Ultimate Cars, Watches & Hi Fi S02 ep10 : Severin Wundermann, Corum Watches, [Switzerland]
Interview with Severin Wundermann
Established in 1955 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, CORUM has always taken pride in being a refreshingly different and forward-thinking Swiss timepiece manufacturer. Renowned for innovation and exquisite craftsmanship, CORUM's offerings of unique and unusual timepieces convey excitement and passion throughout an impressively varied collection.
Corum: When I was a youngster, I've always admired Corum. I always wanted a very special
watch which was the twenty dollar gold piece and in those days it cost $5,000 which was $4,999
more than what I had in my pocket and I find it unbelievable that I wind up being the owner of the
Corum: I'm basically Belgian born. The first time I went the United States I was eighteen years
old. I was a watch salesman and I remember going from store to store to see if they had any
watches and I saw they had a couple of watches in there so I went in there and tried to sell them a
few watches. I used to meet … in front of Newman Marcus when we were waiting in line with the
Corum: My big, big opportunity in my life was in 1972 when I met Aldo Gucci and he became my
best friend, my mentor and I was the first one that put a name of a fashion on a watch.
Corum: I had called for an appointment, they put me in an office and I'm waiting and waiting and
then the phone kept on ringing and ringing and nobody is picking it up so I just picked up the
phone and hello. Aldo Bucci was quite a big womaniser, he was expecting somebody to present
him a young lady and he thought that I was the guy that was supposed to present him the woman
and here I am trying to talk him into buying watches and Aldo was not a man that had much
patience and he started to cuss me out in Florentine dialect, at that time I used to have a girlfriend
from Italy and I knew some of the Florentine dialect so I answered him what I thought of him and
then he asked me at one point, where the hell are you? I said I'm downstairs, he says, don't bother
I'm coming down to break your head, I said don't bother I'm coming up. So I ran up the stairs and
he ran down the stairs, we grabbed each other and then we thought of the ridiculous of the situation
and we had a drink and from there that was the beginning of my relationship which lasted twenty
five years and which at one time when I ended up with Gucci, we were doing five hundred million
dollars in sales
Corum: Andy Warhol always said the golden ring of opportunity passes in front of everybody in
it's life, unfortunately ninety nine point nine percent of people do not see it or do not grab it, I got
lucky and I grabbed it.
Corum: Aldo Gucci used to instruct his salesgirls, the prices of the goods used to be hidden inside
the bag, if the customer started looking, the girls had instructions to say madam, if you need to
know the price, Gucci is not for you. He is the only man ever on Fifth Avenue that closed an hour
for lunch, you know in New York everybody shops at lunch time and he used to close at lunch
time, people used to wait in line outside and W Ramsey from Newman Marcus said, there is only
one greater retailer than I and that's Aldo Gucci. In those days in Rodeo Drive there was a gas
station at one end, he told me Sevron, this is where I'm going to put the store. I said Aldo, you're
crazy it's Wiltshire Boulevard is where everybody is, he says, no, no, no, no, we go there, where
Gucci goes the rest of the world will follow.
Corum: He was the rebel of the family. Gucci had always just had one shop in Florence and they
opened up a shop in Milan and then a shop in Rome and he felt America was where it is at and he
took the boat even the first time over and his first shop was in the St. Regis Hotel and then he was
the first big retailer to go on Fifth Avenue. No one else was on Fifth Avenue before, it was only
Airline Offices or Department Stores.
Corum: The contract was made in five minutes. He wrote it by hand on the thing and I remember
he told me it's going to be fifteen percent royalties and I said Aldo, you're insane, nobody pays
fifteen percent you know, it's five, ten, seven percent. He says Sevron, fifteen percent of nothing is
how much? I couldn't answer him then.
Corum: But I went through the Gucci wars which were, it made the Bourgeois look like sweet
people, you know, it was a blood war. Aldo did not accept that anybody would say no to him.
There was only one way with him, the Aldo way and his son was the creator, he was a very
creative person and then they got into major, major, they got into fist fights, I mean I was literally
at meetings where Aldo would beat the hell out of him.
Corum: I'm Jewish, The Aldo Gucci's were all Christians. He would say to them you know, I don't
understand you guys, look at this little guy, he puts you all in his pocket, you know then I used to
say Aldo, you're not doing me any favours, these guys are going to hate my guts. It got to a point
where my company was supporting Gucci, you know on the twentieth of every month he would
send the royalty cheques on the nineteenth we would have to send them by DHL because they
needed the money to pay payroll.
Corum: Like I buy art or whatever I buy, I put myself a price in my head and I don't go over it and
in my mind it was three hundred and fifty million dollars and not a dime more and in those days
Invest Corp, Amir Kadir which I know very well, he had in his mind three hundred and seventy
five million. So for twenty five million difference I didn't buy it because I looked at it this way, I
was paying them about eighty five million dollars a year in royalties. I said, no, I'll buy the whole
thing for three hundred and fifty you know, over four years I owned the whole thing and it is just
Corum: I went first to Ebell and then I went there and figured it was worth so much and then
immediately behind me LVMH came and offered thirty million more, I went to Zenith, I went to
everyone. It got to a point that people, brands would call me to say Mister Wunderman, please
make it like you're interested in our brand because afterwards they would come in and buy it out.
And I remember when I look at Corum I made it out to everybody in the world that it was
worthless and then I bought it immediately and that was it.
Corum: The problem with Corum was that seventy to eighty percent of this business was Japan and
then the bubble in Japan burst and that was it, you can't base yourself on one place.
Corum: The first year that I was in Basal in 2000, I had put my personal collection of art pieces in
the window, I didn't put a single watch in, I put a little sign underneath, it said if you really want to
look at watches, come inside. Finally I was able to do what I wanted to do because no matter what,
if you're a licensor, sooner or later you are going to have to deal with it. I had to deal with Tom
Ford who had this unbelievable ego, his taste was watches of the seventies, the big clunky things
and I said this is not what's going to sell and I said I'm not going to make something that doesn't
sell. So you know we ran into each other and then it came to a point I said, you know, I've done
twenty five years of it, they have paid me a lot of money and you know, I laughed all the way to
the bank and that was it.
Corum: The watch industry for me, is profit is like this and problems are like this. My other
business is profit is like this, and problems are like this. Do you understand? And I spent, this is my
thirty sixth year here, now fortunately of all my children I finally have one son that is in the
business now so it will continue and that's it.
Corum: When I left Gucci I took the next big Gucci piece that we didn't make with me which was
the bubble and that was an unbelievable innovation you know, it took Quorum to heights
immediately and that's what it needed, it needed a fashion piece for people to speak about it and
now I've taken back there a hundred and eighty degree and made back into Quorum what it always
was a very high end and very exclusive but now we work on form … lines basically, The Admiral's
Cup, The Romulus, The Golden Bridge and the Coin.
Corum: We're one of the five independents, whenever you see Quorum you'll see us we're between
Pathek and Rolex and we're in those stores now, it's different ball-game altogether.
Corum: Before I used to have a PR person, you know, to put me in the papers now I have a PR
person to keep me out of the papers. You know, I tell you a funny anecdote, one day I'm at
Heathrow going by and I was wearing one of the new models and I see the guy at Heathrow there
and being a smart ass you know I say to him, oh, I see you don't have the latest piece, it's a shame
and then he looks at me and says Mister Wunderman, if you would deliver us, we would have it
and he says, you don't know me but I know you, so.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Severin Wundermann, Corum Watches, Switzerland