A Conversation with Rudy Chavez of Baume & Mercier

A conversation in July 2011 by Jessica

Rodolfo “Rudy” Chavez is an American success story. His story begins in the 1960s, when his parents fled Cuba. After the Chavez family immigrated to the United States, Rudy grew up and put himself through college by working odd-jobs at a New Jersey jewelry store. Eventually, he worked his way up to become the President of Baume & Mercier North America.

A Conversation with Rudy Chavez of Baume & Mercier, Rudy Chavez, President of Baume & Mercier, Baume & MercierRudy Chavez, President of Baume & Mercier North America

In the 1960s, the Chavez family owned a home and lived a comfortable lifestyle in Las Villas, Cuba. However, Rudy’s father was an outspoken critic of Fidel Castro’s government and, in 1966, his father was arrested and imprisoned. Rudy’s father languished in prison for over a month. Uncertain of his fate, Rudy’s father was finally given an ultimatum: either leave Cuba within 24-hours or be executed as a politcal dissident.

Then, just 5 years old, Rudy recalls his father’s release from prison and the family’s immediate departure on an airplane to Spain. The Chavez family left their homeland penniless and, literally, wearing the clothes on their backs.

The family remained in Spain for a year until they arrived in New York City. Rudy recalls his parents’ arrival on a Friday night. Although neither spoke English, the following Monday, both parents went to work at jobs secured by their relatives.

Rudy’s father was 40 years old and went to work at Gimbels department store as a stock boy. His mother went to work at an embroidery factory. By 1970, the Chavez family moved into a tight-knit blue collar community in Union City, New Jersey. Rudy was 7 years old.

Through his parents, Rudy learned the values of hard work, humility, ethics and, most of all, the determination to meet and overcome every challenge.

A Conversation with Rudy Chavez of Baume & Mercier, Rudy Chavez, President of Baume & Mercier, Baume & Mercier

TimeZone (TZ): Your family overcame quite a number of challenges.

Rudy Chavez (RC): You learn quickly that you can work through challenges. I saw that in my father, and in what he overcame. Here was a man who didn’t speak English when he arrived and had to start over at 40 as a stock boy. Yet, he worked hard enough to own his own business within a few years.

TZ: Your parents sound like a strong influence in your life.

RC: They are and I’ll never forget how hard they worked. My mother worked in a factory. At that time, Union City was the garment capital of the country and she worked at an embroidery factory. Not only was her work very hard, but I recall vividly her waiting outside our home each morning for her ride to work. Every morning, she waited for a co-worker to pick her up in a van. Even during the winter when it was 20-degrees, she would stand outside and wait. My parents’ work ethic was ingrained at a very early age.

TZ: How did you find your way into the watch industry?

RC: I put myself through college by working odd-jobs at Continental Jewelers, a family-owned jewelry store in New Jersey. I literally started at the bottom, vacuuming the floors, cleaning the windows, pretty much anything that needed to be done. Then, one day I got a promotion. I still had to vacuum and clean the windows, but I was also promoted to sales.

TZ: That sounds like a promotion and a demotion at the same time.

RC: [Laughing] It was, and I learned retail sales from the bottom up. It was a great opportunity because I learned right away how much I enjoyed sales. In the jewelry industry, you help clients select that special piece for a special moment, whether it’s a wedding, a birth of a child or an anniversary. There’s a connection to something meaningful in their lives. So it’s something I immediately enjoyed doing.

TZ: Did you work at Continental until you graduated?

RC: I did. I eventually earned a degree in Accounting. But I enjoyed working at Continental so much that I continued working in sales until I became a manager. I was about 30 years old when I finally left Continental for Saks Fifth Avenue, where I sold watches and jewelry. I worked at Saks for five years before I was hired by Sector.

TZ: Is that Sector the watch company?

RC: Yes, in 1992 Sector Watches hired me as a Visual Merchandiser. Sector was a great experience because the company provided me a background in several aspects of the business ranging from merchandising, sales and eventually regional and national accounts. I was very happy at Sector and never intended to leave, but several retailers recommended me and I was recruited by Baume & Mercier. That was 15 years ago and I’ve been with Baume & Mercier ever since.

TZ: What position did Baume & Mercier recruit you for?

RC: I was hired as the New York Regional Manager. From there, I became Director of National Accounts and, previous to my current position, I was Vice-President of Sales.

A Conversation with Rudy Chavez of Baume & Mercier, Rudy Chavez, President of Baume & Mercier, Baume & Mercier, mono pusher chronograph, vintage Baume chronograph, historic Baume chronograph
Historic Baume & Mercier single-push chronograph from 1948

TZ: Sounds like you’re a natural leader. You certainly enrich the company. What makes Baume & Mercier different as a watch company?

RC: Baume & Mercier has a rich heritage and an authentic pedigree. Since 1830, the company has only specialized in fine timepieces. Today, we specialize in contemporary classics that are affordable. For Baume & Mercier, it’s important to provide our clients with timeless designs and value. For 2011, we focused on an historical chronograph as the inspiration for the new Capeland collection.

A Conversation with Rudy Chavez of Baume & Mercier, Rudy Chavez, President of Baume & Mercier, Baume & Mercier, Capeland Flyback Chronograph, Baume Capeland, Capeland 10006
Capeland Flyback Chronograph in stainless steel, Ref. 10006

A Conversation with Rudy Chavez of Baume & Mercier, Rudy Chavez, President of Baume & Mercier, Baume & Mercier, Baume Mercier Capeland, Baume Capeland, Baume chronograph
The newly designed Capeland Chronograph features a two-tone dial with Tri-compax layout

A Conversation with Rudy Chavez of Baume & Mercier, Rudy Chavez, President of Baume & Mercier, Baume & Mercier, Baume Mercier Capeland Chronograph, Capeland Chronograph
Capeland Chronograph two-tone dials in black (Ref.10001), slate (Ref.10003) & silver (Ref.10005)

TZ: The new collections are handsome, timeless, classic designs.

RC: They are. The other quality I appreciate is that Baume & Mercier has always been a brand that’s been very special to owners. They either purchased or received a Baume & Mercier on a special occasion. There’s an emotional connection behind our timepieces and it’s common to hear how our clients wear them with incredible affection.

TZ: That’s interesting because, while we were dating in the mid-1990s, I purchased a [Baume & Mercier] Hampton for my husband when he completed graduate school. He still owns that watch and I’m surprised how often he wears it since he owns other watches that cost many times more.

RC: This is a common story I’ve heard from many clients because this emotional connection has always been an authentic part of the brand. But also, that Hampton — does it have a curved case? [Affirmative nod]. That model launched in 1994 and it has a timeless, elegant design. We’ve come full circle as a brand because our new CEO, Alain Zimmermann, has found a passionate way of communicating the emotional aspect of being a part of our clients’ special moments. Mr. Zimmermann thought of our new campaign, “Life is About Moments”. This is so true to the brand.

TZ: Thank you for taking the time to talk. Yours is a truly inspirational story and it was a sincere pleasure meeting you.

Rudy Chavez, President of Baume & Mercier, Baume & Mercier, Classima Jumping Hour, Baume Classima, Classima 10039
Classima Automatic Jumping Hour, Ref. 10039

For more on the Baume & Mercier novelties, please see Up Close with the Baume et Mercier 2011 Novelties.

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