Fashion houses have long been dismissed by the watch industry but there are a few out there who really know their escapement from their elbow. Here’s our guide to the brands worth spending some money with.
Michelle Williams in the Louis Vuitton Emprise campaign
The Emprise and the Escale GMT (l-r)
This is one of those clever brands that has benefitted from its bedfellows. In 1989, Bernard Arnault became a majority shareholder in the soon-to-be luxury behemoth that is LVMH.
By 2002, the brand was working on its Tambour collection – the name was a reference to the side wall of the movement barrel (the tambour or drum) but it was also the name of the first miniature watches that were created in Europe in the 16th century – at newly installed workshops in La-Chaux-de-Fonds.
And how did it do this so quickly? Well, it was thanks to Zenith, a fellow LVMH brand who provided its El Primero movement for the first watches.
It certainly set out Vuitton’s stall as a serious watch brand, something that was solidified by working with La Joux-Perret and Dubois Depraz on calibres bearing the iconic LV logo, before finally acquiring La Fabrique du Temps in 2011.
This acquisition has led to everything from the ambitious – the Escale World Time – to the downright gorgeous, yes we’re talking about the luggage-inspired Emprise.
It may have started out as a brand that lent heavily on its associates but Louis Vuitton is now a watch name in its own right.
The Kelly and the Arceau (l-r)
This is definitely not a new kid on the block. Hermes started properly making watches back in the mid-1930s – though the first-ever recorded Hermes watch is a pocket version with a leather attachment that allowed it to be worn on the wrist dating from 1912 – when it employed Universal Geneve to exclusively design its timepieces.
It first produced chronographs for men and art-deco cuffs for women, as part of a partnership that would last until the 1950s.
Despite being successful, in the 1960s the brand focus shifted away from watches, towards the opulent silk scarves, which have become the brand’s trademark, as well as on to its handbags and perfumes.
However, despite Hermes’s fortunes floundering somewhat in the 1970s, it was then that La Montre Hermes, a watch subsidiary, was set up in Bienne, Switzerland.
Hermes has been slowly but surely upping the ante for itself since then. In 2003, it started working with Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier to create its first calibre, which it unveiled in 2012. It has also not been afraid to experiment, as the gorgeous time-suspension movement in its Temps Suspendu showed.
And, unsurprisingly, this is a brand that takes a much pride in its straps as it does in its movements. The same techniques, and leather, that are used in the making of Hermes exquisite bags, are used for its timepieces.
This is just one of the many ways in which a watch from Hermes is linked to its luggage-making past, but has a future that is so much more.
The Premiere Rock and the J12 (l-r)
Chanel has come a long way in the world of watches. Even as little as ten years ago, the grandes hommes of watch journalism were sniffy about this fashion Maison’s horological output.
The J12, which launched in 1999, did something to lift its reputation, but it was still considered a pretender, a brand that was making watches as a draw for those who couldn’t afford anything more serious.
Then Chanel did what can only be described as the new product equivalent of delivering a series of knock-out blows, specifically designed to silence its critics.
In 2005 it put a tourbillon in its J12; 2008 saw it collaborate with Audemars Piguet, a brand that could never be accused of frivolity, to make an exclusive movement. 2010 saw it launch the ridiculously complicated Retrograde Mysterieuse, then out popped the Premiere Tourbillon Volante.
All the while launching watches, such as the Premiere Rock and this year’s Boy.Friend, that women actually want to wear.
Chanel is now universally recognised as a fashion Maison that really knows its watches. The critics aren’t just silenced they’ve done a complete volte face. Coco would approve.
The three Monterubello watches – power reserve, chronograph and time and date (l-r)
Men’s luxury fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna has taken rather an interesting approach to watchmaking, opting for the “use the resources around you” school of thought rather spend the money setting things up for itself.
The resource in question is its Kering-Group bedfellow, watch brand Girard-Perregaux. The partnership started with limited-edition Girard-Perregauxs that were sold in Zegna boutiques, then, when Zegna had its 100-year anniversary, it decided it wanted its own watch, albeit one that still housed a GP movement.
