Style & Substance: The Rise of Fashion-Branded Watches

Style & Substance: The Rise of Fashion-Branded Watches

Apart from the a number of “what number of kidneys do I’ve to promote to afford this?” feedback — clearly not the model’s audience — the overarching sentiment that echoed all through the feedback part of the Louis Vuitton Tambour Carpe Diem marketing campaign may very well be summed up in a single phrase: “Wow”. These expensively produced movies clearly served their goal: for product consciousness, sure, but in addition to introduce the model’s watches to a brand new viewers. But past the self-serving causes, these timepieces made by vogue manufacturers have had one other unintentional consequence: that of introducing Swiss watchmaking to a totally new viewers.

Joey Luk, Sotheby’s head of watches in Asia, explains the phenomena: “Watches from luxurious manufacturers are notably well-liked amongst the youthful generations or new collectors, as they provide a extra inexpensive and enticing value vary. As data and expertise about gathering watches improve, these clients will seemingly transfer on to conventional manufacturers to pursue different qualities of horology, akin to issues, craftsmanship and technological improvements.”

She attributes this degree of consciousness to social media platforms, which have broadened the standard collectors’ circle. It has a halo impact, and if you’re already bought on Louis Vuitton’s baggage, sneakers, ready-to-wear, and trunks, the following logical step can be to finish the look with Louis Vuitton-branded watch and jewelry. Luk says, “It’s very seemingly that shoppers would choose up a (Hermès) Birkin and determine they’d need a watch that goes with it or vice versa — as a result of general branding and advertising and marketing.”

She attests that in recent times, “sophisticated watches by Chanel and Hermès have been performing effectively”. She provides, “Brands apart, different extremely wanted qualities and options embody: (i) tourbillons, amongst different sophisticated watches, are extra well-liked; (ii) endorsements by celebrities; and (iii) a choice for smaller watches in comparison with 10 years in the past.”

It is vital to notice that the excessive watchmaking departments of manufacturers akin to Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Gucci aren’t producing copycat, extra inexpensive variations of probably the most well-known Swiss watches. Instead, these luxurious manufacturers have adeptly honed in on their distinctive identities, and have pushed inventive boundaries to construct watches that completely echo their raison d’etre with out diluting their model picture. Take Gucci as an example. Last yr, it celebrated 50 years of watchmaking in Switzerland with the launch of its first haute horlogerie assortment. Elements like bees, mint-coloured sapphire instances, and constellations abounded — not precisely what you’ll anticipate from a Swiss watchmaker (and neither is it everybody’s cup of tea) however the result’s so inherently Gucci that you must respect Alessandro Michele for remaining devoted to his aesthetic imaginative and prescient of the model.

Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Chanel — who’ve deeper (although not longer) horological histories than Gucci — have all made their mark on Swiss horlogerie. They have received awards, impressed even the purists with their playful and revolutionary takes on conventional actions — the Hermès L’Arceau Time Suspended, anybody? — and made positive that they don’t rankle the gods of Swiss watchmaking by disrespecting conventional mores. Where these manufacturers stand out is that the motion is at all times on the service of design. This implies that the design workforce first comes up with the loopy idea, and subsequently challenges the watchmakers to make their outlandish concepts come true. Case in level: When Chanel wished to hop on the tourbillon bandwagon again in 2012, they requested their companions Renaud and Papi to form the bridge within the type of a camellia — Gabrielle Chanel’s favorite flower. Giulio Papi’s response? “You should be mad.”

Perhaps, however insanity — as Adam Neumann would attest — is what separates the wheat from the chaff. That yr, the Première Flying Tourbillon with a camellia formed bridge bagged the very best girls’s watch on the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). Perhaps it’s excessive time that we rebrand the derogatory connotation that comes with the phrase “vogue watch”. These luxurious homes have poured in blood, sweat and plenty of cash to face shoulder-to-shoulder with the watchmaking greats. They refused to easily licence their product to a producer and stamp their emblem on the completed product though commercially, which may have made extra sense (we’re taking a look at you, Michael Kors). But as an alternative, they performed the lengthy, arduous recreation, taking a deliberate and long-term view of their horological aspirations. They established a presence in Switzerland, arrange ateliers and purchased specialists alongside the way in which to understand their ambitions. To paraphrase a watchmaking large based mostly in Le Brassus, they needed to grasp the foundations of watchmaking earlier than they may break and form them in line with their identification.

They employed the proper individuals, partnered with the proper skills, and spent years finding out and mastering Swiss strategies, craftsmanship and know-how. Slowly and absolutely, they’ve additionally been vertically integrating their manufactures, and taking management over the manufacturing of elements akin to instances, dials, stability springs and extra.

