Dominance by Design

Walking into Baselworld 2019, you couldn’t help but notice a new world order emerging.

Declining attendance and shifting economics meant several of the Swiss heritage manufactures were absent. What remained at Basel — historically the world’s largest annual watch and jewelry show — were the untouchables. Those rarified brands not only surviving but thriving and continuing to expand.

Gucci was right in the thick of it. For this year’s show, the storied Italian fashion house doubled down, constructing an enormous glass greenhouse in the center of Basel’s main promenade. Inside, an arrangement of plants and flowers surrounded its latest timepiece collection, the Grip.

This new watch is the product of great momentum. In January 2015, Alessandro Michele became responsible for all Gucci’s collections and global brand image; a kaleidoscopic flurry of acclaimed runway shows and ad campaigns followed. The designer’s gutsy, referential maximalism shook up the fashion universe, casting Gucci as the new lodestar. Translating Michele’s remarkable vision into ultra-desirable watches has taken time. Now, though, it’s all coming into clear focus.

So the stage was set for the brand’s breakout display in Basel. Inside, the president and CEO of Gucci Timepieces, Piero Braga, laid down the contradictory laws of the land: a sumptuously furnished conservatory, decorated with inimitable Gucci style, but built exclusively to show off a single watch inspired by old-school skate culture.

 “[Unlike] all the other watch brands that are hiding, we wanted to have everything transparent, and out in the open. We are here to be seen,” Braga says. “We wanted to dedicate a different environment to the project of the season, and we did it the Gucci way. We wanted to make a statement. And we wanted to make this our main focus, which is the Grip.  

For Braga, success isn’t adding another product category to Gucci’s accessories range. Instead, he wants to create timepieces that have something unique to say. Against the backdrop of Baselworld, a moving monument to the fast-changing realities of the watch industry, he doesn’t mince words about the approach: “There is no need for further product introduction in a market which is already oversaturated. You must have a point of view, love it or not, but you need to be consistent.”

And when it comes to having “a point of view,” the deck is stacked in Braga’s favor. Few designers in history have cultivated a signature aesthetic as quickly and successfully as Michele. As a result, Braga says, modern-era Gucci Timepieces is defined by a distaste for the generic.  “We don’t want to do something classic with a Gucci name on it. Other brands are doing that much better than us… We want to have our say creatively, and like all the other Gucci product categories, need to stick to the original vision of our creative director [Mr. Michele].”

To that end, Gucci Timepieces has become an unqualified success. The Grip joins a growing lineup of clever, expressive designs — dive watches with embellished reptilian dials, all-over floral face-and-strap combinations, tonneau shapes featuring tri-color and insect motifs. Each of these pieces recall the recurring themes of Michele’s unmistakable work.

“What we did was shape the image of the line quickly, and align that to what Gucci collections represent,” says Braga. “So now I think that it’s clear to most of the industry experts, what Gucci stands for within the watch industry…I believe we succeed in this.”

This message is articulated not only through the watches, but also the visuals that accompany them. The brand hasn’t filtered its personality to fit into the conservative luxury timepiece space; instead, Gucci has gone in the opposite direction. The coloring of the products, the display materials, even the shopping bags — none of it looks like traditional watch company fare.

This helped Braga move on from Gucci’s previous timepiece aesthetic. But he knows the company “still has a long path” ahead. The next step, he says, is to narrow the scope and focus on what will become foundational pieces in the brand’s portfolio for years to come. This presents a unique set of challenges, as runway styles are notoriously changeable.

“In producing watches, the fashion angle doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to change our collection every year. We had to do that [initially], because when you have to replace 200 references of an entire range of a watches company, the first season you need to introduce new models,” says Braga. “Now we need to build pillars.”

Hence, the Grip. This new collection of rounded, cushion-shaped quartz watches aligns perfectly with the style of Gucci’s ready-to-wear collection. In engraved stainless steel or gold PVD, on a bracelet or a strap, the piece stands out thanks to three small windows with rotating dials beneath, revealing the hour, minute, and the date. The overall look, like many of Gucci’s core products, should be endlessly adaptable.

“We needed to establish a new aesthetic, and this project is totally aligned with this concept,” Braga says. “It has young inspiration. It’s a cool, playful way of representing the hour with this jumping style movement. It has a genderless appeal, which is another important thing for us. And you can interpret the watch in different ways, encouraging self-expression and uniqueness.”

