He was the Chosen One, the heir to design legend Gerald Genta, the creative force behind Audemars Piguet for close to 12 years. And then, out of the blue, Octavio Garcia left the maison in 2015 and disappeared. He emerged again in August 2016 and to the surprise of many, didn’t take up a design role in another watch brand. Instead, the designer decided to try his hand at business, creating his own brand – Gorilla Watches.
Garcia was in Singapore recently during the grand opening of Watch Wonderland to talk with fans, meet with the media, and be the brand advocate of Gorilla Watches. We had a beer with the man and had an honest chat with him about his reasons for leaving Audemars Piguet, the state of the watch industry, and what he hopes to achieve with Gorilla Watches.
Thank you. It’s been five years since I’ve returned to Singapore.
So, what’s with the moniker, Gorilla Watches?
The name comes from our values. We identified the three elements that made us unique, which was power, performance and rarity. For power, I wanted to leverage on my design and creative experience at Audemaris Piguet to create something, well, powerful.
The second element – performance – is all about the materials that we would integrate into our watch. Ceramic, carbon fibre, aluminium, titanium, etc.
And finally, rarity. We are rare because we produce in very low quantities. But, it’s not just about the numbers. We are rare because we, the founders, are very accessible to the customer. You can have a conversation with me, we can chat about the watch and I will listen to you.
So, we wanted a name that you would either love or hate, but you could never forget.
Would you say that you design philosophy also aims to be polarising?
If a design is lukewarm, then most likely it’s not going to perform as well as a design that takes a stance in a very saturated market. Cutting through the noise is important.
I wanted to ask you about that. After Audemars Piguet, with your pedigree, you could have gone anywhere you wanted. Why did you decide to start your own brand?
I mean, where do you go from Audemars Piguet? (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah, I could have found space somewhere else and entered the corporate world once again but at the back of my mind, I always wanted to go on my own. And I thought, “I’m already 50 years old. It’s now or never.”
Is that the reason why you decided to leave Audemars Piguet? Because you wanted to strike out on your own?
With Audemars Piguet, I had gotten to the highest point that one could get as a designer in a watch brand, where I was actually influencing and coordinating and directing, not only the product but retail and brand presence. So I feel like I left on a high note at that company.
The brand was in a really beautiful place and it could only get better from there. It would be really difficult to go back down again. So I felt like it was exactly the right time to start something myself.
Was it difficult to take the plunge?
I’m married with three kids, so when you take a plunge like that, you have to get the whole buy-in, if you know what I mean. Your wife, the children, the chihuahuas, everything!
I had that and I was lucky that my business partner Lukas Gopp was willing to take the risk with me. Of course, it is still scary and we took the proper precautions but we must be doing something right. I mean, I am here with you in Singapore talking about Gorilla Watches.
Let’s talk about the Gorilla Fastback. Why did you decide to use American muscle cars as your inspiration?
I love cars and I feel that it’s a natural parallel to watches. We knew that we wanted to communicate beyond just the watch lovers to people who understood materials, performance and mechanics but not necessarily watches. Having the automotive element allows us to start a dialogue with these people and hopefully make our brand more appealing to this new market.
Who would you say is the Gorilla Watches man?
He is a pioneer who is not afraid to take risks. He appreciates the combination of craftsmanship and high-tech materials. He is somebody with taste.
Someone like you, I imagine?
Where do you see Gorilla Watches in the next decade?
Here’s the deal. For me the most important thing is the art and making people happy. Of course we want to grow financially but I want to make sure that every time we launch a product, it has something special to say.
The money will only be a means to make the brand and product more beautiful. I love the art of watchmaking, so as a contributor to this beautiful industry I wanted to make sure I do it with respect and passion.
Forgive me but it sounds like you’re disappointed with the watch industry.
The watch industry is where it has to be.
The watch industry is where it has to be for many reasons. Innovation is expensive and costs money and sometimes you have to lean on iconic franchises to feed the other side. That’s the way of business so I understand that. But, I also believe that where you apply innovation is very important.
For example, Lamborghini just launched the SSUV, and when you hear the automotive journalists speak about this move they say exactly the same thing, that if that SUV makes more money for Lamborghini so that they can make more outrageous cars, then it’s good. I think that makes sense. There is always that balance that needs to be made between commerce and art. Sometimes I feel that I can be a bit too romantic about this type of thing. (laughs)
Nothing wrong with that. The world needs more romantics. Thank you Octavio.