Beyond a need to propagate Swiss watchmaking and grasp their horological aspirations, there was one other occasion that pushed these manufacturers to bolster their watchmaking manufacturing: They have been triggered by the Swatch Group’s notorious determination in 2013 to restrict the distribution of ETA actions. Without a prepared provide of ebauches, they’d no alternative however to ramp up their very own manufacturing and take management over the narrative. This has led to acquisitions that not solely shield conventional watchmaking strategies, but in addition assist unbiased watchmakers and producers by giving them a wholesome monetary backing. Of course, this heady concoction of occasions has resulted in unbridled creativity, permitting these vogue manufacturers to really develop their distinctive watchmaking ethos and ship a novel, and dare we are saying trendy, tackle watchmaking.

In the following few pages, be a part of us as we delve into the affect that these vogue manufacturers have had on Swiss watchmaking, and the way they’ve helped hold the legacy of Swiss watchmaking alive with strategic investments and considerate creations.


The historical past of Hermès has oft been documented: lengthy story quick, it began its life as a saddle-maker earlier than it launched that bag that has spawned years-long ready lists. But lesser identified is its watchmaking heritage — it began with a tiny blip again in 1912, when a photograph of Émile Hermès’ 4 daughters featured certainly one of them, Jacqueline, carrying a wristwatch (keep in mind, pocket watches have been all the fad again then) with a strap made by the atelier’s saddle-making and leather-based craftsmen.

Its horological ambitions have been definitely not linear: a decade or so later, Hermès would dedicate a piece of its Rue Faubourg boutique to watches, providing timepieces from well-known Swiss manufacturers (sure, Rolex included) stamped with the Hermès emblem.

It was in 1978 that issues acquired critical: it arrange a watch division in Bienne to search out out extra in regards to the affect the town has had on watchmaking, to supply fashionable vogue watches together with the Cape Cod and the stirrup-inspired Arceau.

This technique served the model effectively for 20 years, with the launch of attention-grabbing watch collections just like the Medor and the Kelly. But it was time to get much more critical: in 2003, beneath the tutelage of Guillaume de Seynes, govt vp of Hermès and a sixth-generation member of the Dumas household (Jean-Louis Dumas is his uncle), La Montre Hermès acquired a stake in Vaucher, formally solidifying its intent to develop its watch division. Less than 20 years later, it looks like the technique has paid off: in 2021, Hermès entered the hallowed record of the highest 20 Swiss watch manufacturers, rating quantity 19, simply forward of Bulgari. Today, Hermès’s watch division accounts for 4 per cent of the corporate’s income, and bought 58,000 models in 2021.

Hermes Arceau Le temps voyageur
Image: Hermès

How precisely did it obtain this?

  1. Strategic investments.
  2. Doubling down on its playful identification and designing watches that serve to amplify the Hermès identification.
  3. And a laser-pointed concentrate on honing its experience in inventive crafts and bracelet-making, whereas repeatedly refining its watchmaking know-how.

Hermès watches have by no means deviated from the core Hermès identification that permeates its total universe. They are whimsical, playful, superbly made, inventive and dreamy – they put the enjoyable in luxurious, with out ever coming throughout as juvenile.

Even its issues are executed in a quintessentially Hermès vogue: A moonphase in Hermès’ palms, as an example, options two-subdials that orbit across the dial to point the lunar cycle. With a base motion by Vaucher, and the ingenious show conceptualised by Chronode, the Arceau L’Heure de la Lune is replete with charming particulars, like a meteorite dial, a Pegasus motif subtly painted on the moon, and people curved Arabic numerals.

This creativity has been amplified by different watchmaking acquisitions: dial-maker, Natéber and case-maker, Joseph Érard.

Furthermore, harkening to its heritage, Hermès fabricates leather-based straps at its workshop in Bienne, which opened in 2006. Here, leathers together with goatskin, calfskin, ostrich pores and skin, and alligator leather-based — chosen with the identical exacting and meticulous requirements as its baggage and saddles — are rigorously manipulated into watch straps, with an utmost consideration to element and strict high quality management.


The phrases icon and revolutionary are bandied about method too liberally within the watch business, which is why I hesitate barely to make the next declaration, however make it I need to: Chanel revolutionised horology when it launched the ceramic J12 in 2002. There, I mentioned it. In the identical method that stainless-steel was thought-about tool-watch materials till the launch of the Royal Oak in 1972, the J12 launched a design lexicon that was just about unparalleled at the moment. A four-figure, almost-plastic-looking watch that might not be scratched? Unfathomable.

