Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermes are out to prove their watchmaking mettle
Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermes – three luxury-fashion powerhouses build their watchmaking reputation while upholding their own indelible spirit.
To the average fashion fan, it might seem like a curious thing for runway titans Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermes to have to prove their worth. But these French labels are tirelessly working the ground at the annual Basel watch fairs, striving to punch above their weight in high-end watchmaking circles.
They are doing this because crossing over from the fashion realm to the horological world is not easy, even though both worlds inhabit the luxury universe.
Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermes, while belonging to the upper echelons of fashion, find it a challenge to do the same in the high-end watch industry. After all, the watch world’s most illustrious companies boast centuries-old heritage, production prowess and specialised craftsmanship. While the three fashion brands claim similar strengths, the question is whether they can effectively express their spirit and sensibilities in a horological dimension.
STAYING THE COURSE
For Chanel, the foray into high-end watchmaking has been marked by consistency. Since it debuted its first timepiece, the Premiere, in 1987, it has positioned all its watches in the luxury bracket. “Always high-end and always Swiss-made,” says Nicolas Beau, Chanel’s international director of horology.
“Many fashion houses treat watches as fashion accessories,” he adds. “The watches are usually cheaply made, so retail prices are low. Our watches are always luxury objects and not fashion add-ons. Brands that treat timepieces as second-string products are facing challenges now – problems which Chanel doesn’t have.”
And instead of competing against other watch companies by introducing more technical timepieces, Chanel has fought for its share of the market on its own terms. For example, the Premiere, a high-end ladies’ collection, was launched at a time when women’s watches were merely downsized versions of men’s watches. By offering a top-of-the-line collection especially for women, Chanel created a market niche that other watch brands soon capitalised on.
The success of its J12 collection is another validation of Chanel’s unique approach. This range of high-tech ceramic timepieces, which took the watch industry by storm with its distinctively glossy material, spawned many imitators. It not only defined the company’s fashion-forward identity, but established it as a creative watch brand attuned to the tastes of the modern collector.
“When we launched the J12 White, critics said that it was a nice trend that would last 10 months. Ten years on, the collection is still going strong, and has influenced so many brands – even the traditional watch brands,” says Beau, who was instrumental in the collection’s development.
Reflecting on Chanel’s place in high-end watchmaking, Beau says that the company’s achievements in the industry are the result of a respect for its roots.
“It’s simple: We create beautiful objects in the spirit of our founder Coco Chanel, which is to combine the classic with the avant-garde. The values that go into creating a watch or a bag are the same for us,” he says. “In 25 years, Chanel has come up with two models that have strongly influenced the watch market. Not many fashion brands, or companies with a non-watchmaking heritage, can claim that.”
The finale of Chanel’s Fall/Winter 2013-2014 show in Paris
Chanel’s watchmaking factory at La
Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland
Nicolas Beau, international director of horology, Chanel
Chanel’s debut timepiece, the Premiere, from 1987
The Chanel J12 debuted in 2001
J12 chronographs waiting to be