This article on the best fashion watches looks at what could be considered as a form of brand extension: as a fashion brand grows, the name spreads from garments to kidswear, accessories, perfumes, cosmetics, and watches. Often the watches are more about style than content, and most have quartz movements. But there is an interesting progressive swing towards interest in mechanical watches. Louis Vuitton have their own manufacture and recently moved it to Meyrin, Geneva. Ralph Lauren and Hermès have also set up separate companies specially to make high-end watches. Domenico Dolce’s and Stefano Gabbana’s own personal interest in watches led to a small range of mechanical watches instead of the branded quartz watches that they had been making previously. The fact that Burberry take watches very seriously can be seen from the large stand that they have at watch fair Baselworld.
A fashion brand like Burberry or Dior has the advantage of already having a powerful retail structure. When they decide to go into watches, they just have to equip part of their stores with a specific department, and train their sales staff in the new product. This, in my experience, is where the difficulties can arise: sales staff accustomed to explaining shirts, jeans, dresses and shoes may find it hard to master the complexities of a mechanical watch, and simple operations like strap replacement may not be available in the boutique. But many fashion brands making watches sell their products online.
Here is my top 10 selection of watches by fashion brands, in alphabetical order.
1. Burberry, The Britain
“The Britain is the embodiment of our rich, British heritage and all our inspirations,” says Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative Officer at Burberry, “It’s a very personal project that we have been working on for a long time.” The Britain is now made in a series of watches for men and women, with both quartz and mechanical movements. They all share a powerful identity, with a wide bezel and a geometrical design that is like an octagon with smaller sides at the four corners, all gracefully rounded. Add to that the four exposed screws fixing the bezel to the caseband, and what comes to mind? Gerald Genta, of course, and in fact the dial side of the Britain does have a certain resemblance to classic Genta designs such as the 1976 Nautilus 3800 by Patek Philippe (though this doesn’t have the exposed screws), shown at left with the Britain on the right:
… and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, 1972, also a Gerald Genta design, shown below with another Burberry Britain model:
But that’s OK, and the Burberry Britain has a lot of the brand’s own DNA, as Bailey says: “When we first began creating the Britain, we knew that we wanted a watch based on the same design principles and craftsmanship as our iconic trench coat.” The case is complex and multi-faceted, a bit like the Bulgari Octo, with a case, dial and strap colour palette inspired by the Burberry trench coat colours. The caseback is magnifying to provide a better view of the movement. The 2014 collection includes the Automatic Chronograph shown in the photographs below, reference BBY2001, a 50-piece limited edition with a 47-millimetre case in “trench gold” and titanium, gunmetal-colour dial, and a rotor with the Burberry check etched and brushed onto the rotor powering the movement. The ETA 2894 calibre provides time functions, date and chronograph. The case is in grey alligator leather. 50 metres water resistance.
2. Dior VIII Grand Bal Fil de Soie
This women’s watch continues a motif seen in men’s watches by Dior still present in boutiques, in which the rotor is on the dial side instead of in its usual position right up against the caseback. In this piece, it becomes even more elaborate, with an openwork rotor decorated with silk threads, for a total length of one-and-a-half metres of green or pink silk. The rotor itself is in gold and tungsten, part of the automatic Dior Inversé 11 ½ calibre visible through the sapphire caseback. The case is 38 millimetres in diameter; the movement provides a power reserve 42 hours. A limited edition of 88 pieces for each colour. Price about €36,000.
3. Dolce & Gabbana DG7+
Dolce & Gabbana presented their first collection of mechanical watches in 2013, the DG7 and DS5 ranges all with Swiss-made ETA movements, cases in gold or PVD-coated steel, and sapphire casebacks. The DG7+ was introduced in November 2013, with an ETA 2892.A2 movement providing the calendar function at 6 o’clock. The minimalist-style dial has a date window at 6 o’clock. The case is 40 mm in diameter, in steel, with black PVD steel inserts on the side. You can buy this watch online at www.dolcegabbanawatches.com, price €2,450.
4. Ermenegildo Zegna
Monte Rubello is the name of a small mountain in Piedmont, in a natural park area that is protected by Ermenegildo Zegna. The Monterubello collection of watches by Ermenegildo Zegna comprises three models, manufactured in cooperation with Girard-Perregaux. Ermenegildo Zegna’s venture into high-end watches began in 2010 with a slim calendar watch made to celebrate their centenary, but their history in this area goes back to Ermenegildo’s father Michelangelo who, in the late 19th century, preferred the profession of watchmaker instead of continuing the family’s textile business. As is customary for this brand, Ermenegildo Zegna are doing things one step at a time, with absolutely superb classical style. The Monterubello collection now comprises Monterubello Solo Tempo, a classic three-hand model with date, and the Monterubello Chronograph. Solo Tempo is available in white gold or pink gold versions, with a 40 mm diameter case, 46 hours power reserve provided by the Girard-Perregaux GP3300-0030 movement. The Monterubello Chronograph in pink gold has the GP3300-0032 automatic movement with 46 hours power reserve.
