FASH­ION FOR­WARD

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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

en­cased

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