He first came to India in 1978, but business was the last thing on his mind then! Olivier Bernheim, CEO, Raymond Weil, fell in love with India on that trip – it was his honeymoon. And ever since he took over from his father-in-law Raymond Weil in 1996, the country has come in to his list of annual visits. ‘I come to India thrice a year,’ says Bernheim. 1978 was all about travel and romance for him but now India means business as Raymond Weil opened another shop in Mumbai now.
Bernheim joined the company in 1982 and from getting the first computers in to his office to the n-th store in the country, he has come a long way. The India connection however started in the Weil family well before Bernheim. Right from 1956, when Raymond Weil made his journey to India, the market for luxury watches was opened up then. Weil brought in the concept of watches as pieces of heritage. Something that can be passed on as an heirloom and years later, his son-in-law Oliver Bernheim works with the same vision.
Talking business, Bernheim says that since he took over as CEO, the changes have been massive and opportunities limitless but the odds have also been challenges. ‘Ever since 1997, the world has witnessed the fastest developments but there have also been difficulties that went with it,’ he says. Not only did the business model have to change, the man behind the brand had to change as well.
Bernheim has seen the India market grow from metros and spread to Tier 2 and 3 cities where business attitudes and purchase power is as developed, if not at par with the likes of metros. ‘Branding has become more aggressive now,’ says Bernheim. India understands luxury and aspires for brands just as the rest of the world does, feels the man. And the watch market for men seems to be growing more compared to the female watch line because men aspire for tech-updated watches. ‘The women’s watch line is quite strong in India,’ says Berhneim adding that this is because the jewelry market is so big.
So, while the range available in India starts from Rs 45,000 and tops at a whopping Rs 8 lakhs – we are at a decent Rs 6 lakh difference from the top model that costs Rs 14 lakhs and is not available in the country. And why so? ‘That is simply because the custom duties are far too high for products of that price,’ explains Bernheim.
Almost two decades have come to pass and Bernheim’s two sons have started their own watch brand 88 Rue Du Rhone says the proud father. Between attending calls from his daughter and talking about watches, Bernheim gets talking about India. ‘When I first came here, it was so different form the sterilised environment in Europe, everything was at its most basic in India,’ he says.
And what about Delhi? ‘I love Delhi,’ pat comes the reply.Not that we expected otherwise! ‘It is not a busy city at all as people like to call it. Delhi cannot compare to a Mumbai at peak hours,’ he says. What fascinates him is the sheer size of the city, the monuments and the food, of course.
Clearly the romance is going to continue for a good long time.