A Conversation With the First Female President of the Americas for Luxury Timepiece Brand Vacheron Constantin
As the first female president of the Americas for luxury timepiece brand Vacheron Constantin, Leslie Kobrin couldn’t be more excited for the road ahead.
Interview by Steven Del Degan
Images courtesy of Vacheron Constantin
The world of luxury timepieces is a magical one, filled with a passionate legion of followers that keep track of industry movements with bated breath. But it’s also a community that has largely existed as a boy’s club for evangelists and leaders alike. That’s why Leslie Kobrin’s recent appointment as president of the Americas for one of the world’s oldest watch companies is a big deal. At the helm of Swiss luxury brand Vacheron Constantin, Kobrin talks about her vision and the benefits of diversity in an organization.
What was your first memory around a timepiece?
Not a lot of people know this, but my father and my uncle were both retailers in the jewellery business. My dad sold watches (not quite at this level of the industry), which definitely gave me my first exposure to all the classics at the time: Timex, Casio, Seiko, and even some children’s watches. My Mickey Mouse watch is probably my first proud moment of having a watch.
So here we have what triggered your first love for the world of watches. How did you get into it, career-wise?
I feel really fortunate because around seven years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Nicolas Bos, who’s now the global head of Van Cleef & Arpels. We met, and eventually I joined the team and was with them for six years. I would say that was my first real exposure to watches at a luxury level.
As the first female president of the Americas for the brand, what does it mean to hold this position?
I’m definitely honoured. For anyone to find himself or herself in the role of president for such a prestigious and historical watch brand is pretty special, regardless of gender. I do think that it is a sign of change, though. We see this across industries where you have more diversity of people across culture, background, gender, and more. It brings something different to an environment.
What have been some of the challenges to get to where you are now, not just as a woman, but also as an individual?
My father always told me that everything is a learning opportunity in life, especially in the day-to-day. I think the biggest learning for me has always been to remember that things never stay the same, and how to manage change. I love change and, for me, that has been one of my strengths – to manage what might be looked at as a hurdle and ask, “What’s the upside on that?”
What do you think sets Vacheron Constantin apart from its contemporaries?
It’s not an easy question, but there are a lot of great brands out there and we’re all kind of in this really great category of business together. What sets Vacheron apart, though, is our history. We have over 260 continuous years of history, which nobody else can claim.
There is also our expertise and craftsmanship in building one-of-a-kind watches. It’s really at the service of the client and whatever they are looking for. It could be something extremely complicated that they just have as a part of their collection, or a jewelled watch. Whatever their dreams are for that perfect timepiece, we can create for them.
Where do you look for inspiration and insight?
For me, it’s important that we have this work-life environment and passions that feed into that. Personally, I’m really passionate about baking and photography. I have a lot of friends in the creative field that are incredibly inspiring.
Do you consider the creative side of watchmaking separate from the business side?
You need to have both. In this day and age, you can have all the creativity in the world, but if you can’t connect with clients, how do you create continuity in business? With so many means of connecting to people out there, whether through influencers or retail channels, I don’t think there is an exact formula to do that anymore. So as much as I think it is important to have these beautiful creations, you need to consider the business side as well. You need to have a balance – you need somebody that can bring structure to creativity.
Vacheron Constantin is well known for looking into its past for inspiration, which is a wonderful privilege. But, in some instances, it can be a hindrance. What do you think is the difference between originality and authenticity?
It’s true, we stand on these very strong legs of our history but when you look at the collection today, it stands strong in its modern edge. There are collections like the Overseas or even the Harmony where, even though it was inspired by the ‘20s, it’s still modern today. I do believe that there is dynamism within the organization. We tend to talk at a whisper, we don’t roar. You could say that, in some respects, that has been a negative for us because it doesn’t make us as visible as some of the other brands. But we have still stayed strong within what we do, and when people discover Vacheron Constantin they actually like that about us. It is a quiet strength.
What would you like to see from the watch world right now?
For North America, I would like to see a change in culture and understanding of Swiss watches. There’s work to be done for the industry, and there are brands out there that are trying to create more awareness. But I believe that we could do a better job as a category to educate consumers that are either existing or prospective clients.
The second part is really trying to reach clients who don’t know us or are not familiar with the watch world, but will get excited about it. Frankly, whether they’re ready to buy or not, it’s about how we can get them into our communities so that they know about us. We know that not everyone is ready for a Vacheron, but if they can be educated and start to aspire, then that’s a great thing. You know when people talk about watches that they would like? To be able to name Vacheron Constantin as one of them means we’re doing something right.