I love the ocean, spending time on the beach, and traveling to distant and exotic places. During the summer, we sail through France, Italy, and Greece on the family’s yacht. We also like to spend some time in Turkey, which is nice and quiet. During the winter months, I love going up to the mountains and I really enjoy the open skies. I exercise regularly. I schedule my workouts on my agenda 3-4 times a week as an appointment. No matter how busy I am, I find the time to exercise. I just leave my phone at home and go! I’m a big fan of outdoor sports in general, which explains why I am a scuba diver! In fact, I pretty much love all active sports; I like speed. I like to feel alive!