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When fashion influences watchmaking and vice versa

November 15 2017

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The world of fashion, openly present in the world of watchmaking for many years, influences the traditional manufactures, known as conservatives and vice versa. To be convinced, here is a small parade of news items with deliciously trendy accents. - Vincent Daveau


has a current tendency that some of the traditional watch brands exploit their past to sell a production resolutely vintage, makes forget that the profession has, since its creation, a natural faculty to appropriate the evolutions of fashion to project oneself into the future. Scientific object to provide temporal information accurate and at the same time jewel status symbolthe watch has always been a little between two worlds at first sight antagonistic.

Long before standardization linked to mass production, watchmakers used jewelers specialized in making boxes to dress their creations. These craftsmen had an eye on the fashion of their time and followed it to be certain to make the dressing of the instrument of time measuring to that of its owner. From plump, these onions have gained finesse and decorations have also changed to purify. Industrialized at the turn of the nineteenth century, the manufacture of watches has followed the market trends and brands have all joined the services of advisers and designers to find the right balance and so seduce consumers attached to give them a consistent image in tune with the times and their social status. But the influence of fashion on watchmaking was felt most strongly when women became real consumers of timepieces.

Before the first hours of the twentieth century, only the richest and most powerful women had access to these objects, which were both tools and symbols of power. So much so that it is possible to read in the old grimoires dealing with manners that a woman had to ask the hour to the man who accompanied her.

If watchmakers have created wristwatches since the 16th century, they have done it above all to seduce women who want to have a jewel capable of telling all male observers their level of power. And it is probably to make them more visible to the public that these instruments of time measurement were sometimes integrated into a link enclosing the wrist, as a prefiguration of the wristwatch. It is therefore the jewelers who, like Cartier with Santos in 1904, have upset the world of traditional watchmaking. And history shows that it has always been necessary to have a creator outside this profession that we know for a long time draped in its traditions, to imagine timepieces capable of producing true stylistic breaks that are conducive to maintaining envy.

In fact, a wristwatch remained until the 1935 years, a mark of originality since at that time the factories still produced 50% of pocket watches in their workshops. And if the younger generation has adopted wearing on the wrist and makes the wristwatch a symbol of dissent, it is virtually women who, first, have appropriated these jewels incorporating an intense disruptive dimension.

By becoming visible at all times, the wristwatch suffered the full impact of fashion. Watchmakers were quick to measure the potential of this new market and worked to offer ever more original collections. For example, Omega realized early on the importance of using outside designers and designers to bring its feminine lines into the air. The company solicited Gilbert Albert, Jean Hauck and Andrew Grima for female models released in the 1960-70 years. In the same spirit, the designer Michel Arbib designed the famous Ventura for Hamilton in 1957, Max Bill worked for Junghans to different creations, and Hermès worked with Jaeger-LeCoultre for his watches and clocks.

But it is probably at the dawn of the 1970 years that the traditional brands are most directed to architects, fashion designers and fashion designers, to make them stick to the aspirations of this rising generation of the time: Baby Boomers. This dazzling period in stylistic liveliness has been unconsciously obliterated under the premise that the ephemeral has no place in the craft and that quality watches are made to last.

But since nature does not like emptiness, these watches, thought of as so many fashion accessories, could not simply disappear from the market on the pretext that they did not conform to the idea of ​​traditional watchmakers. just out of 10 years of crisis. In a way, it is the famous Swatch, the most trendy of contemporary watches, which contributed to the renewal of a profession that could have simply died out. But itself is the result of a generation of creations that everyone today has forgotten about because nobody has emphasized their importance.

We think of the futuristic watches which, thanks to the quartz calibers just arrived on the market, were able to release the "fashion" editions of the shackles of pure and expensive mechanics. Designers like Pierre Balmain have launched more 30 watch models between 1971 and 1973. In the same spirit, Pierre Cardin designed for Jaeger lines with delirious and futuristic looks, but also feminine watch products under his signature until the 1990 years. The designer Roger Talon for Lip marked his time, the architect André le Marquand, as Rudi Meyer also. It's impossible to forget Gérald Genta's pencil stroke which, as an independent designer, created in the 1970-80 years two of the biggest watchmaking successes of the last ten years: Audemars Piguet's Royal Oak and Patek Philippe's Nautilus. Breaking with their time, these references are now classics appreciated for their ability to rewrite the formal style of instruments often inspired by those designed by watchmakers during golden fifties.

But the seventies have also seen the arrival of creators who have grasped how much the quartz watch could become a fantastic fashion accessory. Jean Dinh Van tried it, Pascal Morabito - we forget it too often - but also soon enough, the Christian Dior house associated with Bulova.

