Fashion is no longer a dirty word in watchmaking; at least three serious makers are proof positive that transferring iconic apparel labels to ticking metal can be done in a way that appeals to watch enthusiasts and fashionistas alike.
In 1987, the company that brought the fashion world such staples as the little black dress and Chanel No. 5 decided to take watches seriously. Such an innovative fashion brand would never be content with simple private labeling in horology. It took the hard road and, today, can even boast ownership of a Swiss factory.
Chanel's J12 model is a ceramic watch that has successfully fulfilled designer Jacques Helleu's demands—simplicity and timelessness—though we can add innovative use of ceramic to the list of attributes that make it unique. A cooperation with Audemars Piguet has created the notable J12 Calibre 3125 model (left), which is powered by the traditional Swiss brand's in-house automatic movement 3120. In a 42-mm black ceramic and yellow gold case, it is available in Chanel boutiques for $25,000.
Louis Vuitton is the 150-year-old label that now forms the base of luxury group LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy)—which also owns Hublot, Zenith and TAG Heuer. Its watch designs are created at its Paris headquarters, while production takes place within its own Swiss facilities.
The Tambour XL Automatic Regatta Navy watch (right) is an automatic chronograph with flyback function (so it doesn't need the extra button push to reset between timing functions) and a regatta countdown function that is very practical for sailors. This association is no accident: Louis Vuitton regularly sponsors large-scale sailing events. In a stainless steel 44-mm case, water-resistant to 100 meters and only available in a limited edition of 250 pieces, it retails for approximately $9,000. All of Louis Vuitton's watches are available exclusively at Louis Vuitton boutiques.
Ralph Lauren took a different tack with his watch division, entering into a 50-50 joint venture with the watchmaking's biggest luxury group: Richemont. While technological know-how is supplied by the Swiss-based group, the style remains all Lauren, who personally sees to every detail.
Lauren's watches are powered by mechanical Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget, and IWC calibers. The recently-released Slim Classique in a 27.5 x 27.5-mm square case not only harks back to the Art Deco era, it catches the eye and takes it along. The white gold version (not shown) boasts full guilloché engraving on the case and dial (Piaget movement; $15,200). In the U.S. these watches are only available at Ralph Lauren boutiques.
Visit louisvuitton.com, ralphlauren.com/watches, and chanel.com.
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