Five of the Best Watches from High Fashion Houses

by Mario C

The watch world is much larger than you think – while we often repeat the same five or six names ad nauseam, there is still much more to explore! For example: You may not know them for their watches, but here are some of the best timepieces from the realms of high fashion.

‘Fashion Watch’: A term that makes a lot of enthusiasts shudder at the mere mention of it. If you’re unfamiliar, the term often carries with it negative connotations – think cheaply made, drop shipped knockoffs with stamped logos, often made to get another quick buck out of the consumer.

Yet, in the arenas of haute couture and joaillerie, there are brands that have broken into the watch world to massive acclaim. Perhaps the biggest example is Cartier, who boasts iconic model after iconic model in their lineup of luxury timepieces. However, there are so many others who similarly respect the watch game, which is reflected in their own creations’ artistry and craftsmanship. Here are five of those brands that use their vast knowledge of the luxury space to go far beyond the simple and tacky branding that ‘fashion watches’ are often lampooned for.

Chanel J12

Chanel has long been a powerhouse of high fashion. The Classic handbag, N°5 fragrance, and the Boucle tweed jacket are just a handful of instances where Chanel has left her indelible mark on the fashion landscape. Relatively young in the watch world, they would enter the scene in 1987 thanks to longtime artistic director Jacques Hélleu with the aptly named Première collection. However, the release of the J12 at the turn of the millennium would cement their name as a staple of modern horology.

With its sleek and minimalist design, the unisex 38mm J12 exudes an elegance that captivates watch enthusiasts, yet does so whilst embodying the refinement synonymous with Chanel’s original ethos. Constructed from high-grade ceramic, it’s durable and lustrous, but don’t let appearances fool you. The J12, in classic Chanel fashion, is as pretty as it is capable – 200m water resistance and a diver-style unidirectional turning bezel transforms it from a novelty accessory into a ruthless Go Anywhere, Do Anything (GADA) tool watch.

What’s even crazier is that the J12 is also COSC Chronometer Certified, but you wouldn’t know it just by looking. Inside the J12 is the Cal. 12.1, based on the MT54 family of Tudor movements. Chanel doesn’t mess around with their watchmaking – they’ve not only borrowed Tudor’s movements but they also own half of the company behind them, Kenissi. Also, Fun fact – The Chanel J12 is the only watch in this entire article that has a standalone Wikipedia page. Neither the AP Royal Oak nor the Patek Philippe nautilus has one!

Learn more about and browse the Chanel J12 collection here

Bvlgari Octo Finissimo

Founded in 1884 by a Greek silversmith in Rome, Bulgari’s impact on the fashion world was palpable, helping to popularise the Art Deco movement through their inspired use of jewellery and precious gemstones. However, the Bulgari family has maintained an interest in watchmaking since the 20th Century. They began with simple gem-set watches, but their timepieces would evolve and eventually become renowned for their artistic finesse and precision.

No watch in their lineup expresses this more soundly than that of the Octo Finissimo. Commonly associated with legendary watch designer Gérald Genta, the Octo collection seamlessly blends brutalist aesthetics with exceptional engineering and technical innovation. The 40mm Octo Finissimo lineup takes those elements and not only refines them but also slims them down.

The slimness of the Bulgari Octo Finissimo

And I mean slim down literally. Powered by the BVL 138 micro-rotor movement, the watch has a 60-hour power reserve but stands at a remarkable 5mm thick. To put it in perspective, 5mm is about as thick as a pencil eraser! It’s a wonder that they’re able to make a watch in a space that small.

Introduced in 2012, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo has quickly become a darling of the Bulgari roster, having been accompanied by a wide variety of limited editions. From a collaboration with famed architect Tadao Ando to this year’s revival of Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani’s Sketch Edition, there is no artistic height that Bulgari cannot reach, and no record they aren’t willing to break. Speaking of, they just did – one of their newest Octo Finissimo novelties is the thinnest watch in the world!

Learn more about and browse the Bulgari Octo lineup here!

Tiffany & Co. x Onlywatch Bird On a Rock

Tiffany & Co.’s significance in the world of jewellery is undeniable, as is their impact on the watch world. Their patented blue is pervasive in both realms, transcending both to become a staple of the luxury world. It’s only right, then, that this veritable juggernaut of the industry has a timepiece they can proudly call their own. I’m not talking about just any old timepiece, nor am I talking about the endless array of Tiffany Blue watch dials – Tiffany & Co.’s Bird On a Rock is a completely different beast.

Designed for the 2023/24 OnlyWatch auction, this Tiffany & Co. original was handcrafted by their Swiss artisans, a re-imagining of the brooch created in 1965 by iconic jewellery designer Jean Schlumberger. Powered by a manual mind LTM2000 movement with a 38-hour power reserve, this piece was not meant for a wrist but is to be worn as a pendant!

