What's the difference between a "fashion watch" and a "real watch?" Ask a hardcore enthusiast or collector and you're sure to get a snappy answer.
Watchnerd lingo and culture often derogatorily dubbs watches made made as mere fashion accessories "fashion watches." (The term also generally refers to those made without respect for horological history and tradition by brands coming from other sectors.) But just because a company is good at designing other products doesn't make its watches automatically dismissible, does it?
Most watches that enthusiasts and collectors are interested in come from brands that exclusively (or at least primarily) make watches and have done so historically. On the other hand, anyone can make a fashion watch if it "looks good" from a distance. Collectors will complain, however, that they too often feature obliviously mismatched design elements or simply mimic traditional designs using mass production and low cost.
So, fashion watches get bad rap. There are examples, however, of brands originating in other sectors such as jewelry (Cartier, Bulgari, Chopard, etc.) or even pen makers (Montblanc, etc.) that are uncontrovertibly established members of the watch industry and community. So what about watches by fashion labels? Are they necessarily "fashion watches" in the pejorative sense?
Brands that put in the effort to understand what it takes to make a "real watch," even if they come from the fashion world, can produce something worthy of enthusiasts' attention. Further, they bring an outside perspective and fresh ideas that many watch nerds would agree is needed in the industry — and the four examples below prove it.
Louis Vuitton's LVMH corporate siblings include watch brands like Zenith, TAG Heuer, Bulgari and Hublot. The brand began making its own watches in 2002 with its distinctive, drum-shaped Tambour, and later even acquired production facilities in Geneva called La Fabrique du Temps. So this is the same historic brand you know for its expensive handbags or belts, but it's also invested in making some of the most distinctive and interesting watches.
Watch snobs shouldn't forget watches like the Louis Vuitton Escale World Time with its utterly unique and captivating, hand-painted dial. It's a classic and a perfect example of what fresh perspectives can bring to the table. The Escale and Tambour have become larger collections that often incorporate interesting and highly complicated features (e.g., the incredible Spin Time). Yes, some of the brand's watches feature giant "LV" logos and are aimed at Louis Vuitton brand fans, but there's plenty for watch fans as well.
Yes, there's an Apple Watch Hermes; no, that's not what we're talking about. Hermes has several watch collections, but the Slim (or Slim d'Hermes) is the flagship. Not only is it slender (8.2mm thick) and and conservative-looking (39.5mm wide), but its whimsical numerals make it more interesting that many other dress watches. This little detail is what makes it stand out visually and keeps it true to its brand, but this is otherwise pretty classical watchmaking.
The Slim uses a thin automatic movement with a micro rotor made by the manufacturer Vaucher, in which Hermes owns a 25% stake. This is the same factory that provides extremely high-end movements to brands like Parmigiani and Richard Mille, but the Slim d'Hermes offers a strong value at around $7,300+. Some Hermes watches might contain sourced or quartz movements, but others feature even more complicated mechanics and interesting concepts — like the Arceau l’Heure de la Lune, for example.
Chanel's best-known watches are the women's J12 in white ceramic. They're so iconic, they've been copied endlessly. While the concept has been expanded to mens watches with black, matte-textured ceramic-and-steel models, the brand's dedicated men's watch is the Monsieur. While that name references Chanel's overwhelmingly feminine lineup, the Monsieur is a downright cool-ass watch featuring jumping hours, retrograde minutes and a complicated in-house movement.
At an even more esoteric and "watch nerdy" level, Chanel has a range of timepieces combining high-end watchmaking with artistic crafts and technical materials (such as ceramic). With a couple of highly compelling mens watches already in the lineup, there's a lot of potential for Chanel to appeal more to male watch collectors.
Ralph Lauren's watches are perhaps the most aesthetically polarizing of those discussed here: They're kinda all over the place in terms of style and clearly don't come from a traditional watchmaker's perspective, but the brand has shown commitment to producing them with the level of quality and detail watch enthusiasts expect. Even those with giant horse-and-polo-player logos or a well-dressed bear on the dial offer sourced Swiss automatic movements.
Examples like the Slim Classique, on the other hand, seem like very traditional watchmaking, indeed, with traditional engine-turned guilloché work on its dial and bezel. The brand has been known to use high-quality mechanical movements — including highly complicated ones — from the Richemont Group's brands like IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Piaget. Arguably, however, the brand's most notable models are in the similar Sporting, Automotive and Safari collections. These have some controversial design elements but are at least interesting, in some cases incorporating wood in the dials and bezels.