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From Luxury Brand to Watch Brand

Jorg Weppelink
Jan 17, 2020
From Luxury Brand to Watch Brand


The world of luxury goods is crowded these days. There are countless brands in the luxury industry already, and numbers are constantly rising. Generally speaking, there are two types of luxury brands: specialist brands and multi-category brands. Specialist brands are widely recognized as being absolute authorities in one specific product category such as mechanical watches, for example. Iconic brands like Rolex, Omega, and Patek Philippe are known for producing top-quality watches. Multi-category brands, on the other hand, offer a wide range of different luxury products such as Chanel, Armani, and Hermès. Some of these brands also produce mechanical watches. Does their production diversity make them less credible watch brands? Let’s find out.


Specialists vs. Generalists

Today, you can buy watches from a wide range of luxury brands. That said, the vast majority of these watches are produced by third parties as part of a licensing agreement. So, if you see an Armani or a Michael Kors watch, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the brand has a group of in-house watchmakers developing their own timepieces. The expansion of these names into watchmaking is an attempt to create a single large brand representing a world of luxury. It’s understandable that they want to find opportunities to grow their business, but it doesn’t make them a watch brand or purveyors of fine mechanical watches.


Successful Brands

Cartier Tank Américaine
Cartier Tank Américaine, Photo: Bert Buijsrogge


This raises the question of whether there are luxury brands that have made some headway in the world of haute horlogerie. The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, several have, but most of these are jewelry brands, which makes sense because it’s the closest product category to mechanical watches. Some luxury brands that are also well-respected watch brands include Hermès, Bvlgari, Harry Winston, and Cartier. It’s not really fair to include Cartier in this list, however, because although they started out as a jewelry brand, they very quickly started developing watches as well. Cartier didn’t succeed in the watch industry as a non-watch brand; they are a traditional watch brand in every sense of the word with an incredible history in watchmaking.

Some other brands that have successfully started making watches include Montblanc, Porsche Design, and Singer. Montblanc is primarily known for their writing instruments, but they successfully ventured into watches beginning with their first timepiece in 1997. Porsche Design has been creating watches for more than four decades. In that time, they’ve produced some remarkable timepieces. Another more recent brand to the world of watches is Singer. The brand is known for producing beautifully reimagined Porsche 911s sports cars. They have recently released the beautiful Singer Track1 chronograph in several different editions to much critical acclaim. 


Moving into Watches

The watch industry is a very niche industry that requires a lot of specific technical knowledge, incredible craftsmanship, and an eye for design, making it a difficult market to conquer. Most luxury watch brands have an incredibly rich tradition and are known for crafting the best timepieces in the world. What moves non-watch brands to try their hands in the market? And how do they do it?


Harry Winston Ocean Tourbillon Jumping Hour-4291
Harry Winston Ocean Tourbillon Jumping Hour


The first question is probably the easiest to answer. The worlds of jewelry and watches share a spirit of creating beautiful products to wear, and they often use similar materials and high levels of craftsmanship. This makes the move into watches a rather logical one for jewelry brands. Brands like Bvlgari and Harry Winston create some of the world’s most beautiful pieces of jewelry. Prior to building more serious watches, both had timepieces in their collections that were more jewelry than watch. For brands like Porsche Design and Singer, however, the move has more to do with building high-end watches based on visionary designs; the technical details serve the design, but are not forgotten.


Bulgari-Octo-Finissimo-Automatic, Photo: Bert Buijsrogge
Bulgari-Octo-Finissimo-Automatic, Photo: Bert Buijsrogge


Becoming a Watch Brand

To become a credible watch manufacturer, each of these brands obviously had to invest in watch expertise. Bvlgari started a new division of their brand in 1980, with the founding of Bvlgari Haute Horlogerie SA. This followed the successful release of the Bvlgari Bvlgari watch collection in 1977. It was a similar story for Harry Winston. The brand invested heavily in Harry Winston Rare Timepieces, which was made successful by Max Büsser, creator of the renowned Opus line and the person to put Harry Winston timepieces on the map.

The first Hermès watches were actually made by Universal Genève in the 1930s. The brand later founded their own watch division, La Montre Hermès, in the 1970s. Singer, on the other hand, is a collaboration between Rob Dickinson, founder of Singer Vehicle Design, and renowned watch designer Marco Borraccino. After developing a vision for a classic sports chronograph, they reached out to famous Swiss independent watchmaker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht to help them bring the Singer Track1 to life. There are no shortcuts to becoming a credible watch brand; you need to invest in people, expertise, and production technology to do it properly.


Traditional Watch Brands vs. New Brands 

Hermès Arceau L’Heure De La Lune
Hermès Arceau L’Heure De La Lune


Brands like Bvlgari, Hermès, and Harry Winston have now become staples in the watch industry, and their timepieces are well respected by enthusiasts. In fact, over the last few years, both Hermès and Bvlgari have stood out with some groundbreaking watches in terms of both design and technical excellence. At a time when many traditional watch brands have been sticking to what they know and releasing retro-inspired watches, Hermès pushed boundaries with the incredible Hermès Arceau L’Heure De La Lune. Likewise, Bvlgari has created what will surely become a classic with their Octo Finissimo collection. The same can be said for Singer; their Track1 feels familiar with its 1970s-inspired look, but it’s also a breath of fresh air. As a non-traditional watch brand, the best thing you can do is stand out. These brands typically have unique creative visions that are brought to life by drawing on watchmaking tradition. If a brand successfully combines the two, they will likely find their place in the industry.


Read more: 

Can fashion brands keep up with traditional watchmaking?

The Watch Industry: A Dance of Brands and CEOs

Top Watches from Independent Brands Under $3,000 – Part 1

Jorg Weppelink
By Jorg Weppelink
Jan 17, 2020
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