Fashion Designers Are Teaming Up With Watch Companies

Fashion designers have spent the last few weeks presenting their new collections, focused on styles for fall. But many also have been introducing new looks for some of the most recognizable names in watchmaking.

On Feb. 2, a week before the start of New York Fashion Week, Victoria Beckham gathered the likes of Helena Christensen, Derek Blasberg and Katie Holmes at the stylish Indochine restaurant in Manhattan to celebrate her new venture: a series of watches for Breitling.

In late January, during Couture Week in Paris, the models walking for Tamara Ralph wore the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon “Tamara Ralph” Limited Edition, which the Australian designer had created for the brand. And Yiqing Yin, another couturier in Paris, has had a partnership with Vacheron Constantin since 2019.

But why are watchmakers teaming up with female designers?

“Women’s importance in the watch market is only increasing,” said Georges Kern, Breitling’s chief executive. “We approached Victoria Beckham because her brand’s understated elegance, or quiet luxury aesthetic if you want, aligns with our positioning as the cool and relaxed alternative in watches and is a great fit for the types of women we want to approach.”

Basically, he said, “Victoria’s influence in the fashion industry allows us to speak to style-savvy women, thus reaching a larger female audience.”

Such collaborations, said Claudia D’Arpizio, the senior partner and global head of fashion and luxury at Bain & Company, are part of watchmakers’ efforts to address women in a more empathetic, considerate manner — moving beyond the stereotypes that once characterized some offers from the male-dominated industry.

“Historically, women’s watches always had precious stones,” Ms. D’Arpizio said, “they were essentially jewelry watches, but now, many brands are designing timepieces for a genderless consumer and reinforcing the segment of non-jewelry watches for women, drawing inspiration from men’s styles.

“Joining forces with female fashion designers, who may already resonate with women, helps brands build legitimacy and credibility among this consumer segment.”

Ms. Beckham herself negated the importance of categorizing watches by gender when she wrote in an email that her affinity for men’s timepieces inspired her Breitling designs. (Her husband, David, was a Breitling brand ambassador from 2012 to 2016.)

“I wanted to have something that had the same look and feel as men’s watches, but a little smaller while retaining the masculine edge,” she wrote. “It was also important for me that there be very subtle nods to my brand, elegant and effortless for every day.”

The Chronomat Automatic 36 Victoria Beckham collection, limited to a total of 1,500 pieces, includes four color variations of the 36-millimeter dials, inspired by the palette that Ms. Beckham used for her spring 2024 collection. The watches are available in 18-karat yellow gold and steel (starting at $5,600).

At Audemars Piguet, “we listened and learned, and we now understand much better what women consider when buying a watch,” said Ginny Wright, the company’s chief executive of the Americas. “In the U.S., we are addressing Gen Z to Gen X female entrepreneurs in relevant, meaningful ways, focusing on values and issues that matter to them; we do not just talk to them about our products.”

She also noted that the brand has been seeing a steady increase in the number of women who buy watches for themselves, and that it expects that personal shopping to account for a full 30 percent of all female purchases by the end of the year.

As for the Tamara Ralph collaboration, it was a natural extension of the brand’s penchant for such partnerships, said Olivia Crouan, the watch company’s chief brand officer — noting that it had worked with Jay-Z, the jewelry designer Carolina Bucci, Marvel Entertainment and, most recently, the rapper Travis Scott.

Ms. Ralph, a loyal customer who frequently has accessorized her catwalk looks with Audemars Piguet watches, admitted that initially she was overwhelmed by the challenges of compressing her aesthetic into the small dimensions of a wristwatch.

“But once I started, I couldn’t stop,” she said, emphasizing how limiting herself to a single color (brown) and juxtaposing materials and patterns distilled her style.

The result was a 38.5-millimeter watch with an 18-karat pink gold case, frosted in gold, with a multilayered dial in shades of brown, bronze and gold and a diamond-set flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock. There will be 102 made, with the price on application.

At Vacheron Constantin, the house said its collaboration with Ms. Yin, the Paris couturier, was continuing. It began in 2019 when she became an ambassador of the watch collection Égérie, which featured a dial mimicking the fabric pleats that Ms. Yin has frequently used in her collections.

Sandrine Donguy, the house’s product marketing and innovation director, said the watches linked to Ms. Yin had incorporated a new artistic sensibility and expertise, stimulating its craftspeople. “We choose inspiration not only from within our brand, but also outside,” she said.

Ms. D’Arpizio noted that, when such collaborations are done well, they can be beneficial for both watchmakers and fashion designers. “There are multiple strategic advantages that might result from partnerships and collaborations,” she said. “From a branding standpoint, they offer the possibility to enlarge the territories of conversation and increase brand resonance, reinforcing a message about inclusivity from the brand as it talks to a broader consumer base.”

And there are perks to be found in the balance sheet, too, Ms. D’Arpizio added, “From a financial standpoint, these partnerships can unlock additional pockets of growth, it’s an attractive win-win.”

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