PARIS — For the third year running, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton kicked off the luxury watch industry calendar on Monday with the LVMH Watch Week presentations from its labels Bulgari, Hublot, Zenith and now, Tag Heuer.
Owing to the Omicron variant, this edition shifted back to a mostly digital format, with houses showcasing their latest designs to press and retailers through virtual conferences and, owing to Paris Couture Week, limited physical presentations.
In a statement unveiling the event, Stéphane Bianchi, chief executive officer of the LVMH watches and jewelry division, described the four-day digital showcase as a moment to “shine a light on the momentum of [the group’s] four maisons.”
House executives were upbeat and keen to set a brisk pace of new designs and technical evolutions with the week, and make a mark in an expanding market.
“The trend of the industry is positive, and one of the reasons is that money is still there, as is the client’s desire to acquire beautiful objects, especially when they have less opportunity to travel and live experiences,” said Zenith’s CEO Julien Tornare.
Exports of Swiss watches, a key industry indicator, rose 2.1 percent over the first 11 months of 2021, despite a contraction of the Asian market.
Tornare attributed these good results to “long-term work over the past few years. Despite COVID-19, we worked a lot, stayed in touch, did a lot of digital and won market shares.”
Although LVMH does not release individual figures for its houses, he noted that 2021 had been a record year for Zenith since its acquisition by the French luxury group.
He revealed plans to open the first boutique in Saudi Arabia; expand the company’s operations in China with new stores in cities without a Zenith retail presence, and reinforce its American presence with franchised boutiques.
Among the models presented were matte-finished white ceramic Defy 21 Chroma with touches from all colors of the spectrum; the Defy Midnight Sunset and Borealis, which will have options for bracelets using materials from deadstock textile specialists Nona Source, and the Defy Skyline, featuring the new automatic El Primero 3620 manufacture calibre.
“We are aiming to increase production this year substantially…due to an increased appetite [for watches] that emerged this year. I’m not favorable to creating artificial rarity, because although it made certain models very successful, consumers eventually turn their attention elsewhere,” Tornare said.
For its first full participation, Tag Heuer showcased 11 new models in its Aquaracer Professional Series line. “They aren’t [just] new models, it’s a redesign to clarify both the offer and the range,” said CEO Frédéric Arnault.
Its flagship model is the Aquaracer Professional 200, with a sleeker silhouette and a slenderer profile, functional for speed flying or ice skiing but also adapted to more sedate daily activities, according to the executive. Automatic and quartz options will be available across the range.
Also kicking off during LVMH Watch Week was the 60th anniversary of the Autavia collection, a line created in 1962 by Jack Heuer, who drew inspiration from a dashboard timer that could go from car to airplane — hence the name, a portemanteau of automobile and aviation.
Three new models will join this collection: two flyback chronographs featuring the Calibre Heuer 02 COSC Flyback manufacture movement, and a three-hand GMT model with the Calibre 7 COSC GMT movement.
“But these are just a taste of what’s to come. We’re going to have a very rich first semester, with very strong stories — some that will be revolutionizing the watchmaking world,” said Arnault, noting that Watches & Wonders in Geneva would be the next big milestone where the brand’s major contingent of new releases will be showcased.
Among the developments to be shown, there will be smaller sizes to accommodate smaller wrists, including female customers; mechanical evolutions and increased creativity on watch faces; upgrades on existing specifications such as autonomy, and “a fitness experience, to further invest in sport,” he said.
Jean-Christophe Babin, Bulgari’s CEO, explained that in order to address the requirements of retail partners that need to “see, buy and resell now, not in eight months,” its releases had been structured around three moments: “the LVMH Watch Week, April where we will show at the same time — but not integrated to — Watches & Wonders, and September, with the Geneva Watch Days.”
A highlight for January are the Serpenti Misteriosi secret-watches, containing the minute Piccolissimo mechanical movement with its 12.30mm diameter BVL 100 calibre made to be housed in the snake’s head, and the Octo Roma Emerald Grande Sonnerie and its four-gong mechanism.
Babin also opened up about the Roman high jeweler’s direction for the coming year, in a context where local needs — served physically or digitally — take pride of place.
“The road map for e-commerce that we had set out to accomplish in five years, we did in 18 months,” he said, noting that the Roman house had gone from seven e-commerce sites in 2020 to 28 by the end of 2022, covering 90 percent of the worldwide luxury market potential.
That led to expanding lines to tailor to territory-based tastes. Take the Turbogas family, which will be expanded to include yellow-gold models. “It is structurally an important segment of the market, especially for the United States, where clients traditionally prefer yellow gold [over the other tones],” he said.
The precious metal was also front and center at Hublot, which had its 40th anniversary curtailed by the pandemic in 2020. The brand kicked off 2022 with a yellow-gold offer that nodded to its 1980s roots.
“The first fusion [we did] was to bring a rubber bracelet with a noble material, and when you say ‘gold’, people think of 24-carat gold, which is yellow — not rose, not white, not gray,” said Hublot’s CEO Ricardo Guadalupe.
Six models, drawn from the Classic Fusion, Big Bang and Spirit of Big Bang lines, were showcased in their gold-and-black livery, including a Big Bang Integral 40 with automatic caliber and an open dial. “Our identity is showing what is the soul of the watch — the movement,” he said.
The year will also see new variations on its tattoo-inspired watches, in partnership with the London-based tattoo studio Sang Bleu; the Big Bang Unico Golf Orange Carbon; as well as editions for the soccer World Cup in Qatar in November.
Describing 2021 as a “year of transition,” Guadalupe expected to ease into 2022 on a good footing, despite the Omicron variant and the shifting sanitary landscape.
For its female clientele, who currently amount to around 24 percent of Hublot’s customers and a segment Guadalupe hopes to grow to 30 to 35 percent, the newly launched Big Bang One Click 33 and its patented interchanging bracelet system comes with a rubber bracelet but also the possibility of choosing one of 12 new leather bracelets.
He expressed satisfaction at 2021’s results, which saw the label’s sales surpass those of 2019. He credited local consumers for these results, particularly in China and the U.S., where he expects the “incredible growth rates of 2021 to continue in 2022,” despite the impact of the so-called fifth wave of contaminations.
“In China, we rely on strong local partnerships, like naming [rapper] Lay Zhang ambassador, and developing our retail network, with the opening of five new boutiques last year. And of course e-commerce through WeChat,” he explained.
For the U.S. market, investing in localized advertisement had yielded a growth that saw 90 percent of Hublot’s sales within the country made to an American client.
Digital commerce will also continue to support growth, despite being only “a few percent,” by his admission. But a sale isn’t the only goal.
According to Guadalupe, even though some clients may click through to purchase a 20,000-euro watch remotely, digital was an “opportunity to create a connection to draw clients to know the brand better and transform sales” both on- and offline, or to offer quick turnaround on customer service troubleshooting. “One of the lessons of the pandemic is that keeping contact with your clientele even when your stores are closed allows you to keep working,” he concluded.