UPDATE 1-Richemont suffers blow as new head of watchmaking resigns

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ZURICH, July 14 (Reuters) - Swiss luxury group Richemont said on Friday that its head of watchmaking Georges Kern was resigning, leaving a gap in the company's top talent as it presses forward with a turnaround in its watch business.

Kern, who had only taken up the job in November and had been seen by many as a possible future CEO, was resigning immediately, Richemont said.

"Georges has been offered an interesting opportunity to become an entrepreneur," Chairman Johann Rupert said in a statement. "He has had a very successful career at IWC Schaffhausen and we wish him well."

Richemont has been trying to boost profitability by saving costs and rejuvenating its management team and board.

Kern, who formerly ran the group's IWC Schaffhausen watch brand, was appointed to his current position as head of watchmaking, marketing and digital when the group announced in November that it would be scrapping the CEO role and dividing responsibility amongst a few senior executives instead.

He was regarded as an important member of the new generation talents at Richemont.

"Kern was touted as a potential future CEO of the group but the company has recently moved to a committee structure after Richard Lepeu retired as CEO," Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox said. "He may have just thought the structure wasn't for him."

The group has been hard hit by a severe and prolonged watch industry downturn, which saw Richemont's timepiece sales -which make up a little less than half of group revenues - plummet 15 percent in the most recent fiscal year.

While the watch industry has begun to bounce back in recent months, Richemont nonetheless struck a cautious note in May.

Watchmaking - as well as marketing and digital activities - will going forward report directly to the senior executive committee, Richemont said in its statement on Friday. (Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Susan Fenton)