Launching this month in Ford’s stores and in select retailers, Tom Ford’s first watch, the Tom Ford 001, joins the cavalcade of timepieces from fashion brands turned watchmakers. Oddly, while Tom Ford’s main collection $42,000 alligator briefcases, casual suede jackets for $7,000, and sunglasses for $1000, the prices of his new watch line are intentionally less stratospheric. At its most affordable, the Tom Ford 001 retails US$2000 with a curved back watch offered in 2 sizes, 44mm and 40mm, in four different metals and a wide selection of interchangeable bands – each sold separately. But the question is, do we need a Tom Ford watch?

The growing number of fashion brands entering the world of haute horlogerie hasn’t been large but it denotes a trend – Tom Ford wasn’t the first nor would it be the last. That said, some brands like Ralph Lauren do it with arguably greater promise. Ralph Lauren’s watch collections have, developed a cult following thanks to their irrepressible charm. Case in point (no pun intended), the 27mm square 867 model is considered by connoisseurs to be one of the best interpretations of the Tank watch right now; the greatest irony is that like many other fashion designers, Ralph Lauren himself was an ardent admirer of Cartier and sought muse in the original pioneer in form (aka shapes other than round) watches. Even then, like many fashion giants, Ralph Lauren doesn’t make its own movements but instead, depends on a stable of Richemont Group watchmaking brands to create exclusive movements for them.

In the instance of Ralph Lauren’s exquisite square Art Deco tank, the ultra-thin caliber RL430, which, drives it is based on the Piaget calibre 430P: a coin-sized hand-wound mechanical movement. It is a serious calibre for serious watch collectors and as such, the resulting official retail price puts Ralph Lauren’s offering on par with the traditionalist watchmaking brands in Richemont. In that sense, it is understandable why there is some reticence in putting money down for a Ralph Lauren watch when your money could go to a more classical, specialist watchmaker, even if the Ralph Lauren Slim Classique looks like something anyone of those heritage brands might have made themselves.

That said, while provenance is the coin of the watchmaking world, some fashion brands develop a language and DNA that is truly authentic to its history in its own right, albeit one rooted in haute couture, fashion and travel. Nicolas Beau, international watch director for Chanel once expressed that “there are very few brands that have enough power to become specialists in different things”. However, that is not to say that luxury fashion brands should never be considered as a total outsiders to the world of watches, only that very few can do so and offer products which consumers will not perceive as cynical money-grabs.

Entering A Complex World Of Luxury Timepieces

Despite a relatively short foray into watchmaking, luxury brands like Chanel and Louis Vuitton have developed iconic timepieces that are recognised for their sublime design – The former had the Ceramic J12 collection launched in 2000 and the latter, the Tambour collection. Some maisons like Hermes actually acquire stakes in serious watch manufactures to make timepieces which truly resonate with the brand’s culture and philosophy, case in point – 2017’s Slim d’Hermes L’heure Impatiente and the Slim d’Hermes Perpetual Calendar.

From left, Arceau Le temps suspendu, Dressage L’heure masquée, Slim d’Hermès L’heure impatiente

Hermès cultivates the extravagant idea of reconciling the rigorous discipline of mechanical high complications with whimsical fancy – as such their 2017 novelty played upon that quintessential experience of anticipation. The L’heure Impatiente invited watch lovers to set the counter of the watch to the time of the eagerly awaited event that will take place in less than 12 hours. An hour before it occurs, the mechanical hourglass is set in motion and its progress can be followed at 6 o’clock on the dial.

The complication is classically Hermes, emotively stirring while heightening the sense of pleasurable anticipation, as if on the shortlist for a Kelly Birkin, all culminating when the note rings out. The striking mechanism has been designed to ensure a lasting, velvety-smooth sound delightfully modulated for the wearer’s ears only. Whereas the Perpetual Calendar took horology’s most classical of high complications and bequeathed it with an undeniably Hermes aesthetic.