Upon inspection, it’s exactly how it should be. The timepiece is encased in 18k yellow gold atop a 34 carat faceted aquamarine; The bird itself is platinum, gold, and diamonds with pink sapphire eyes; both the crown and diamonds are also similarly further set with diamonds. If it wasn’t already apparent, Tiffany & Co. love their gemstones.

A dizzying array of light, The Bird On a Rock is a timepiece that uses watchmaking as a vehicle to further demonstrate the brand’s mastery of high jewellery and is exemplary of Tiffany & Co.’s legendary status in both worlds.

Learn more about the Tiffany & Co. Bird On a Rock here!

Hermès H08

Hermès is undoubtedly one of my favourite fashion brands ever. To be honest, it’s not even because of the products they make – they were my first ever luxury retail experience outside of dealing with watch brands, and they’ve been nothing but kind to me, especially since I just go in mostly to look at stuff to put on a wishlist.

Even still, the French fashion house has remained a significant player in the luxury industry. Beginning as an expert leather goods brand, they have grown to be commonly associated with the A-Listers, popular with iconic figures such as Princess Grace Kelly and the irreplaceable Jane Birkin, whose titular Hermès bag is one of the highest symbols of exclusivity today.

With a watchmaking legacy spanning over a century, it’s no surprise that Hermès doesn’t take horology lightly. While they are still coming off their most recent successes in the field with the Hermès Cut, and the Arceau Duc Atellé, it’s their 2021 release that began to set themselves apart from the rest of the competition.

The H08 is a uniquely contemporary sports watch offering by the fashion house conceived by Hermès’ creative director Philippe Delhotal, who formerly worked for Patek Philippe in the same role – with experience like that behind them, you know that these watches were never destined for disappointment. Standing at 39mm in case diameter (for some reason Hermès says 42, which is the lug-to-lug), the square H08 is unlike any other sports watch offering on the market. The design, from case shape to font, is wholly original, hearkening back to Hermès’ design language rather than extrapolating the popular elements of other popular sports watch models. It almost feels like a conceptual piece that was destined for an art museum, but ended up on the wrists of prospecting enthusiasts instead!

Similarly to Chanel, Hermès doesn’t shy away from hardcore mechanical engineering. The H08’s Cal. H1837 delivers a comfortable 50 hours of power reserve, which they made using Vaucher Manufacturer Fleurier. Hermès owns a 25% stake in Vaucher, whose other work includes making movements for Audemars Piguet, Parmigiani Fleurier and Richard Mille among others.

All this technical excellence backed by a durable rubber strap and a case constructed of varying materials. Over the years, Hermès has been able to experiment with titanium, 18k rose gold, ceramic, graphene and even slate fibreglass as the primary case material of the H08.

Learn more about the H08 collection here!

Louis Vuitton Tambour

Louis Vuitton’s recent ventures into the horological sphere are perhaps some of the best examples of what an era fashion-forward watchmaking looks like. Known for their revolutionary and trend-setting designs in all forms of fashion and life, LV’s approach to watchmaking has been fraught with challenges and general pushback from enthusiasts and consumers alike.

That’s why Jean Arnault, lead director of LV’s watchmaking arm, took an incredibly risky gambit: He essentially threw everything out the window and started them over from scratch. As it turned out, that gambit paid off, as the new Louis Vuitton Tambour was the result.

This newest iteration of the Tambour has preserved the beloved design language of the original, but with a couple of new twists to give it a breath of fresh air. Louis Vuitton has maintained the drum-like shape of the Tambour, but with a slimmer profile and added integrated bracelet, expressing both sporty versatility and dressy appeal. All the new models have the same dial layout, with a small second hand and Arabic numerals for maximum legibility and freedom to style the timepiece however you please.

Like all the other companies before, the LV Tambour takes watchmaking to the extreme. The luxury juggernaut owns their own Swiss watch manufactory, La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton, which they now use to make their Tambour’s LFT023. This movement is complete with the industry standard 4Hz (28,800bph) beat rate, 50 hours of power reserve, COSC Chronometer certification, and a level of finishing that defies all stereotypes of a ‘fashion watch.’ Plus, I’m a sucker for micro-rotor movements, so in my book this is an absolute win.

Learn more and browse the Tambour collection here!

Final Thoughts

So, despite ‘fashion watch’ being a dirty word, it does make me happy to know that there are many brands that seek to defy such conventions. While maybe they aren’t accessible to the general public (the truest definition of ‘luxury’), these five pieces prove that watchmaking as an industry is becoming more accessible to any brand that wishes to be a part of it.

You can see it from the microbrand perspective, the independent perspective, and from here – companies generally considered watchmaking’s ‘outsiders,’ operating a levels that closely compete with homegrown brands. It shows a lot of promise for the future of the watch world, and is bound to keep captivating audiences far into the future. There’s no fun in watching the same teams over and over again – it’s always more interesting to see new players in the mix.

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