Watch Columnist Hind Seddiqi On Why Fashion Watches Are Worth Your Time
Just two years ago, the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (that’s GPHG) bestowed the award of leading watch in its ladies’ category to a timepiece…by Chanel. Take a moment to consider the blackened, open-worked skeletonised movement, the diamond references and the tributes to Chanel’s long-standing design codes: the only ‘unusual’ part of this award was the fact that it was given to a fashion house, rather than a brand traditionally associated with watchmaking. But lo and behold: watches by fashion brands win awards. Really prestigious awards.
Despite the rise in deeply superlative and complicated timepieces from fashion houses, I still hear, over and over again, the view from consumers that these pieces are somehow less valuable than those from names like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and so on.
For most of these fashion houses, the core of their business lies elsewhere; in distinct runway looks, covetable leather goods or luxe accessories. But trust me, to pigeonhole some of the timepieces produced by these longstanding maisons would be a mistake. After all, they’re not in the habit of cutting corners, are they? These are brands that have existed and flourished for almost a century – cementing their position as market leaders in the luxury space by relentlessly combining the best of production and design. So it follows that the same consideration is given to their watches.
Many are created in collaboration with prolific watchmakers. Let’s revisit Chanel for a moment. The Monsieur de Chanel made waves when it was released in 2016, thanks to a thrilling combination of combinations (hello, jumping hours and retrograde with three-day power reserve) and a proprietary movement, developed by Romain Gauthier, a protégé of Philippe Dufour. It has since been created in different versions that have included Grand Feu enamelling, ceramic and sculpted dials.
Hermès – synonymous with leather goods and scarves – produce watches that have been nominated for GPHG awards. Those watches have featured self-winding mechanical movements, moon phases and the use of intricate craftsmanship, much of which was developed by Agenhor, an independent watchmaking company led by the Wiederrecht family, who specialise in wildly complex watch mechanisms.
This hits at the heart of my point. Sometimes, fashion brands can do things with timepieces that watch brands cannot. They can certainly be more daring. That tends to happen when you’re not shackled to decades of history and expectation.
In 2012, when Louis Vuitton acquired an entire watchmaking manufacture – La Fabrique du Temps – it was certainly daring. The manufacture was formed in 2002 by expert watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, a duo whose résumés are filled with names such as Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Franck Muller and Gerald Genta. It was a natural choice for the luxury fashion house whose value proposition is uncompromisingly sky-high. But then LV made another wise move: they offered Navas and Barbasini creative liberation. Since the acquisition, the duo have created extremely complicated watches, which continue to challenge even the most established watch brands. And risk proved wise, after Louis Vuitton was awarded the Geneva Seal in 2016 for its flying tourbillon – only four other brands have ever done this.
So, it seems that a little daring can be a worthy thing in timepieces, whether for a luxury maison – or for you.
All Black Everything
The Monsieur de Chanel is the brand’s first watch, specifically for men. But in 2019, the maison really caught my attention with the Edition Noire, which was inspired by the beginning of a relationship between Chanel and the renowned watchmaker, Romain Gauthier. Together, they developed the first in-house movement for the brand, the Caliber 1. It features an all-black matte finished ceramic case and matte black dial. It’s clean and masculine, with jumping hours and retrograde minutes that always look handsome on the wrist.
Dior, on the other hand, took things to another level of luxe last year, with the launch of a ‘made-to-measure’ service for its Grand Bal watch. In my opinion, it’s the most remarkable of all Dior watches, thanks to the mechanical movement’s oscillating weight being featured on the dial-side of the watch, rather than the back. Its front-facing placement allows it to be as intricately decorated as the dial itself, and the Grand Bal Couture series offers up to – stay with me – 200 million options of customisation, including case materials, diamond or gemstone setting, dial colour, dial material, rotor colour and material, strap material…I could go on. It’s a distinctly luxury fashion attitude of customisation and experimentation, and that’s what makes it so wonderful.