The Rise of Style-Branded Watches

The Rise of Style-Branded Watches
The Rise of Style-Branded Watches

Aside from the a number of “what number of kidneys do I’ve to promote to afford this?” feedback — clearly not the model’s target market — 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 additionally to introduce the model’s watches to a brand new viewers. However past the self-serving causes, these timepieces made by style 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 significantly fashionable amongst the youthful generations or new collectors, as they provide a extra inexpensive and enticing value vary. As data and expertise about gathering watches enhance, these clients will probably transfer on to conventional manufacturers to pursue different qualities of horology, comparable to problems, craftsmanship and technological improvements.”

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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, footwear, ready-to-wear, and trunks, the following logical step could be to finish the look with Louis Vuitton-branded watch and jewelry. Luk says, “It’s very probably that purchasers would choose up a (Hermès) Birkin and resolve they might desire a watch that goes with it or vice versa — as a result of general branding and advertising and marketing.”

She attests that lately, “sophisticated watches by Chanel and Hermès have been performing properly”. She provides, “Manufacturers apart, different extremely wanted qualities and options embrace: (i) tourbillons, amongst different sophisticated watches, are extra fashionable; (ii) endorsements by celebrities; and (iii) a choice for smaller watches in comparison with 10 years in the past.”

It is very important notice that the excessive watchmaking departments of manufacturers comparable to Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Gucci are usually not producing copycat, extra inexpensive variations of probably the most well-known Swiss watches. As a substitute, 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 illustration. Final 12 months, it celebrated 50 years of watchmaking in Switzerland with the launch of its first haute horlogerie assortment. Components like bees, mint-coloured sapphire circumstances, and constellations abounded — not precisely what you’d count on 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’ve gained awards, impressed even the purists with their playful and progressive 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. The place these manufacturers stand out is that the motion is at all times on the service of design. Because of this the design crew first comes up with the loopy idea, and subsequently challenges the watchmakers to make their outlandish concepts come true. Living proof: 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 have to be mad.”

Maybe, however insanity — as Adam Neumann would attest — is what separates the wheat from the chaff. That 12 months, the Première Flying Tourbillon with a camellia formed bridge bagged the very best ladies’s watch on the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). Maybe it’s excessive time that we rebrand the derogatory connotation that comes with the phrase “style watch”. These luxurious homes have poured in blood, sweat and many 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 despite the fact that commercially, which may have made extra sense (we’re taking a look at you, Michael Kors). However as an alternative, they performed the lengthy, arduous sport, 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 big primarily based in Le Brassus, they needed to grasp the foundations of watchmaking earlier than they may break and form them in response to their id.

They employed the suitable individuals, partnered with the suitable skills, and spent years learning and mastering Swiss methods, craftsmanship and know-how. Slowly and certainly, they’ve additionally been vertically integrating their manufactures, and taking management over the manufacturing of elements comparable to circumstances, dials, steadiness springs and extra.

Past a want 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. With out a prepared provide of ebauches, that they had 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 methods, but additionally help unbiased watchmakers and producers by giving them a wholesome monetary backing. In fact, this heady concoction of occasions has resulted in unbridled creativity, permitting these style manufacturers to really develop their distinctive watchmaking ethos and ship a novel, and dare we are saying trendy, tackle watchmaking.

Within the subsequent few pages, be a part of us as we delve into the impression that these style manufacturers have had on Swiss watchmaking, and the way they’ve helped maintain 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. However 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 fashion again then) with a strap made by the atelier’s saddle-making and leather-based craftsmen.

Its horological ambitions have been actually 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 bought severe: it arrange a watch division in Bienne to search out out extra in regards to the impression town has had on watchmaking, to provide stylish style watches together with the Cape Cod and the stirrup-inspired Arceau.

This technique served the model properly for 20 years, with the launch of attention-grabbing watch collections just like the Medor and the Kelly. But it surely was time to get much more severe: in 2003, underneath the tutelage of Guillaume de Seynes, government vice chairman 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. Lower than 20 years later, it looks like the technique has paid off: in 2021, Hermès entered the hallowed listing of the highest 20 Swiss watch manufacturers, rating quantity 19, simply forward of Bulgari. At this time, Hermès’s watch division accounts for 4 per cent of the corporate’s income, and bought 58,000 items in 2021.

Hermes Arceau Le temps voyageur
Picture: Hermès

How precisely did it obtain this?

