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.

The Peak Selections: Timepieces - - The Power of 3 - TEXT AARON DE SILVA

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,

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