LVMH Watch Week: Talking 2021 With The CEOs Of Bulgari, Hublot, Zenith, And TAG Heuer
Jean-Christophe Babin, Ricardo Guadalupe, Julien Tornare, and Frédéric Arnault offer an optimistic peek into the future.
To launch the start of LVMH Watch Week, the CEOs of four of the luxury powerhouses’ horology divisions held a virtual press conference to introduce their newest novelties and talk about their philosophies on navigating the new normal.
Babin, Guadalupe, Tornare, and Arnault are optimistic about the next 12 months. Here is what the big bosses are predicting for the future.
Traditionally, watchmaking takes time to turn things around. The amount of research and development that goes into developing new technologies and materials means that a new watch can take up to two to three years from concept to completion. But that doesn’t mean a brand can’t be fast on its feet.
During the first round of lockdowns, Bulgari quickly shifted production at its fragrance facilities to make hand sanitizer for frontline workers. It also boosted funding to institutions pursuing innovative research strategies to find cures and vaccines for different types of viruses, including supporting the University of Oxford's Edward Jenner Institute for Vaccine Research and Rome's Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases.
According to Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin, one of the biggest lessons learned once the markets reopened after the initial 2020 lockdown was the company was entering a new world. And that to move forward, the company resolved to not only "do good, but do it much better."
Bulgari had already been moving toward making more inclusive timepieces, such as the entry-level Bvlgari Aluminium watch, launched in 2020. And for 2021, Babin promises a "unique assortment [of timepieces] covering all aspects of the market."
The brands are also focusing more effort on building their online presence. But this doesn’t just mean building or growing their eCommerce platforms. It also means improving the virtual client experience.
For example, last year, Zenith introduced an initiative to launch limited editions exclusively from zenith-watches.com. "We had such a strong start with e-commerce," explained Zenith CEO Julien Tornare. "But we have to improve on the future."
For Zenith, the next step is to expand its online markets all over the world. Indeed, all of the maisons are finding ways to more accurately replicate the boutique experience online.
We spoke to Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe about how the brand is keeping in contact with its community of Hublotistas. Owners can already register at www.hublotista.com, but Hublot is also reaching out through email, social media, and newsletters. "Storytelling is part of the world of Hublot, so how do you keep people engaged?" asked Guadalupe. "Sixty thousand people interact through new mediums. As we go to new lockdowns, it's still about keeping the relationship going."
“We need to come to them,” Guadalupe added. “Not just the fans but new consumers as well.”
Back to the Future
The cancellation of watch fairs and the pause in watch production during the early days of the pandemic gave the LVMH brands a chance to reflect on their heritage. And it seems like each manufacture is planning to hone in on its key competencies.
"2020 was transformative," said TAG Heuer CEO Frédéric Arnault, who appeared on the panel via video. He added that drawing on the brand's history, they learned how resilient the company was. TAG Heuer won't present new timepieces until February, but the CEO teased that the brand will be "more active on the mechanical side."
At LVMH Watch Week, Bulgari focused on its skill as jewelry makers and the miniaturization of movements. The maison is known for its record-breaking mechanisms such as the just-launched, ultra-thin Octo Steel Chronograph GMT. And its prowess at gem setting was most apparent in the new Serpenti, Divas’ Dream, and Lvcea novelties.
At Hublot, its LVMH Watch Week launches linked historic innovations in materials such as Magic Gold to its newest Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic Orange Sapphire. “We are not the first to use sapphire,” said Guadalupe, “But we are the first to industrialize the production.”
This savoir-faire is already having a direct effect on the design of watches. At Zenith, this means revisiting iconic watches but presenting them with a more modern aesthetic. The demand for heritage pieces is booming, "People kept asking when we'd bring back certain models," explained Tornare. In response, the brand started its Zenith Icons program, which buys back its classic watches to meet the needs of clients who want vintage timepieces to restore and resell.
But that's just the beginning. Zenith has already started 2021 with much buzz thanks to the Chronomaster Sport. "We like to find a balance between the past, present, and future," said Tornare. This new launch references models like the De Luca, Rainbow, and A277 but updates the collection with a cutting edge El Primero 3600 caliber, which boasts an extended power reserve of 60 hours (power reserves are kind of a big thing for 2021).
LVMH is listening to female collectors while acknowledging that women are just as likely to wear an Octo Finissimo as a Serpenti. But there is still a big audience for jewelry watches.
"We don't want just to be the jewelers of time," explained Babin. "We are also experts on Metier d'arte." Bulgari is known for its ultra-thin mechanisms, but new developments in the miniaturization of movements also impact watches like the Diva's Dream Peacock Dischi with its mystery dial display, feather marquetry, and expertly set gemstones. Or the super complicated Divas’ Dream Peacock Tourbillon Lumière. Both are compact but pull no horological punches
At Hublot, the brand addresses model diversity by presenting more options in smaller sizes and color options. According to Guadalupe, last year's 42mm Big Bang Millennial Pink, designed in collaboration with Garage Italia's Lapo Elkann, sold 50 percent to men and 50 percent to women.
"I don't like to talk too much about women's versus men's," added Zenith’s Tornare in a Q&A with journalists. "Women wear men's watches, and in many parts of the world, men wear diamonds."
While the CEOs acknowledge they want to bring more female buyers into the fold, they also aren't trying to force anyone into gender stereotypes. "Some women like the possibility of using a watch as an accessory," said Guadalupe. And in the age when a pop star like Harry Styles can appear on the cover of Vogue in a dress, colorful bejeweled watches can be just as alluring to men.
“We’re kind of non-gender,” says Guadalupe. “That can be greater in appealing to all.”
Collaboration is Key
Listening to diverse collectors' communities has energized watchmaking, but at LVMH Watch Week, the brands also emphasized the importance of working with outside collaborators.
Hublot has long partnered with artists such as sculptor Richard Orlinski. And in 2021, Orlinski and the manufacture continued exploring the limits of design with the Classic Fusion Orlinski 40mm. This blue and black beauty is notable for its use of ceramic and its intriguing multi-faceted case and dial.
These partnerships have also proven to broaden brand awareness. In the case of Zenith, working with George Bamford on limited editions has introduced the venerable manufacture to a younger audience. In contrast, partnerships with Phillips Auction House have elevated recognition of the house's most emblematic collections.
We can also expect significant changes in brand sponsorships. "We don't want just a celebrity," said Tornare. "We want people who share our mindset of 'Reach For Your Star.' " In short, people like Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers who was announced as a new brand ambassador this week.
And finally, there is going to be more collaboration among the brands themselves. Even before the pandemic, it was clear that the old system of presenting yearly novelties at conventions was broken. Last year, the first LVMH Watch Week held court in Dubai. This year it was virtual, but the brands are looking forward to having in-person presentations again as soon as it is safe. And they still hope to band together.
What will be different is the staggering of launches throughout the year. In one way, the watch division of LVMH follows the fashion world, which has seen many designers reject the concept of seasonal collections.
Bulgari, Hublot, and Zenith all launched some very impressive novelties and informed the press that there are more watches to come later this year. And again, TAG Heuer will be making some big announcements next month.
It's a good plan in many ways because it keeps enthusiasts on their toes as they eagerly await new timepieces. It also prevents consumers from feeling overwhelmed with new releases. "2021 will be strong," Babin promised of the company's exciting novelties. And the manufacture also wants to give them the resources they deserve. "It will take a little extra effort, but we feel we will reach our full potential over the year."