“When there is a birth there is joy and there is emotion,” says Guy Chatillon, “but there was no pain.” The debonair architect of Ralph Lauren’s fledgling foray into the competitive world of luxury watches makes it sound easy. Hasn’t he seen the news? “You see, in this difficult environment people are going back to their roots, foundation, fundamentals,” says Chatillon.
The Ralph Lauren stand at Geneva’s week-long Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie has a steady Lauren feel – 19th hole meets ski lodge – that looks, almost, like it’s been there forever. The launch, conceived when Lauren and Richemont’s Johann Rupert exchanged admiring glances at each others’ luxury goods businesses across a crowded marketplace, drew unprecedented attention from crowds and cameras. Outwardly, the Stirrup, Slim Classique and Sporting collections are quintessential twill-with-a-twist Lauren creations. The movements, provided by Richemont’s Piaget, IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre marques, are elegant answers to critics levelling the “fashion watch” claim.
Panerai has no heritage concerns. The Milan watchmaker, founded a year before Italy itself in 1860, was at Geneva to launch the Swiss-made P.9000 movement that will up the mechanical ante of their iconic Luminor 1950 models. The P.9000 will be hand-made in Neuchatel in keeping with “authenticity”, CEO Angelo Bonati’s brand buzzword at Geneva.
Montblanc, too, takes pride in provenance: the German firm recently took over Minerva, a maker with a 150-year history. Its new Grand Tourbillon Heures Mystérieuses is “not a watch but a piece of art”, it says. Only 16 of these will be produced, in white and red gold, in Villeret, a small Swiss town.
Elsewhere, Cartier and Girard-Perregaux ploughed their familiar furrow of haute-horological finery, Audemars Piguet turned out sporty solidity and IWC updated its water-born Aquatimer series with new references, including the Galapagos Islands Chronograph, a divers’ watch in steel and rubber designed in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation. With an emphasis on classic style, manufacturing integrity and spotless presentation, Geneva’s fair stuck to its trump cards. Ralph Lauren said he hoped he’d never be in fashion “because it’s so easy to be out of fashion”. Good news he’s gone the Swiss route.