Octavio Garcia was considered by many as Gerald Genta’s heir apparent at Audemars Piguet. The Chicago-born designer was the creative director of the Le Brassus brand – a prominent role in the watch industry considering the strong association Audemars Piguet has with design; after all it was the Gerald Genta-designed Royal Oak that effectively set the template for luxury sports watches in 1972.
Garcia was AP’s creative head for 13 years from 2003 to 2015 before he left the stage. However instead of joining another haute horology giant as many in the industry would have expected him to do, Garcia returned with Gorilla, a micro-brand that he had started with his former AP colleague and designer Lukas Gopp.
Gorilla is inspired by American muscle cars but what sets it apart from the other micro-brands in the market is its use of modern materials like forged carbon, ceramic and titanium at a very attractive package. Garcia played a big role in growing the Royal Oak Offshore models for Audemars Piguet and he put that experience to good use in creating the debut Gorilla Fastback limited edition models.
While the original Fastback and the Fastback GT models released this year were powered by Miyota movements, the brand leapfrogged up the complications ladder this year with the launch of the Fastback Drift, a timepiece that follows the same case design as the previous models but is run by a Vaucher-made movement with a wandering hours complication. Priced competitively under $3,000, the watch is now a GPHG 2018 (Grand Prix d’Horlogerie De Genève) finalist in the “Challenge” (watches below CHF4,000) category.
You had a great run at Audemars Piguet. How difficult was it give it all up and start on your own?
Octavio Garcia: Leaving a creative leadership role at one of the most prestigious watch houses in the world to reinvent myself was tough. The 11 years of creative collaboration at Audemars Piguet is personally and professionally valuable to me. However, I have always had an entrepreneurial nature and knew that at one point I would start my own business.
What was the biggest learning working at AP?
OG: Developing and articulating a unique brand vision and guiding principles that permeate an organization enables you to speak with one voice, stand out and move forward effectively and with conviction.
The Gorilla design is quite polarizing. As a watch designer, was this something you were going for all along?
OG: Polarization often occurs when a brand with a strong vision offers a well-designed product with an alternative point of view. With the exception of a handful of rebel brands we admire, the price segment we chose to develop our brand and products is inundated with watches designed to please the masses. We are not for everyone and we do it well.
Motoring-inspired watches are not exactly new in the industry. Were you not worried about becoming yet another brand trying to milk this connection?
OG: I was not in the least worried about becoming another car-inspired watch brand because I love cars, and I believe that what we are doing within our brand world and with our products is genuine. I believe that cars and watches are the last bastions of mechanical creativity and our association with car culture has allowed us to connect with a new community of automotive gearheads that were not otherwise interested in horology.
The attention to detail on the watches is refreshing, especially given their price points. What are the tenets of good watch design?
OG: A watch is a succession of moving and static parts all working together to sit on a wrist and tell time. Achieving a sense of harmony and character while managing practical issues like legibility and ergonomics so that a watch sits just right on a wrist takes experience. However, I believe the understanding and appreciation of horology and its rich history is essential in creating a timepiece that conveys emotion.
What is the hardest part about launching Gorilla? Were you ever tempted to go down the Kickstarter route?
OG: Online sales, logistics, and retail are areas of expertise that called for a rapid learning curve on our part. Customer experience is an area of great importance to Gorilla and getting it right is crucial to our success. Recognizing the opportunity social media offers in helping us shape our brand experience has become an essential component of our brand strategy. Early on we did take into consideration the Kickstarter route as a means of cutting through the noise of a saturated market. However, once the product came together, we felt confident that we could create enough interest and trust in the brand to do it on our own.
Polarization often occurs when a brand with a strong vision offers a well-designed product with an alternative point of view.
You have gone from a simple Miyota movement to an infinitely more complex Vaucher-made movement for the Fastback Drift Wandering Hours. How do you plan to grow the product line?
OG: The Fastback Drift Wandering Hours by Vaucher was developed in parallel with the inception of the brand. From the very beginning, we believed in the value of unique complications bearing the attributes reserved for high watchmaking as the best affirmation to our ethos of testing new limits.
How many watches do you produce in a year now?
OG: We are at approximately 2,000 watches this year. It is still too soon to say where we will be in five years.
Are you happy selling watches online or do you think a retail presence is important to get noticed?
OG: Although we kicked off Gorilla with one reference - the Fastback Original - a limited edition of 500 pieces that was exclusively sold online, from the very beginning a retail network was an integral part of our business model. The success of the Original confirmed the brand’s potential and allowed us the opportunity to create a collection of three new references that quickly captured the attention of clients and retailers alike. We have only recently started developing our retail presence with the objective of better serving our customers, our retail network is comprised of seasoned watch professionals that can convey the Gorilla brand’s story and cater to a growing demand.
(This article was published in the Fall 2018 print magazine.)