Centre stage at BaselWorld is usually usurped by tourbillons, minute repeaters and other grand and grander complications. Brands use tremendous real estate, and significant proportions of their promotional material to flaunt their watchmaking heritage, and the technology that beats inside their watches. How a watch looks, and what this design represents, sometimes gets ruthlessly pushed aside in favour of what is inside them.
However, there are some beautiful exceptions. BaselWorld is an opportunity for brands such as Dior, Salvatore Ferragamo and Fendi—more popular perhaps for their couture and fashion—to flaunt some exquisite timepieces. But when these brands play the game, they turn the rules inside out.
“Traditional watch companies start designing the insides of the watch first. What should the movements look like? What modifications need to be made?” explained Paolo Marai, president and chief executive of Timex Group’s luxury division. Marai’s division is the licensed manufacturer of watches for the Ferragamo, Valentino, Versace and Versus brands.
Design philosophy: Dior Watches president Laurence Nicolas.
Marai explained that brands such as Ferragamo began designing their watches from the outside. “We look to make products that are interesting from a design, colour and branding perspective,” Marai told Mint at Basel. “And once we finish designing it, we decide on what goes inside.”
While this is not to say that the technology or movement is irrelevant, Marai explained, it merely highlights the fact that fashion watch brands are purchased differently from the more traditional brands.
The results of this approach are watches that may not be as complicated as pieces from Breguet or Patek, but are beautiful and often pay subtle hat-tips to the parent brands’ clothes and bags.
Couture house Dior took this design-first approach and, 10 years ago, took it to the next level. Brand president Laurence Nicolas told us how in 2001, the brand established its own atelier at La Chaux de Fonds in Switzerland. “This was a huge turning point for us,” Nicolas told Mint. “We went from the watch business to the watchmaking business.”
Today, Dior has collections that are not just reflective of the brands couture and fashion heritage, but also house impressive movements inside them. “We didn’t want to become yet another fashion brand for watches. We wanted to become a legitimate maker. And bring Dior’s reputation for clothes and bags to timepieces.”
(From top left) Versace Character; Fendi Crazy Carats; Chanel J12 Chromatic; Dior VIII; Dior VIII Grand Bal Plumentis; Fendi Ceramic Chrono Chocolate Brown; Tiffany & Co. Atlas Dome; Gucci Coupe; Tiffany & Co. Atlas Cocktail; Versace Eon Ellipse.
Nicolas’ brand began attaining this legitimacy not just by using gold and diamond, or by designing their watches in the same studio as Dior couture—they did all that—but they also powered their timepieces with Zenith’s superb El Primero movements. Dior’s Le Chiffre Rouge collection for men is based on a modified version of the iconic Rolex case.
And this year, Dior’s flagship launch is the Dior VIII collection for women. Nicolas explained: “Dior VIII is an homage to women. I think it does justice to Christian Dior’s heritage. I think it also shows how we approach our customer differently.”
While traditional brands have a documented watchmaking heritage to contend with, Nicolas said brands like Dior had a couture heritage. This gave them tools and approaches to work with, without constraining their creativity: “It allows us to be daring.”
As this brief selection of couture and fashion pieces show, this daring can produce beautiful things.