Along with creating signature pieces like the Grip, there are several other major goals for Gucci Timepieces. One is to continue upgrading the movements, boosting the brand’s horological credibility, especially within a certain price bracket. Braga feels that an entry-price automatic in the Gucci style will be like nothing else in the market.

“I believe that there’s room to establish a certain aesthetic to automatic watches, especially at a certain price point,” he says. “For sure, the ambition of our brand is to be able to offer even more refined products to the clientele without forgetting that for timepieces our base is more democratic.”

Accordingly, Braga also wants to create watches that can accompany the fine jewelry collections. He wants the designs to incorporate more precious and semi-precious gemstones in the future. Ambitious? Sure. But at this point, it’s difficult to doubt Braga or the brand. The Grip is just the beginning. Looking out at Baselworld from inside the Gucci greenhouse, you couldn’t help but see so many new possibilities.

Less Does Not Equal More

Meet the man behind the relaunch of TAG Heuer’s most storied line.

Photos by Atom Moore

Blame it on IKEA. Blame it on Marie Kondo. Blame it on the resurgence of midcentury modern design. Today we live in a world in which sleek minimalism can sometimes feel like the only acceptable aesthetic.

Guy Bove disagrees. As the new product director at TAG Heuer, Bove brings a robust sense of design that fits in well with the storied Swiss brand’s commitment to rugged adventure.

“To those who say, ‘less is more,’ my feeling is that too little is not always enough.” 


For the movement, TAG Heuer has developed the Isograph, a state-of-the-art oscillator featuring a carbon composite hairspring and custom balance wheel for ultimate chronometer precision with a power reserve of 38 hours.

Soft-spoken with wavy brown hair and a Balbo beard, Bove cuts a debonaire, yet unfussy, figure. He’s young, sharp, and — as anyone who has seen him affably roaming the halls at Baselworld in one of his wide lapel wool suits — very stylish. And while, much like his personal wardrobe, you could never categorize his design philosophy as maximalist, Bove likes to bring together disparate elements and moods when creating a luxury timepiece. Call it understated eclecticism. 

“I look for a balance between readability, being fit for purpose, and an amount of detail or quality of detail that, even if it is not obvious to most people, creates the right feeling — typography, proportions, three-dimensional detailing, finishes,” Bove tells us from his office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a small city nestled in the folds of the Jura mountains on the French border. “I think a well-designed product should combine a feeling for quality with a sense of being in the now but also being able to survive the test of time — it should look effortless.”

A glittering combination of AUTomobile and AVIAtion, the Autavia looks to the future of TAG Heuer while keeping the craftsmanship and spirit of the past.

Whether he’s skiing in the Alps, or hiking in search of the perfect photograph for his visual art side hustle, Bove — who says he would have been just as happy being an architect or a writer — is always open to inspiration. He sees it everywhere, even in the periphery of his life: the colors in shop windows, the contours of passing cars. Perhaps it’s this unconventional approach to watch design that has put him in such high demand. 

After recent posts at Chopard and Breitling, where he led the iconic brand’s reboot, Bove was poached by TAG in late 2018. Consider that a major coup, especially since TAG had ambitions to relaunch its famous Autavia line. Like so many of its watches, the Autavia is known for a connection to motorsports. The original, introduced in 1933, was a double chronograph designed for dashboards. After becoming a wristwatch in 1962, it was adopted by some of the world’s fastest Formula 1 drivers. In short, it became synonymous with racing paddocks and the thick, wafting fumes of petrol. 

When tasked with a redesign, however, Bove was more interested in the Autavia’s lesser-known connection to aviation, which the Swiss native closely links to the spirit of grand adventure that became so pivotal to this project. The Autavia’s original double chronograph was also built for airplane cockpits, after all, and it was used by both the Kenyan and Argentinean Air Forces.  

The brushed and polished 42mm steel case is water resistant to 100 meters. For a life of adventure, an array of dial options, provide various possibilities for look and style.

“In the new Autavia collection, the goal was to introduce a new facet to the TAG Heuer range, one which brings the wearer back to a time of great adventures,” Bove says with the enthusiasm of a boy whose imagination can still be stoked by fighter planes.     