In the 1990 years, and after the Swatch breakthrough, which had a little glazed in the bud any attempt by the creators to compete with this universal brand, Gucci and its trendy watches were able to set the market ablaze by reinventing fashion accessories and the expression of an intensely feminine hour with a zest of this all-Italian solar creativity. The success of the company should encourage competitors like Dior to rethink their aging collections and to position themselves more as actors in sustainable watchmaking. This orientation was also analyzed by Chanel who was then running a little in circles with his Première watch launched in 1987.

At the dawn of the 2000 years and in parallel with watchmaking buy-outs by major industrial groups (Richemont, LVMH, Swatch Group, Kering), fashion brands were embarking on the conquest of a market considered as having high potential with products much more innovative from a technical point of view and graphically much more original. Unbridled by tradition, an entity like Dunhill has tried the watchmaking inspired by its past car. But a bit like Ralph Lauren, the offer yet perfectly coherent, did not conquer his target audience.

On the other hand, Chanel has succeeded in giving ceramics their nobility with the J12, whereas before, this material was perceived as purely technical. What his style office did, no watchmaker could have done in such a short time. It should be noted that today, all brands benefit from this intense and intelligent positioning.

The watchmaking adventure at Dior is a little different because its workshops have diverted a mechanical element like the oscillating masses to play with them and thus unleash the dials of the Dior VIII. In his own way, Louis Vuitton, trunk maker of his condition, chose to rethink with a glamorous insured the volumes of cases and some complications to attack the market of travel watches, a sector that the company masters perfectly. In the same spirit, the Cartier House has succeeded in transfiguring Haute Horlogerie by managing to put femininity into the mechanical entanglement of its finest time measuring instruments. She has taken up this challenge and won even if it is said that in the future, the famous brand will refocus its efforts on its great classics ...

The vagaries of the market would they manage to slow down this desire to go ahead of these free creators that are the brands couture or jewelery? No, but whether they come from the world of jeweler or heirs of watchmaking destinies, today's houses have more or less all the same ambitions in terms of creation: to seduce a public with a versatile character for whom security in difficult times is embodied in the tradition. And, at this game, signatures with a rich history of iconic collections are more likely to prevail, such as Cartier with the Panther or la Tank which, for the centenary of the model, comes back to the forefront of the watch scene.

But when you come from fashion or jewelry and you do not have reference watches in your cartons or the creative office lacks ideas, the temptation is great to offer products inspired by those that the we know how to have a very good market audience. For example, the collection The Britain launched three years ago by Burberry, had a certain graphic proximity with a timepiece considered a spearhead of a large Swiss manufacturer. In a sense, it's good war because the traditional brands have bounced back and recover on their account some pronouncements of more couture watchmaking companies to attract to them a younger clientele and in search of emotions. This is the option chosen by Hublot since 2005 when launching the Big Bang. The brand has adopted the principle used by Chanel for the J12 to modernize in depth a classic of traditional watchmaking to make it more glamorous. In doing so, these instruments are to the taste of a new generation of consumers captivated by their demonstrative character and very show off. But Hublot went further in this process and was clearly inspired by a large amount of good ideas from the world of fashion and gave them as if by magic, -but that's the talent of Jean-Claude Biver- , a more watchmaking tour. Thus, the embroidered dials found in Chanel, Piaget, Gucci and others, are reinterpreted in a more horological and sporty way at Hublot through the Big Bang Italia Independent collection and the orchestrated communication around the eccentric Lapo Elkann.

To observe the collections over the years, a certainty is essential: the pure watchmakers knew how to gain a little flexibility in their drawings and to give some fashion accents to their creations by appealing to specialists of the design and the style, while the most ambitious fashion houses have reached a status of watchmaking entity by creating their own production workshops. Sewing and traditional watchmaking merge to give today models that, in some cases, are confused in terms of originality and complexity. Thus, fashion has allowed the masters of the Jura valleys to have a sharper look at the aesthetics of their watches and these same artisans bent over their workbench have encouraged houses whose ephemeral mode of operation to think about the sustainable dimension of their collections.

All do not have the same perception and this alliance can take more amazing tricks or trenches. This is the case at Chopard, where fashion is expressed through the iconic Happy Diamonds line and tradition is rooted in the heart of the LUC collections. At Patek Philippe, the more fusional approach between these two worlds is felt in the discovery of some pieces. This sensitive approach is certainly linked to the presence of Sandrine Stern, the wife of Thierry Stern, the president of the house, in the creative team.

There is no point in opposing fashion watches and those in the catalogs of traditional watchmakers. By looking closely, these two seemingly antagonistic sectors have been able to observe and take advantage of developments and stylistic or mechanical innovations made by one and the other. And if we keep in mind that institutional watchmaking has played the card of tradition and transmission for a very long time, it is because it has perceived that its survival after the quartz crisis was partly linked to these criteria. Today, serious brands, whether they come from fashion or the Jura valleys, induce the idea of ​​durability indiscriminately, without denying all the fact that the pleasure of a piece of jewelry is first and foremost the moment and that it is the reflection of a personality that one knows to evolve over the years.