My interview with Hamdi Chatti, the vice president of Louis Vuitton Watches, was one of the most interesting of the 2012 Basel fair. The main topic of conversation related to this: I strongly believe that in the years ahead, the strongest and most established brands will only become stronger and continue to gain market share. Their direct competition will come not from small, independent brands, whose era is over, but from the established luxury brands like Louis Vuitton that are now going about massively and aggressively investing in their futures. They are building their credibility now, and anywhere from five years to a decade from now — especially in key markets such as China and the US — if leaders like Hamdi Chatti enact their plans well, they will be perceived as established and fully legitimate high-watchmaking brands. If you doubt me, think about the evolution of Cartier in the last five years, thanks to brilliant leadership at the top. Sitting down with Chatti, I learned exactly how he intends to achieve this.
Two years ago, our watchmakers at La Fabrique du Temps patented a time-telling system based on spinning cubes. The interesting part was that you could spin these cubes every hour, every half-hour, but you could spin them every half-minute as well. So the idea was to think about how we could show a different functionality using those cubes. This year, our watchmakers came up with a system to spin five cubes [one for each minute] to provide a countdown function for the start of the America’s Cup.
They’ve done this in a very natural way that is intuitive to use. You have our new Spin Time Regatta chronograph. If you want to use the regatta countdown function, you arm the watch [by pressing the button at eight o’clock] and you will see that all five cubes on the dial will turn red. At 12 o’clock, inside an aperture, the word “regate” appears to tell you that you are in regatta mode. Now you are ready for the show.
The red cubes show the official five-minute countdown before the America’s Cup race starts. When you start the chronograph, immediately, the first cube spins and turns back to blue. This signifies that the first minute has already begun to elapse. To create this watch, we discussed the concept at length with our friends from the America’s Cup. They said that the best idea was a countdown because the most important information you can provide is the remaining time before the start of the race.
We wanted to do this in the most visible way possible, and the Spin Time function, because of its large format and three-dimensionality, ended up being perfect for this. One look at the dial and you will immediately see how many full minutes remain. Look at the seconds hand to see how many seconds are left [actually, this will be a function of subtracting the remaining seconds in a full minute relative to where the seconds hand is]. Each time the seconds hand completes a full revolution, another cube will turn blue.
The idea is that each crew is sailing back and forth behind the starting line, but they want to coordinate the exact moment they cross the line — ideally, at maximum speed — with the moment the starter pistol goes off. Finally, when all five minutes have elapsed and the last cube turns blue, the watch becomes a normal chronograph to measure the elapsed time of the race.
The America’s Cup is a fantastic collaboration for us. The race has the fastest boats in the world, the best sailors in the world, and the oldest trophy. We wanted to make a tribute to this wonderful race and celebrate our status as the race’s official timekeeper.
At Louis Vuitton Watches, we have two types of customers. We have the Louis Vuitton customer, and we also have the watch aficionado. We love them both, and so we want to make sure our designs and developments will please them both. Part of this is that our watches must truly express the heritage of our brand. Louis Vuitton has two strong lineages that we draw from for our watches. The first is related to travel, and the second is related to sailing. And at Louis Vuitton, everything we create has to be done in a very intuitive way.
To use the Spin Time watch as an example, if you understand that the America’s Cup has a five-minute countdown, then you will, just by looking at the watch, have an understanding of how to use it. Louis Vuitton is about intelligent design, and this watch is a great example. [If you are in the middle of timing a regatta but want to just use the plain chronograph function, you can press the button at eight o’clock to instantly switch between modes.]