This timeless ode to adventure permeates the new collection. Devoted TAG Heuer heads will be relieved to also find specific, albeit updated, details harking back to every era of the Autavia. There’s the pusher, crown, and numeral dials inspired by the 1933 original. The case and bezel are borrowed from the 1962 iteration, and the inner flange indexes are straight from the 1970s. Add 3D luminescent blocks for the numerals, not to mention a vintage-inspired band that’s easily interchangeable — making this rugged watch as versatile as it is rakish — and you’ve got a thoroughly modern timepiece. 

Yet, it’s the namesake Isograph that truly powers the revamped Autavia. First introduced in TAG’s Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph, it’s a carbon-composite hairspring that’s virtually resistant to shocks, temperature disruptions, and even magnetic fields. The state of the art invention, the oscillatory regulator, is the combination of a hairspring with a balance wheel that becomes the groundbreaking heart of the watch. Made in-house out of this innovative patented material, the combination of carbon nanotubes and amorphous carbon allows for freedom of shape and exceptional chronometer precision. 

Traditionally, only metal or silicon-based hairspring are used, making the Isograph both groundbreaking and COSC certified.

This new collection is spread out over seven models. Bove, however, isn’t shy when choosing a favorite. “I really like the aged bronze and green combination with the dark brown strap,” he says, sounding more like an unabashed collector rather than the creative brain behind the relaunch. “They blur the lines between today and yesterday and really stand out with anything you are wearing — or that I would wear at least.”

With its smoked dial and utilitarian vibe, it’s an unsurprising choice for Bove, who admits he’s a big fan of WWII era mil-spec watches. 

And that’s indeed the point of this revamped line: For all its style and deft mix of history and modernity, the Autavia — much like a worn chambray shirt or a beat-up Defender — evokes a personal history of adventure, of a life well-led. 

Turn of Fortune

Jaeger-LeCoultre addresses Reverso, the watch that redefined the company—twice.

By James Malcolmson

Photographs by Atom Moore

A few months after her appointment as Jaeger-LeCoultre’s first female CEO, Catherine Rénier announced a change in marketing direction to her staff. Reverso, the famous 1930s model with the swiveling case, would be receiving renewed emphasis at the company’s historic Vallée de Joux manufacture.

Her decision ran counter to widely observed trends in the watch industry. For most of the 21st century, sales of Reverso (along with other shaped watches) have gradually given ground to rounder, more modern models in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s arsenal. The functional idiosyncrasies of Reverso, along with its distinctively art deco design are worlds away from the bland features most Swiss watch executives believe will appeal to a global audience.

Jaeger-LeCoultre executives have, in fact, expended considerable energy adapting Reverso to global trends. “Over the years, we’ve watched it become rounded, waterproofed and superluminova’ed in the more active lifestyle Gran’ Sport edition of 1999, and then seen the swiveling case switched from a rectangle into a square with 2006’s Reverso Squadra. But more recently, the company has brought the model closer to its original design.

The current Reverso Tribute editions, including this year’s rich wine-red model, speak to its art deco heritage, representing a rectilinear countercurrent to the modern wave of rounded shapes. Overall, Rénier’s decision to trend toward more traditional forms amounts to an acknowledgment that the spirit of Jaeger-LeCoultre is inextricably linked to the history of the Reverso. After all, it was not merely a successful product for the watchmaker, but a force that redefined the company more than once.

In fact, Jaeger-LeCoultre, owes its very identity to the development of Reverso. At the beginning of the 1930s, the LeCoultre company was still very much the movement manufacturer Antoine LeCoultre had founded in Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux, a century before. His grandson Jacques-David, had parlayed the firm’s established technical bona fides into profitable collaborations with a number of Paris-based specialists, including the renowned French watchmaker Edmond Jaeger, who put LeCoultre movements into his creations for the top Parisian jewelers. LeCoultre’s technical capabilities, including design and case making, proved essential when Jacques-David was approached by his friend César de Trey with an offbeat idea for a swiveling, reversible watch.

“De Trey was a Swiss businessman who had managed to make a small fortune in dental equipment,” says Stephane Belmont, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s director of heritage. “He developed a keen interest in watches and was exposed to many wealthy people during his travels around the world.”

Stopping in India during the waning days of the British Raj, de Trey managed to mix with members of the polo set, an encounter that led directly to the heavily mythologized story about the need for protection from errant polo mallets leading directly to the complex Reverso concept. Jacques-David LeCoultre was able to turn to the considerable Parisian watchmaking resources he had developed and tasked engineer Alfred Chauvot with the job of designing and engineering a functioning prototype that was first patented in 1931. That Chauvot managed to not only capture the classic proportions of the period, but create a mechanical system that has endured for nearly a century—one of the great unsung feats of watch design.