Designed by Philippe Delhotal, Creative Director of La Montre Hermès, Slim d’Hermès and the resulting Perpetual Calendar model which accompanied the collection’s debut testified to the graphic approach of Hermes.  Using original typography created by Philippe Apeloig to mark the hours, the light, airy outline of the numerals imparted a pleasing cadence which contrasted with one of the most demanding horological complications. The Slim d’Hermes Perpetual Calendar counted off the days and months while taking account of leap years while exhibiting an exquisite moon-phase indication in natural white mother-of-pearl set against an aventurine glass sky with dual-time display, all delivered in an ultra-thin body – there could be no argument that this Vaucher Fleurier creation was unmistakably watchmaking at its finest while conveying that all too familiar Hermes flair for understated yet unmistakable design.

Gucci Watches G-Chrono Collection 2018

That said, Christian Dior was a pioneering fashion house in the watch arena but Gucci is widely remembered for the first commercially successful fashion watch venture. In 1972, the Italian house partnered with Severin Wunderman to produce Gucci watches. Setting the benchmark measure for success for fashion watches, the first year saw the company make a profit of approximately $3 million and subsequently, Gucci watch sales rose to $70 million a mere three years later and $115 million in 1988. For 10 years, Gucci’s watch supplier Severin Montres enjoyed exponential growth, making it an appetising target for acquisition, Gucci finally took the bait in 1997. This was indicative of how a successful watch collection could become an important source of profit for a fashion brand.

In 2012, the least expected brand to enter the watch arena did. Just when one thought it would be impossible to create a watch inspired by trenchcoats, Burberry debuted a range of timepieces dubbed “The Britain” as an accompaniment to the brand’s signature garment. One can either approach this trend as a mere trend or given that fashion watchmaking has been around since the 60s, consider the genre as part and parcel of an evolutionary process that is not only aesthetically experimental or mechanically inventive within the confines of brand DNA which isn’t necessarily beholden to centuries of watchmaking history.

The financial perspective

General consensus is that traditional names in Swiss watchmaking like Patek Phillippe, Rolex and Omega are ones that have been and will most likely be, around for the foreseeable future. By virtue of their enduring collections throughout history, it is indisputable that these heritage watchmakers endure the vagaries and transience of fads and fashion – one has to simply look at all the vintage re-issues that are making a comeback, these classic designs are not beholden to “trends” as these fashion watches are. However, what fashion brands offer is a more aesthetically driven option for those who already own a couple of luxury watches and simply prefer something which doesn’t take itself too seriously. That is not to say that watches from fine watchmakers are not fashionable, it is simply the fact that for every Michelin star meal, one can still enjoy cheese burgers from McDonald’s.

However, biggest thing that sets fashion accessory watches apart from the classic timepieces is naturally, the price tag. For watch aficionados, the value of watches lies in the quality, style and most importantly, the brand status. But with the rise of maisons like Chanel and Louis Vuitton producing high quality watches at less eye watering price ranges, it poses a situation that is enigmatically attractive even for the most discerning of customers. Needless to say, that while heritage watchmaking will always stay relevant, it can be argued, especially given the rise of kickstarter brands producing horological facsimiles of out-of-production models, coupled with the value-cost equation, the correlation between propensity to spend relative to desirability of provenance becomes decidedly murkier. To wit, on the rare occasion where the designs of fashion watches seem to replicate that of a classic timepiece, if Ralph Lauren watches were priced more attractively, they would very well be making a bigger dent in the market right now.

Striking a balance

Very astutely, Tom Ford placed himself in the shoes of his customers when deciding on the price for his new timepiece. “I don’t know if I would buy a $20,000 watch from Tom Ford,” he said, “But would I spend $2,700 for a really great watch in steel with a black face and interchangeable bands, or $8,000 for a gold one? Yes.”

The Tom Ford 001 comes in one style, designed to be functional and a modern take on a classic accessory. Mr Ford was inspired by the unisex style of Rolex and Cartier. He “doesn’t think that a watch is necessarily masculine or feminine”. The focus of the quietly branded collection draws on the appeal of interchangeable straps, priced from US$420 individually. The collection features a luxurious take on webbing straps, a braided band – also available in plain alligator and leather bands in a wide range of colours – will the Tom Ford eye for design and brand appeal be enough entice consumers? Perhaps. History has shown that consumers will always crave options. More importantly, given the rise of couture watch brands in a free-market economy, there’s a much simpler explanation – Are you ready? The watch industry has not yet met the needs of all consumers. Don’t believe us? Why else would Richemont Group decide to launch a brand like quartz-centric brand like Baume?