Inside a back room at the new store, GQ chatted exclusively with Bennahmias, who was double-wristing with the new Williams-designed gold Royal Oak Offshore and the Spider-Man Royal Oak Concept tourbillon.
Bennahmias: So, what are we talking about?
GQ: Talking about you, man.
I know. [I notice his Spider-Man RO.] Can I see it? I haven’t seen it in person.
Security! There’s a crazy guy who is asking me weird questions. Yes. Come right now. Yeah, shoot him. [He hands it over.]
Oh man, this [Spider-Man] is so cool. Do you like this one more than the Black Panther? Which one’s your baby?
No, there is not such a thing because for me, the Marvel venture is, even though being also very much criticized by many people, I say five, 10, 20 years from now, people will look back at it and say it was a big one.
Listen, I am not on social media at all, so I hide from this world. But I know what I know in a sense of when the clients have the reaction they have about this watch, or the Black Panther when it came out, or the Jay-Z watch when it came out, I say we’re good. It’s fine.
You’ve been doing this at AP for almost 30 years. I want to start really big picture: What’s changed about the watch industry since then?
Everything. When I joined the company, we were, I think, 200 people, no boutiques anywhere, no stores, distributors, agents, so many people in between us and the clients. And no clients. If I sold a watch per week to a retailer, not even to a client, it was a celebration. We were hustlers big time. Nobody knew Audemars Piguet so we had to fight and to grind like crazy, but that’s how you also learned the best.
Was that amount of sales typical of the watch industry in general or unique to AP?
The whole watch industry in general. If in 1994 you would’ve asked someone on Madison Avenue what’s an expensive watch, people would’ve told you maybe $1,000 or $2,000. Ask them today, they’ll tell you a million. They know. When I came to the US in 1999, the same question, they might have told you $10,000.
So the whole watch world is still very small compared to other industries, because the global Swiss watch business—from Swatch to Audemars Piguet—was last year $53 billion at retail value.
That sounds like a lot of money. It’s not?
[Bennahmias goes wide-eyed.] For over 300 brands. In the car industry, if you take the top 300 brands in the world, it has to be like trillions. No, you cannot compare. Impossible. So we’re still very small. $96 million was the revenue of the company when I joined. For the world. And we’re going to do between $2.4 and $2.5 billion this year.
How do you go from under $100 million to over $2 billion in that span of time? Is it that people became more educated, people got more interested in watches, or that watches became more of a fixture in popular culture?