How have we managed to create useful complications that express our heritage? We have invested in ourselves. Almost two years ago, we took over a company in Geneva called La Fabrique du Temps. It is an absolutely unique workshop led by two of the industry’s most famous master watchmakers, Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini. To make sure they really understand what Louis Vuitton is all about, I often go to Geneva, and they come very often to our headquarters in Paris. They are really committed to faithfully expressing our identity through creative complications. For example, they come to all of our fashion shows to get a sense of our identity. They’ve visited Asnières to see how our trunks are handcrafted and sense the solid heritage of our brand. They even go to our stores to live the full Louis Vuitton experience. The Vuitton touch is, to me, not only a great look, but also true functionality. You know that watchmaking is all about entertainment, but at the same time, it can be very functional. You should be able to go on your boat with the Spin Time Regatta and very accurately time a race.
In their brains, they are becoming Louis Vuitton lovers like me. But to be very fair, we decided that we would continue the developments that we have already started with our colleagues from other brands. However, going forward, I think that they will be less and less involved in other brands and will focus on Louis Vuitton watches.
Yes, there has been a conscious consolidation in watchmaking expertise for us. Louis Vuitton started by producing his own trunks from day one. You need to master the know-how of every single process, from the moment you conceive a creation to the moment you pass the product to your customer. One of the most important things for us is mastering the know-how. It’s part of the spirit of the company, and we feel it’s the best way to serve the customer.
At the moment, we have La Fabrique du Temps. We also have a dial manufacture in Geneva where we are mastering all of the processes. We are also building a manufacture in Meyrin, Geneva. The objective is very simple: we want to master our creative independence. That way, if you have an idea, you can make it happen. It is so clear. We believe that our customers deserve to have the best, and that our products deserve to have the best watchmakers, the best dialmakers and the best casemakers.
We’ve taken a piece of land in a very nice environment in Geneva where we are building a factory. We are going to take all of our watchmaking activities and locate them under one roof there. We want to have the teams for prototyping, marketing and design all in the same place. This going to be the future of Louis Vuitton watches. For this, we need technical people who are creative, marketing people who are creative, and design people who are creative. So “creativity” will be our motto.
The dial that you see on the Spin Time Regatta is something that was created by our dial manufacture. Our friends from ArteCad, the factory we took over in Geneva, were so proud. I told them several months ago about the Spin Time Regatta and how we wanted to have a dial that would also show off the underlying mechanism. They said, “Don’t worry; in a couple of weeks, you will see that we have done a specific sapphire.” They have done everything in-house, and they smoked the glass blue. We wanted to have a functional watch with the countdown highly visible. But I loved this idea that if you got nearer, you could appreciate the beauty of the movement deep inside.
Yes, we are seriously thinking about the Geneva Seal for one simple reason: it is becoming one of the landmarks of high-end watchmaking, not only because of the guarantee for finishing, but because they have a laboratory that certifies the accuracy of the watch. To me, these, in combination, represent the highest standard ever.
The minute repeater was the first high-end product that we designed with La Fabrique du Temps. We wanted to have a minute repeater, but at the same time, we thought that there is this incredibly emotional component to traveling, especially related to the home time. Even the term “home time” makes you think of your wife, your kids, your family. So you are always wondering, “What time it isthere?” Because the reality is that we travel a lot, but emotionally, we are rooted to where we come from.
Our minute repeater is great. Anytime you are thinking about your home time, you activate the repeater, the watch plays the home time for you and you are transported home through the repeater. You think of your family as the watch strikes, and it reminds you of how much you love them.
Well, the perfect situation is to use the watch on the plane. On the plane, you must always turn off your electronic devices, but no one tells you to shut down your mechanical watch. This is amazing; a mechanical watch can give you emotion even onboard a plane.
It would have been very easy for us to focus on women’s watches. But looking forward and planning for the long term, we need to achieve credibility. To achieve this, we need to speak to the watch lover; we need to speak to men — the serious collector who is buying the [established] high-end brands. Now we are building credibility. I feel we are uniquely able to offer emotional but functional watches. Also, to be serious, we must design women’s mechanical watches. So before starting on this, we are focusing on men’s mechanical watches. But the Spin Time jewelry watch already demonstrates what we can do for women while remaining truly credible.