But Chanel had simply gotten began, and that was simply its nascent step on its horological journey. The man chargeable for igniting Chanel’s watchmaking flame was Jacques Helleu, the model’s inventive director at the moment. In 1987, he conceived the Première watch, recognisable for its form that emulates the Chanel No. 5 bottle stopper. A couple of years later, in 1993, Chanel would set up its Swiss presence by buying a stake in G&F Châtelain, a manufacture that specialised within the ending of actions and different watchmaking abilities. It was arrange in 1947 by two brothers, Georges and Francis Châtelain, and had labored with Chanel on the manufacturing of Première, thus organically paving the way in which to its eventual acquisition.

Located in La Chaux-de-Fonds, G&F Châtelain represents a vital piece of the puzzle for Chanel, as that is the place it manufactures — from scratch — the ceramic that it makes use of for its J12 watches. Essentially, high-tech ceramic grains endure a high-pressure, high-heat therapy to solidify into the fabric’s closing type — it’s a labour-intensive job, and one which requires precision and expertise. It should be famous that Chanel’s ceramic-making method took six years to be perfected, and the key to the fabric’s lustre, energy and high quality stays carefully guarded.

La Chaux-de-Fonds

In its ambition to develop its watchmaking division, Chanel would make a couple of extra strategic investments to ascertain it as a bona fide watchmaker — after buying G&F, the Wertheimer brothers (controlling shareholders of Chanel) additionally purchased a “pleasant” stake in Romain Gauthier in 2016, a 20 per cent stake in FP Journe in 2018, and 20 per cent stake movement-maker Kenissi in 2019.

For unbiased watchmakers like Romain Gauthier and FP Journe, this partnership permits them to safe their companies, and ensures that their manufacturers will proceed lengthy after they’re gone. Post-acquisition, Journe revealed that he agreed to promote a stake of his firm “to ensure the way forward for his firm”, provided that none of his kids need to observe in his footsteps.

This deliberate acquisition of expert artisans is consistent with Chanel’s larger ethos: its subsidiary Paraffection has slowly been buying couture ateliers in France that concentrate on rarefied crafts — its ambition is to guard handcrafted strategies and metiers d’artwork, guaranteeing the know-how is handed on from technology to technology and never misplaced to the annals of time.

And one factor that we must always give Chanel credit score for is that it has by no means seen its “vogue” roots as a drawback. It has embraced and leveraged its experience in couture again and again, bringing vogue crafts and motifs to its watchmaking endeavours, as evinced by the Mademoiselle Privé assortment that always showcases inventive crafts akin to embroidery on the dial.

It is a technique that has helped set it aside, and has spawned timepieces that unapologetically straddle the road between vogue and horology — all whereas respecting the codes inherent to Swiss watchmaking. In truth, in 2016, it stunned us with the launch of its first in-house motion, surprisingly fitted in a males’s watch, Monsieur de Chanel.

Calibre 1 options an instantaneous leaping hour and retrograde minute, however past its technical specs, it additionally revealed Chanel’s hand: the model was not inquisitive about utilizing its assets to construct an in-house automated, easy motion. No, it wished to point out off the prowess that it had constructed over time, and to affirm its place as a bona fide watchmaker. Subsequent in-house actions would come with a flying tourbillon (Calibre 5), a skeleton motion (Calibre 3) and a manual-winding skeleton motion formed like a camellia (Calibre 2).


While Gucci has solely amped up its excessive watchmaking manufacturing prior to now two years, it has a protracted historical past of manufacturing cool timepieces — in 1978, its Model 2000 timepiece broke world information by promoting a couple of million models in two years. Over the years, Gucci’s watches have continued to be stamped by the Swiss-made label, inking its spot at quantity 25 in a Morgan Stanley 2021 report on the top-selling Swiss watch manufacturers.

This was because of the truth that in 1972, Gucci inked a licencing settlement with the Severin Montres Group, basically cementing its presence in Switzerland. Since then, it has anchored its manufacturing in three areas, specializing in completely different experience: At its workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds, that is the place Gucci conducts high quality management checks, assembles the watches, and does the jewellery-setting. Over on the Kering manufacture in Neuchâtel — which additionally serves because the headquarters for Gucci watches — the concepts are percolated through the design course of and its in-house actions are produced. Then, in Ticino (the Italian-speaking area of Switzerland), its visible mastery involves life on the Fabbrica Quadranti workshop, which manufactures the Gucci dials. The Florentine dial-maker began working with Gucci 15 years earlier than the Italian model acquired its operations in 2013.

