Luxury watch houses are brimming with newness. Design-wise, some are launching updated styles in unexpected colors and limited edition models with nods to their rich histories. Others are adding precious stones and new technologies that will impress even the most seasoned connoisseur. And they’re talking about it all on Facebook.
This story first appeared in the August 15, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Why should midrange watches have all the fun? The luxury sector is working in color to create graphic splashes and painterly scenics. For the 2011 version of its popular L.U.C Engine One, Chopard emblazoned its numbers in vibrant orange and red. Van Cleef & Arpels offers evocative landscapes in painted gold and enamel; its Les Voyages Extraordinaires range depicts African wildlife motifs, and the California Rêverie collection, mesmerizing vistas. TechnoMarine’s Cruise Sport Lipstick timepiece features a shiny hologram dial that incorporates vibrant shades (pinks, purples, reds) into its PVD (physical vapor deposition) layers, a process that posed “a real technological challenge,” according to Jacques-Philippe Auriol, chief executive officer of TechnoMarine SA. “It is much more fragile than the traditional black PVD, but it gives a unique look.”
For some luxury watchmakers, having the fastest time-recording functions on the planet defines technological greatness. For others, innovation equals a new material or weight. Chanel took its hugely successful J12 ceramic series and redesigned it in titanium ceramic. With this updated material comes a cool detail: The watch’s color shifts from black to white upon movement. Breguet’s Classique Hora Mundi offers instant time zone jumping with a date/time/city indicator. In other words, a user can always know the time in, say, Beijing and New York with the watch’s two preselected time zones that oscillate back and forth at the press of a button. Vacheron Constantin’s Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time also provides a global reference by displaying every single full and partial time zone.
More than ever, high jewelry houses see their watches as essential extensions of their precious baubles. Cartier’s Mille et Une Heures collection features an exquisite 18-karat white gold and ruby bracelet style with leaf motifs made of round diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. Watches from the Dior VIII series come in black ceramic, their faces encircled by vibrant baguettes, while Bedat & Co.’s newest 315 timepiece offers a bezel composed of 390 diamonds fitted with a hand-sewn alligator and mink strap. Bulgari’s Serpenti collection celebrates a creature that has long fascinated jewelers — its white and pink gold timepieces are set with diamonds, emeralds and multicolored sapphires that slither dangerously up the arm. As for Patek Philippe’s Ladies’ First chronograph, it features an Art Deco-inspired, cushion-shaped 18-karat rose gold case that displays 136 full-cut flawless diamonds set beneath a sapphire-crystal glass.
Luxury watchmakers are keen on offering limited runs as a way to fuel excitement for key collectors. This fall, Ebel is relaunching its Classic Sport model that features an antique logo and diamond-polished, leaf-shaped hands. Chopard partnered with Japanese artist Kiichiro Masumura on the L.U.C XP Urushi series that features traditional lacquering with varnish made from the sap of urushi trees. The lacquers are sprinkled with gold powder and applied to the dial, with designs that depict animals (dragons, tigers, stags), representing the teachings of ancient Chinese philosophy. In partnership with Mercedes-Benz, Tag Heuer created the 300 SLR Calibre 1887 Chronograph collection featuring retro-inspired details, such as a Tag logo and a “Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR” engraved on the caseback.
With more than 750 million users on Facebook, luxury watch brands would be crazy not to jump into social media marketing. Earlier this year, Tag Heuer fed live video coverage of Baselworld to its 200,000-plus Facebook fans, also offering live customer service on its custom-built Facebook tab. IWC recently launched iPhone and iPad apps that allow visitors to view its Portofino and Portuguese watches as they would look on a wearer’s own wrist. “The younger generation is spending more time educating themselves on the industry and products via modern devices and social networks before they decide to purchase,” says Gianfranco D’Attis, president of IWC North America. Vacheron Constantin’s Facebook page, meanwhile, includes product videos and links to its online forum, TheHourLounge.com. On August 15, the Swiss watchmaker is launching its first interactive online event, The American Heritage Project, in which clients can share anecdotes on their Vacheron Constantin timepieces and connect with other collectors.