How Luxury Fashion Houses Are Redefining Watchmaking
Until recently, most people have in their possession just one or two watches: a classic timekeeper for work or formal occasions, and perhaps something sporty for downtime. It was only in the 1980s, with the proliferation of affordable digital and quartz watches, that consumers began thinking of watches like any other style accessory—a product to be purchased in multiple shapes, sizes and colours.
In the 1990s, virtually every major designer label began appearing on watch dials. For the most part, that’s all these brands really did—casually stamped their logos onto an inexpensive quartz watch and charged a premium for the branding. While their aesthetics might have been acceptable, the quality that distinguished the garments these designers had built their names on frequently wasn’t present.
Many fashion houses continue to simply cash in, licensing their trademarks to appear on superficially chic yet horologically unimpressive products. However, some savvier fashion brands have come to recognise that the timepieces carrying their names need to match not only the style, but also the craftsmanship of the other goods in their portfolios.
A pioneer in the fashion watch field, Gucci started out with an affordably priced, licensed product, selling huge quantities during the 1970s and 1980s. In the late 1990s, however, the Florentine brand, then undergoing a complete restructuring by the dynamic duo of Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole, brought watchmaking back in-house and now produces a more exclusive, higher-quality range at its own factory in Switzerland.
Similarly, Christian Dior’s first forays into the world of watches occurred with partnerships in the 1960s and 1970s. It is only after the Maison was purchased by LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault that the standard of Dior’s watches has come to parallel its exquisite couture. Through its association with LVMH (owner of marques including Zenith, Hublot, Bulgari and TAG Heuer), Dior has access to enviable watchmaking resources and certainly does not waste the opportunity this affords.
The same can be said for LVMH’s flagship brand, Louis Vuitton, which has offered a solid collection of timepieces for the past two decades. Many of these feature complications, such as dual time or world time indications, inspired by Vuitton’s rich history in travel.
Ralph Lauren is a passionate and particular watch collector. His array of wristwatches is as impeccable as his vast garage of automobiles. When the great American designer launched a range of watches in 2009, he applied the same discernment to selecting a watchmaking partner as he would’ve in picking out a new addition to his stable of classic cars.
Embarking on this venture, Lauren teamed up with the Richemont Group, home to highly respected manufactures including Piaget, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC Schaffhausen.
Chanel’s first watch, the Premiere, was launched in 1987, its shape echoing that of a No 5 perfume bottle stopper. Indicating its commitment to watchmaking, a few years later, the brand acquired the Manufacture G&F Châtelaine in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, where the lion’s share of Chanel’s watches have been produced ever since.
Although watches make up a small percentage of the label’s overall sales, Chanel takes the sector very seriously, producing a batch of impressive haute horlogerie creations each year. In the realm of more everyday watches, the endlessly popular J12 model, which has been going strong for 20 years, is considered an icon of modern watch design. Ironically, for a so-called ‘fashion watch’, it could be held up as the embodiment of Coco Chanel’s maxim: "Fashion changes, but style endures."
See also: Pairing The Perfect Watch With Your Personality Type