Conveniently Ermenegildo’s father was also a watchmaker and one of his original designs was brought out of the family archive and used as the inspiration for the Monterubello collection.
In order to offer a more comprehensive portfolio, Zegna has also launched its High Performance range, which housed at ETA movement and had a sporty feel.
There is a feeling of “why” to Zegna’s forary into watches, however, it shows how a fashion brand can cleverly co-opt its luxury bedfellows to entice a tentative watch enthusiast.
The Burberry Britain watches for women and men (l-r)
When Burberry announced it was going to launch a proper watch, noses were definitely upturned. However, things changed ever so slightly when the Britain came onto the market. It was a good-looking watch – which supposedly borrowed its aesthetic references from the brand’s iconic trenchcoat design – and used all Swiss movements – from Soprod, ETA and Ronda.
It also gave Burberry watches a cache it had never had before, as, horologically speaking, it had previously chosen to dabble in those Michael Kors-infested waters rather than opting for the more luxury end of the pool.
The Britain has continued to draw from the clothing side of the brand, launching limited edition straps that reference seasonal collections, as well as experimenting with material such as ceramic.
It will probably never reach the heights of experimentation that the likes of Chanel has done, however, if you want a buy in to a brand as well as have a good solid watch on your wrist, then look no further.
The Stirrup and Safari watches (l-r)
This brand was born of a deal that was three years in the making between the notable fashion name and Richemont Group back in 2007. Apparently Ralph Lauren had been hawking its name around the watch industry for several years but companies objected to its monetary and design demands. Richemont, it seems, saw the potential for a collaboration, and it certainly wasn’t wrong.
In 2009, it debuted at the Salon International de la Haute Horlorgerie (SIHH), the Richemont-run luxury watch fair that kick starts the year in Geneva. From the brand’s inception, its lines have referenced Ralph Lauren fashion codes, such as the stirrup, as well as the interests of Mr Lauren himself, as evidenced in the 2011 Sporting collection, which took inspiration from his passion for cars by creating a dial in wood, just like the interior of his 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe.
Luckily for Ralph Lauren, working with Richemont means a pick of movements from the likes of JLC and IWC, though it has branched out to into its own calibres, albeit from Richemont-modified stock.
As a watch brand, it has the same qualities as the fashion house – it is solid, reliable, well made and with an East-Coast chic, but won’t ever do anything that will shock you.
The Dior VIII Montaigne and the Chiffre Rouge (l-r)
Dior could so easily have gone the tacky “fashion” route, but it didn’t. And for that we are so glad. The brand started its watchmaking business in 1975 with its “Black Moon” watch, which it launched with licensee Benedom, a Paris-based watch manufacturer and distributor, which joined LVMH in 1999.
Since then it has worked hard to incorporate the design codes and couture methods of the fashion side of the House, with serious horology; a marrying that has led to such breathtaking watches as the Dior VIII Grand Bal collections, with its dial-side rotor said to mimic the swish of a Dior gown’s skirt, or the recent Dior VIII Montaigne, which premiered at BaselWorld.
This is the perfect marriage of high fashion and haute horlogerie. Which is precisely why we want one now.
The Horsebit and the Dive with Girard-Perregaux movement (l-r)
While watches have been part of the Gucci offering since 1972, when the brand started to diversify into accessories, it was only in 2000 that it opened its atelier in La Chaux-de-Fonds – a move which showed that it wanted its watch side to be taken seriously.
While all the watches are designed by the brand’s creative director – previously Frida Giannini and now Alessandro Michele – it is in Switzerland that they are constructed, including the more intricate elements such as the bamboo bezels, and stone-set.
There has been a sense that in previous years, Gucci is more about the aesthetic than the mechanics, however, it has also started to benefit from the welcoming of Girard-Perregaux into the Kering Group family.
In 2014, it launched a men’s Gucci Dive, which contained the GP 3300, one of Girard-Perregaux’s so-called workhorse movements, though its women’s watches have remained more focused on interpreting the brand’s fashion signatures, such as the horsebit and the GG logo.
That said, if you want a slice of Gucci without going for the full ostentation, then its watches are the best place to start.
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