By  on March 4, 2011

PARIS — Christian Dior is hoping a lucky number will help propel its new watch range to the rank of brand icon.

The Dior VIII line, due to be launched in June, is inspired by founder Christian Dior’s fetish number, which recurs in the history of the French luxury label. Founded on Oct. 8, 1946, Dior has its headquarters in the eighth arrondissement of Paris and its jewelry flagship at 8 Place Vendôme.

“We wanted to create a new icon at Dior that could become an icon in the watch segment, in the same way that the Bar jacket is an icon for ready-to-wear and haute couture, the Lady Dior for handbags and Dior J’Adore in perfume,” Laurence Nicolas, president of Christian Dior watches and fine jewelry, told WWD.

Preparations for the launch were finalized by the time Christian Dior this week began proceedings to oust its star couturier, John Galliano, following allegations he uttered anti-Semitic insults on several occasions.

The Dior VIII is not linked to any specific designer, unlike the label’s first three watch lines, which took their cue from in-house talent: Dior Joaillerie’s creative director Victoire de Castellane for La D de Dior in 2003, former Dior Homme designer Hedi Slimane for Chiffre Rouge in 2004 and Galliano for Dior Christal in 2005.

Instead, the design of the watch draws on the house’s codes, with details reflecting Dior’s passion for architecture, the 18th century and haute couture. The new range consists of three lines, broadly corresponding to daytime, cocktail and evening.

The main collection, with eight references, features black lacquered dials, black ceramic bracelets with pyramid-shaped links and rotating bezels with asymmetric patterns. The dial features plain hour markers, except for the Roman numeral VIII at the 8 o’clock position.

“It has the simplicity of a watch that aims to be the equivalent of the little black dress in a wardrobe, meaning that whether you wear it in 10 years or tomorrow, you never feel like you are following a trend,” said Nicolas.

The watches come in two sizes, 33 mm and 38 mm, with either automatic or quartz movements, and feature plain black or diamond-set dials and bezels. They range in price from 3,500 euros to 6,800 euros ($4,800 to $9,300 at current exchange rates).

The four 33 mm cocktail versions inject a dash of color with bezels set with baguette-cut diamonds, citrines, tsavorites or sapphires, with prices ranging from 30,000 euros to 45,000 euros, or $41,000 to $61,500.

The respective stones are matched by a neon lacquer coating on the oscillating weight inside the watch, which is visible through the back — a wink at de Castellane’s penchant for coating gold with colored lacquer in her fine jewelry creations.

The four evening versions, dubbed Grand Bal, are the haute horlogerie equivalents of couture and will become available in November in limited editions of 18 apiece. The watches feature white gold oscillating weights set with diamonds that are placed not in the back, as is usual, but on the dial to become a central decorative feature. Dubbed the “Dior Inversé,” the automatic movement caliber by renowned watchmaker Frédéric Jouvenot adds technical dash to delicate designs inspired by the lace, embroideries and tulle skirts of ballgowns.

“Having the oscillating weight on top is a watchmaking feat, but for us, the important thing is that it allows us to illustrate a couturier’s vision,” said Nicolas.

Several details suggest the launch is geared toward Asia, which is powering global demand for luxury goods, in particular high-end timepieces. The number eight is traditionally considered auspicious in China, and Nicolas noted that Asian consumers were increasingly leaning toward automatic movements.

Dior has recently expanded its watch and jewelry presence in the region, dedicating a full floor to the segment at its expanded flagship at One Peking Road in Hong Kong, unveiled last month.

However, Nicolas said there were no plans to increase the number of stand-alone Dior watch and jewelry stores, the first of which opened in China last year at the Plaza 66 shopping mall in Shanghai. Other regions remain key to the development of the division, she added.

“We have seen spectacular growth in China, in line with the rest of the market, especially with our new store openings, but Europe remains fundamental to our business. It’s a great territory for us, and our roots are very European, very Parisian, so we are lucky to have a geographical mix that is not bipolar,” Nicolas noted.

The executive declined to provide figures for Dior’s watch sales in 2010, in line with the company’s policy, but was upbeat about the outlook for this year. “The first signs are very positive,” she said.

The Dior VIII launch will be supported by an advertising campaign featuring brand ambassador Charlize Theron wearing nothing but a watch and a black coat.

“For us, this represents a major launch, and in order to bestow it this iconic status, we are taking a long-term view and basing it on a timeless image,” said Nicolas.

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