  1. Strategic investments.
  2. Doubling down on its playful id and designing watches that serve to amplify the Hermès id.
  3. And a laser-pointed deal with 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 id that permeates its whole universe. They’re whimsical, playful, superbly made, inventive and dreamy – they put the enjoyable in luxurious, with out ever coming throughout as juvenile.

Even its problems are executed in a quintessentially Hermès style: A moonphase in Hermès’ palms, as an illustration, 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.

Moreover, harkening to its heritage, Hermès fabricates leather-based straps at its workshop in Bienne, which opened in 2006. Right 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 trade, 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 chrome steel was thought of tool-watch materials till the launch of the Royal Oak in 1972, the J12 launched a design lexicon that was nearly unparalleled at the moment. A four-figure, almost-plastic-looking watch that might not be scratched? Unfathomable.

However Chanel had simply gotten began, and that was simply its nascent step on its horological journey. The person accountable 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 number 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 expertise. 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.

Situated 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. Basically, high-tech ceramic grains bear a high-pressure, high-heat therapy to solidify into the fabric’s last kind — it’s a labour-intensive job, and one which requires precision and expertise. It have to be famous that Chanel’s ceramic-making approach took six years to be perfected, and the key to the fabric’s lustre, energy and high quality stays intently guarded.

La Chaux-de-Fonds

In its ambition to broaden 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. Put up-acquisition, Journe revealed that he agreed to promote a stake of his firm “to ensure the way forward for his firm”, on condition that none of his kids wish to comply with 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 specialize in rarefied crafts — its ambition is to guard handcrafted methods 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 should always give Chanel credit score for is that it has by no means seen its “style” roots as an obstacle. It has embraced and leveraged its experience in couture again and again, bringing style crafts and motifs to its watchmaking endeavours, as evinced by the Mademoiselle Privé assortment that usually showcases inventive crafts comparable to embroidery on the dial.

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

Calibre 1 options an on the spot leaping hour and retrograde minute, however past its technical specs, it additionally revealed Chanel’s hand: the model was not concerned with utilizing its sources to construct an in-house computerized, easy motion. No, it wished to point out off the prowess that it had constructed through the years, 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).


Whereas Gucci has solely amped up its excessive watchmaking manufacturing previously two years, it has an extended historical past of manufacturing cool timepieces — in 1978, its Mannequin 2000 timepiece broke world information by promoting multiple million items in two years. Over time, 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 due to the truth that in 1972, Gucci inked a licencing settlement with the Severin Montres Group, primarily cementing its presence in Switzerland. Since then, it has anchored its manufacturing in three places, specializing in totally 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 by way of 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’s clear 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, in the end, a veritable Gucci Wonderland. However 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 methods with out plunging into the tried-and-tested class.

Gucci Dive Bio-Based

In true Gucci statement-making style, 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. Costs for the metal quartz model (which comes with a spread of funky-coloured dials) begin at US$1,700, however if you’d like a gold or platinum version, the automated watch will value you US$9,700. The tourbillon model prices a cool US$142,000.

For 2022, the 25H has obtained an haute horlogerie improve: this time, the tourbillon model has been skeletonised, additional displaying 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? Maybe not, however they don’t seem to be whom Gucci is concentrating on. Those that 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 pleased to embrace the unconventional. They grew up carrying Flik Flaks and Apple watches, and don’t essentially wish 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, nearly as a footnote: “A tribute to Louis Vuitton’s journey legacy, purchasers can proceed to guard their most valuable belongings in circumstances that may stand the take a look at of time… Mentioned time, nonetheless, isn’t prone to have handed earlier than Louis Vuitton’s legitimacy as a watchmaker is properly and really established…”

Discuss being painfully self-aware…

However it’s telling of the trajectory that Louis Vuitton has undertaken previously 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. Each have been grasp horologers who had lower their enamel collectively at Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Franck Muller — the latter was throughout the Loopy 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 provide timepieces that conveyed its adventurous spirit by reimagining classical problems and presenting them in new-fangled methods.

Over time, 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 Excessive 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. With out 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 standard numerals, which soar to the following hour to disclose the time. Over time, 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.

That is all to say that Louis Vuitton is not any atypical luxurious model, and its watchmaking endeavours are equally guided — it isn’t afraid of defying conference, and the phrases “technical feat” function usually in media experiences for its unorthodox strategy to prosaic capabilities. Living proof: 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 kind of glass — which gives the look that they’re floating. By constantly straddling the traces between innovation and custom, and the whole lot 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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