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Chronopassion: Operation Facelift

Guided visit. by Olivier Müller

For almost thirty years, Chronopassion has been a flagship store for (very) fine watchmaking, but up to now it has never bothered with a facelift. After three months of renovations, Chronopassion celebrates its reopening.

Simple questions sometimes have complicated answers. In order to improve, you have to impose more limitations. You have to invest heavily, without any guarantee of a return. Renovations are something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. And yet, they are a necessary evil for every square metre of retail space, wherever in the world they may be.

After 28 years’ resistance and a few minor cosmetic touches, Laurent Picciotto finally gave in to the inevitable. Chronopassion (Paris) had barely changed at all in three decades, but its founder launched into the project with his trademark pragmatism: “Let’s go from one step behind, to three steps ahead.” So much for the design brief.

Watch carousels. 

To achieve his aim, he was determined to keep every avenue open. Originally, he wanted a computerised, intelligent sales desk. He wanted to create a futuristic model: the one everyone would be using twenty years down the line. But the investment required was considerable. Colossal, even. The research and development timeline alone was estimated at two years. Laurent Picciotto’s attitude to sales is well known: “In the end, regardless of the thickness of the carpet, a deal always ends with two chairs around a table.” So, why not make the most of it, and impress clients with tables from another universe? But that would have to wait – it would take too long and cost too much.

So, Laurent Picciotto called in his old friend Xavier Dietlin, the shop window guru who had designed bespoke carousels for him, enabling passers-by to browse through several dozen pieces in a revolving display.

Designer Xavier Casals was brought in to oversee the boutique’s overall aesthetic. Laurent Picciotto gave him three jobs: more light, more space, more display cases. “We could no longer put all our watches on display,” he explains. “Almost 30 years ago, Chronopassion was designed for a single brand: Gérald Genta. Today we represent around 30 companies, and have done for some time. While our loyal customers are used to a certain house flavour, and probably had no desire for a change, some more recent clients thought we were a second-hand shop! We had to give our timepieces a more dignified setting.”

House flavour. 

The result taps into contemporary tastes: wood, carpets, long linear showcases, and plentiful lighting. It’s effective... but it’s conventional, perhaps even slightly hackneyed. Some fans will regret the loss of the “Picciotto” touch, the guitars and skulls dotted around the shop, the cluttered surfaces that sometimes revealed hidden treasures. “For the time being, the result is so extraordinary that we don’t really dare to customise it,” notes the founder with a smile, “But I expect we’ll see some ‘Picciottisation’ in the coming weeks...”

Nevertheless, some lines will not be crossed. There will be no tablets (“What’s the point in showing films that the clients have already seen on the web?”), no giant screen (“I’m not a television salesman”) and no back-office stuff behind the scenes (“Why? Everything’s digitised”). In the end, the essential elements have been preserved, even enhanced. Today, more than ever, customers stepping into Chronopassion can take the same pleasure in browsing some of the world’s finest mechanical watchmaking. We look forward to the next facelift, maybe in 2045?

Chronopassion: Operation Facelift

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