BEYOND THE SURFACE
Having established themselves as bona fi de watchmakers, the titans of the fashion universe – Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton among them – are now turning their attention to a more demanding audience.
As any seasoned fashion addict will tell you, French fashion house Chanel has always gone against the grain. In the early 20th century, founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel upended social norms by introducing dresses made from jersey – a fabric then commonly used for men’s undergarments ( gasp) – and trousers for women. In 2000, when the J12 watch was birthed, nobody expected it to be hewn from ceramic, a material then considered avant-garde.
In 2016, Chanel’s watchmaking elves are at it again. At Basel, the La Chaux-deFonds-based manufacture introduced its first in-house movement, Calibre 1, not in a ladies’ watch as one might expect, but in a gents’ piece, the Monsieur de Chanel. This, at a time when horology’s big players are actively courting female watch lovers. The international director of Chanel watches, Nicolas Beau, says that the Monsieur is “for men who agree that what is attached to their wrist is more than just a time indicator, it is a signature… This watch is also for men who love fine watchmaking, and who want a beautiful watch with a beautiful movement and mechanics”.
There is no denying the Monsieur’s sharp aesthetics – a minimalist white dial and black ADLC coating on the movement’s plates and bridges. But there are also impressive haute horlogerie (HH) complications like jumping hour, retrograde minutes and small seconds indications. The movement’s wheels are crafted by independent watchmaker Romain Gauthier, a company in which Chanel bought a stake, in 2011. The Swiss horologist is best known for the award- winning Logical One timepieces, and also supplies other brands with movement parts.
All this eff ort just to woo the watch nerd looking for a new toy for his collection, one who is not afraid of the brand’s feminine associations. Fashion brands are doing, in reverse, what horology houses have been trying to accomplish – reach and nurture a new group of customers. In this case, men, who – contrary to popular belief – have been frequently found to be bigger spenders than women.
Another French fashion titan that has been wooing, and wowing, the “watchaholic” crowd is Louis Vuitton. Like Chanel, it too has made its mark by doing the unexpected. In 2011, the brand introduced its own inhouse minute repeater calibre, produced by the then newly acquired movement specialist La Fabrique du Temps. For a company that had spent the previous decade building itself from a luxury luggage maker into a high fashion brand with watches that clearly target fans of the monogram, this move into the HH segment caught the industry off-guard.
In 2015, Vuitton raised the curtains on the Escale Repetition Minutes Worldtime, a watch combining a minute repeater and world-time function. In a world fi rst, the repeater chimes the home time rather than local time – yet another unexpected gesture by the brand. In 2016, it arrived at a new milestone with the Flying Tourbillon “Poincon de Geneve”, the fi rst of its watches to bear the elite Geneva Seal. Even though Louis Vuitton, for now, has only one such timepiece in its catalogue, this mark of watch-movement excellence associates the brand with established specialists such as Vacheron Constantin and Roger Dubuis. Roger Dubuis’ entire range, and 70 per cent of Vacheron Constantin’s production, currently bear the Geneva Seal, a symbol of top-notch movement finishing and decoration.
Hamdi Chatti, vice-president of LVMH Watches and Jewellery, believes this to be an important milestone in the brand’s ambition towards becoming a major HH player. “(The Seal) gives you an instant pedigree,” he says. Louis Vuitton has spent the last three years consolidating its production facilities – including La Fabrique du Temps and the dial maker Leman Cadrans – in Meyrin,