Arnaud Bamberger: Haute horlogerie

The Anglophile describes himself as a saleman to important clients, from playboys and captains of industry to royals. He tells Nick Kochan what makes the Cartier brand tick

Most people who buy Cartier items pay tens, even hundreds of thousands of pounds for the elegance and craftsmanship in a watch or piece of jewellery. But many Chinese government officials received them in return for favours. And as the story of Chinese corruption unravels, it is becoming clear how these very expensive brands were used as bribes.

But these days, says Arnaud Bamberger, Cartier UK's 67-year-old executive chairman, sales in China of the elegant watches have fallen – thanks to a government crackdown on corruption.

"The watch made an easy gift and this business was booming," he says. "A lot of officials received very important watches. The price of each watch could be around 20 times their annual salary. [But] there has been a slowdown in the sale of watches to China as a result of an anti-corruption law."

Mr Bamberger will not supply figures, but says the company's sales in China have levelled off. However, markets elsewhere in Asia, Europe and Russia remain strong.

Customers of Cartier, the French-based watch and jewellery company and No2 to Rolex in global luxury watch sales, are numbered among the super-rich.

The cheapest Cartier timepiece sells for £2,000 and is likely to be a well-engineered item, but made of steel. The most expensive can cost several hundred thousand pounds and contain platinum, gold and inlaid gems.

This "haute horlogerie" is made in Switzerland and consists of pieces of jewellery that happen to tell the time, says Mr Bamberger,

He sports a Tank-styled Cartier on his wrist, but says he has a private collection of some 40 watches accumulated over his 37-year career. The Tank has a classic design modelled on the watch worn by the company's founder, Louis Cartier.

Mr Bamberger, an engaging Frenchman, describes himself as a "salesman to important clients and an ambassador". He sells to royal families, captains of industry and the playboy rich. Photographs of him guiding the Queen around company events adorn his walls and office mantelpiece.

"We still have a few royal families on board, thank God," he says.

"I regularly see some of the big names in royalty. I have the Royal Warrant so I still sell a few products to the Royal Family. It is my job to ensure that they buy one day. I am very fond of the Queen."

He has lived in Britain for 20 years and professes to be an "Anglophile". Recently elected president of the French Chamber of Commerce, a trade body in London to promote French companies, he considers himself one of the lucky few.

"Not many French people have been accepted by the British. I am one of the few that have. We need smaller companies to get into the British market, which is a difficult market.

"The French are quite talented, you know. They have a tradition about luxury and craftsmanship. They care about the quality of the product."

But he regrets that so many French entrepreneurs have left their home country.

"We are running through a tough time. There are huge taxes in France under the Socialist regime.

"I am sorry to see so many people flying away from France. They are entrepreneurs. They don't want to be taxed so heavily.

"I hope we can grab back quite a few of these talents. They don't want to be killed by taxes."

Purchases of the most expensive Cartier products by the super-rich have compensated for a decline in the lower-priced products during the recession.

"People have not known where to invest in today's low interest rate environment, and they have turned to buy something that doesn't devalue," Mr Bamberger says. "It is like buying gold."

The secondary market in Cartier products is also strong – its watches hold their value. The company has had to raise its retail prices to respond to the strength of the gold price, but prices will not fall to reflect its collapse.

"It is very rare that we bring down the price of the product", he says.

Prices are based on long-term investment in commodities – including gold, platinum and diamonds – and price reductions usually only occur when taxes in a country change.

Luxury makers are restrained in their capacity to diversify creations, says Mr Bamberger, and Cartier has no plans to expand its products range outside expensive watches and jewellery.

"We could not make haute couture. Our legacy is not making handbags. We are a traditional watchmaking and jewellery business and we respect the craftsmanship of what we sell."

The need to promote the Cartier name to emerging markets was the goal of a short film for television and the cinema last year.

Mr Bamberger says: "We felt we had to promote Cartier's DNA globally, especially in emerging markets, so people know what Cartier is. It was about romancing our products, giving the historical background."

In the film, called L'Odyssee de Cartier, a panther moves from St Petersburg to China to an Indian palace and finally to Paris, where Cartier was founded.

The panther lands on Place Vendôme – the location of a major Cartier shop in Paris's high jewellery centre – and meets model Shalom Harlow at the Grand Palais.

One critic called the prize-winning film "a visual spectacular of cutting-edge special effects".

Mr Bamberger expects the company will return to the screen in the next five years. He adds that, as with everything else, Cartier will take its time.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...