It is obvious that Alessandro Michele and Gucci have excessive aspirations for the watchmaking division, evinced by the launch of its excessive watchmaking assortment in 2021. Unapologetically ostentatious, the watches are tres Gucci, subverting design norms and drawing inspiration from myriad sources — creating, finally, a veritable Gucci Wonderland. But nonetheless, no matter how you’re feeling in regards to the aesthetics, one can not deny that the watches are well-made, kowtowing to conventional Swiss watchmaking strategies with out plunging into the tried-and-tested class.

Gucci Dive Bio-Based

In true Gucci statement-making vogue, its excessive watchmaking aspirations have been cemented by the launch of its first in-house motion, the ultra-thin the GG727.25, housed inside the Gucci 25H. The 25H is harking back to a Seventies sports activities watch, with a cushion-shaped case, built-in bracelet, striated traces on the dial, and a intelligent three-layer case design that hides the crown. Naysayers dubbed the timepiece a “NautilusOak”; it’s maybe not probably the most creatively designed watch within the line-up, however will most likely be its most commercially profitable. Prices for the metal quartz model (which comes with a spread of funky-coloured dials) begin at US$1,700, however if you need a gold or platinum version, the automated watch will price you US$9,700. The tourbillon model prices a cool US$142,000.

For 2022, the 25H has acquired an haute horlogerie improve: this time, the tourbillon model has been skeletonised, additional exhibiting off the technical chops of the Kering manufacture.

Will this — or the opposite really bombastic timepieces that Gucci has launched — be bought by the Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin purist? Perhaps not, however they don’t seem to be whom Gucci is focusing on. Those who purchase its watches will principally not be swayed by technical improvements and even an in-house motion — however they’re the early adopters who’re joyful to embrace the unconventional. They grew up carrying Flik Flaks and Apple watches, and don’t essentially need to put on the identical watches their fathers do — Gucci’s watches are a method of introducing them to this rarefied world, packaged in a youthful dressing.

Louis Vuitton

In its press launch in regards to the Tambour 20 (a watch that celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Louis Vuitton’s signature Tambour assortment), the French maison states, virtually as a footnote: “A tribute to Louis Vuitton’s journey legacy, shoppers can proceed to guard their most treasured belongings in instances that can stand the check of time… Said time, nevertheless, is just not more likely to have handed earlier than Louis Vuitton’s legitimacy as a watchmaker is effectively and really established…”

Talk about being painfully self-aware…

But it’s telling of the trajectory that Louis Vuitton has undertaken prior to now 20 years to firmly set up its credibility as a watchmaker. An instrumental determination was its acquisition of La Fabrique du Temps, which was the brainchild of watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini. Both have been grasp horologers who had minimize their tooth collectively at Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Franck Muller — the latter was in the course of the Crazy Hours period, the place their watchmaking know-how was pushed to the boundaries.

Their goal for establishing La Fabrique du Temps was easy: To assume outdoors the horological field. Unsurprisingly, Louis Vuitton got here calling in 2011, its mandate being to cement its watchmaking experience in Switzerland. Anchored firmly within the twin tenets of crusing and journey, Louis Vuitton wished to supply timepieces that conveyed its adventurous spirit by reimagining classical issues and presenting them in new-fangled methods.

Over the years, Louis Vuitton would additional set up its Swiss presence with the acquisition of dial-maker Léman Cadran, and the institution of a 4,000 sqm Louis Vuitton High Watchmaking facility in Meyrin.

The manufacture’s strategic location in Geneva provides Louis Vuitton one other benefit: it permits the model to submit its timepieces to the Geneva Seal institute, additional guaranteeing that its watches are produced with the best consideration to ending and manufacturing. Without swaying from its core DNA, Louis Vuitton’s watches have made waves for his or her distinctive tackle horology — take the Spin Time, which options 12 cubes as an alternative of typical numerals, which bounce to the following hour to disclose the time. Over the years, this clever show has been used to show the five-minute regatta countdown in addition to the time in your house metropolis on the GMT model. It has additionally been artistically reimagined, as seen within the Escale Spin Time, and been re-engineered utilizing light-weight aluminium to scale back the dimensions of the case.

This is all to say that Louis Vuitton is not any peculiar luxurious model, and its watchmaking endeavours are equally guided — it’s not afraid of defying conference, and the phrases “technical feat” characteristic typically in media experiences for its unorthodox method to prosaic features. Case in level: its 2022 Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum takes inspiration from quantum physics, and options minuscule LED lights that illuminate the watch on demand. The cubes are constructed in silicon dioxide — a sort of glass — which gives the look that they’re floating. By constantly straddling the traces between innovation and custom, and every little thing in between, there is no such thing as a denying that Louis Vuitton has carved a neat area of interest for itself within the annals of Swiss watchmaking. Has it established the legitimacy it sought 20 years in the past? You inform us.

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