5. Gucci Handmaster
Gucci is part of the Kering Group, which includes Girard-Perregaux and Jeanrichard, through Sowind, which also manufactures movements. The Handmaster is made in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, in two sizes, for men’s (32.5 x 33 mm) and women’s (26.5 x 27.5) models, and the square case is in stainless steel and gold versions. Dials are black, with a diamond-pattern decoration and Roman numerals. The men’s version, reference YA135502 for the gold version, YA135501 for stainless steel, has the GP2700 movement by Sowind, with a date display at half past one, a power reserve indicator (46 hours) at 5 o’clock, and small seconds at 9 o’clock. The women’s, reference YA135402 for the gold version, YA135501 for stainless steel, has a 36-hour power reserve, and the dial shows hours, minutes and seconds, with date at 6 o’clock. All models have a transparent caseback revealing the movement and oscillating weight which has the same diamond pattern as on the dial. Straps are in black crocodile, with a buckle including the Gucci stirrup emblem. Both gold and steel versions are limited editions. More information at www.gucciwatches.com
6. L’Heure Masquée by Hermès
Hermès is a brand best known for its scarves and leather goods, but its watches are also superb, and a fine expression of the maison’s distinctively ironic touch. Now an integrated watch manufacture – in other words, most of the operations required for making their watches are performed in-house – their designs are very original. L’Heure Masquée, launched at Baselworld in April 2014, is fun to observe and use. It seems to have just one hand, the minute hand, but when you press the button on the crown, the hour hand pops out from underneath, and revolves around the dial to reach the right hour. As long as you keep the button pressed, it remains a normal watch. When you release it, the hour hand returns to its hiding place under the minute hand, revolving with it hour by hour. The movement was developed by Vaucher, a company co-owned by Hermès. The watch has a second function, a GMT timezone, so that you can see the hour in a different part of the world. The window at 6 o’clock is hidden by a screen with the letters “GMT” on it, but when you press the button on the crown, the screen slides away to reveal the digital hour reading. Both the local hour and the second time zone hour are revealed at the same time. The design is lovely, combining the cushion-shaped bezel with a circular dial, that has a period touch in the circular depressions around each hour-number, like the dial of old telephones. The oscillating weight, with its machined decoration featuring a series of interlocking H’s, can be seen through the sapphire caseback. At about 38 by 40 millimetres, it’s a fairly small watch, and its thickness of 6.4 millimetres means that it’s also good as a dress watch, sliding easily under a shirt cuff. The way in which the alligator strap is fixed to the case is also a nice feature, a Hermès trademark recalling a stirrup and the brand’s long history in saddlery. The watch is a limited edition, in two versions: 1,000 pieces in steel, at about €15,350, and 500 pieces in rose gold, at about €34,680. Read more here.
7. Louis Vuitton Montre Tambour Chronographe Automatique Voyagez
Louis Vuitton has been making watches in the Tambour collection, originally inspired by Japanese drums, since 2002, and the watches produced over the years include some remarkable concepts. In 2011, Louis Vuitton purchased Fabrique de Temps, and this was followed by the acquisition of dial makers ArteCad and Léman Cadrans. In 2013, Louis Vuitton opened a new watchmaking facility in Meyrin, Geneva, and its watches now carry the Geneva Seal. The Voyagez chronograph is in two versions: the Tambour Chronographe Automatique Voyagez Essentiel has a stainless steel case and brown dial with red details, case size 44 mm, while the other is the Tambour Chronographe Automatique Voyagez Pink Gold. The LV172 movement provides chronograph functions, with a tachymeter scale at the edge of the dial. The dial layout is unusual, with all three subdials aligned and overlapping, and a curved date window at 6 o’clock. The Tambour Essential Voyagez in stainless steel costs €6,200, the version in pink gold costs €24,900.
8. Ralph Lauren Stirrup Large Chronograph
The Stirrup collection was introduced in 2009 and is still a cornerstone of the Ralph Lauren collection, with models for men and women. Ralph Lauren is a lifestyle brand, making garments and accessories in its instantly recognizable sport-influenced style, and so it was only natural that they should launch their own watches as well, with the Ralph Lauren Watch & Jewelry Co. They are designed by the company, and have quality movements built by other companies in the Richemont group. For example, the Stirrup Large Chronograph for men, reference RLR0031700, has a column-wheel movement named the RL750 but made by Jaeger-LeCoultre. The small seconds dial is at 6 o’clock, while the subdial at 3 o’clock is for chronograph minutes, and that at 9 o’clock is for chronograph hours. The case is in polished rose gold, with 30 metres water resistance. The strap is in alligator with a rose gold fold-over clasp. Size 36.6 mm wide, 38.5 mm high, 12.15 mm thick. The strap is more complex than usual, with one layer that runs behind the watch lined with water-resistant Alsavel, and the two loops holding the case sewn onto the top. The result is a comfortable watch because the leather runs all the way around, but the leather precludes a view of the caseback. And so the Cotes de Genève decoration on the movement is something that can’t be appreciated by the user. The Stirrup Large Chronograph Rose Gold costs about €19,800. Read more here.
9. Salvatore Ferragamo Lungarno
The Salvatore Ferragamo Lungarno is a chronograph with a Dubois Depraz 2040 movement, with two subdials, chronograph minutes at 9 o’clock and continuous seconds at 3 o’clock. The two subdials are in an anthracite grey colour like the strap, which is characteristic for its perforations revealing a layer of red leather below, matching the red details indicating the chronograph functions on the dial. The watch has a relatively small porthole-type caseback revealing the movement. This is a limited edition, 500 pieces, with three versions, two with leather straps (grey or dark blue) and one with metal bracelet and gold details. The versions with leather straps cost €2,390, the piece with a metal bracelet costs €2,590. More information at www.ferragamotimepieces.com
10. Versace Urban Gent
Most of Versace’s watches are pure fashion pieces with quartz movements, but their Urban Gent was “made for mechanical horology enthusiasts” as they say in the press release, and it has an ETA 2895 movement which provides time functions with small seconds in a subdial that also includes a small date window. The Versace style characteristics include the meander pattern forming the dial centre, and the Medusa head at 12 o’clock. There is a sapphire caseback and a dark brown crocodile strap with red-pink details. Limited edition of 500 pieces. There are two other versions, steel with black dial, and rose gold and steel with blue dial.