While LeCoultre marshaled the resources to build the watches, de Trey’s enthusiasm and promotional abilities contributed much to their commercial success. With the model’s popularity apparent, de Trey set up a distribution company in 1933, marketing the watch first under the Reverso brand, while also supplying other brands like Gübelin, Tiffany, and Patek Philippe with the same design. Such was the interconnectedness of the Swiss industry at that time that LeCoultre, still seeing itself more as a supplier than a public facing brand, had few qualms about sharing the benefit of a potential hit. That, however, was about to change.

“After two or three years, in 1937, it was the distribution company that first carried the name Jaeger-LeCoultre,” explains Belmont. It was decided at that time that all the watches actually made by LeCoultre in Switzerland and Paris would carry the name Jaeger-LeCoultre.”

While the Reverso was an integral part of the very formation of the Jaeger-LeCoultre brand, it would not be the last time the company owed its continued existence to the swiveling watch. The popularity of the Reverso gradually declined in the years after its ’30s heyday. By the late 1950s, production of the style had completely ceased. A quarter-century later, the company—reeling like the rest of the Swiss industry from quartz competition—brought back Reverso, not as a mechanical men’s watch it was, but as a comparatively small-sized, quartz model intended primarily for female clients. Once back on the market, the idiosyncratic design ran headlong into a new group of European watch collectors who had rediscovered the appeal of traditional mechanical watchmaking.

“In the eighties, the Reverso was a very different and interesting watch compared to the others,” said Stephane Belmont. “Later, it was the market that asked to combine Reverso again with the mechanical movement and to develop complications for it.”

This particular chapter in Reverso’s history is somewhat personal for Belmont. In 1985, in the midst of the model’s revival, his father, Henry-John Belmont, was appointed CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Working in concert with his group director, Günter Blümlein, Henry-John wasted little time in developing an action plan. By 1988, the management team had settled on an ambitious plan to relaunch Reverso as a modern and complicated mechanical watch on the model’s upcoming 60th anniversary in 1991. The team planned a slew of models to drive home the point that Reverso and Jaeger-LeCoultre were back.

A new, much larger Reverso Grande Taille would recast the watch with the modern dimensions. Another 60th-anniversary edition would incorporate an exhibition back to display a finely decorated gold movement. Most ambitiously, a series of six limited editions would offer special complicated movements for Reverso’s rectangular confines. “Internally, they took the unusual step of showing everyone the sketches for the watches before they were built,” recalls Stephane Belmont. “Janek [Deleskiewicz, JLC’s head designer] sketched the watches, but nobody knew if it was feasible or if it would work. But for the employees, it was a question of survival. Whether it was feasible or not, they had to do it.”

The 60th-anniversary Reversos were launched in a large exhibition designed to reflect the inside of a Reverso case. While there were a few quibbles about the size of the Grande Taille, the watches were extraordinarily successful. The march of complications throughout the ’90s led to a progression of daring double-sided functions that effectively showcased the brand’s technical side and created a female audience for mechanical watchmaking long before other industry competitors could catch on.

The lessons of history are not lost on Rénier, who now presides over one of the most legacy-driven Reverso collections in the company’s history. “My take is that when you are authentic, in the codes and identity of the Maison, no matter the generation, people will understand and will be interested in your products,” she says. “I think our job is to share who we are, to be true to who we are, and not to try to make a story to attract a clientele.”

Retro Done Right

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s latest limited-edition packs vintage diving flair (and a hint of hand-painted artistry) into a contemporary package.

The business of retro design can be tricky. Remain too faithful to the original, and you risk looking regressive. (Or, worse still, lazy.) Lean too far in the opposite direction, and you’ll lose the old-school charms. There’s no universal recipe for success. Paying homage can be the quickest way to end up creatively bankrupt. 

For an example of retro done right, cast an eye toward Vallée de Joux, and the folks at Jaeger-LeCoultre. Last year, they wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Memovox Polaris, a landmark mid-century design and the first diving watch with an amplified underwater alarm. Instead of a single tribute, Jaeger-LeCoultre developed an all-new Polaris collection, offering everything from a three-hand automatic to a rose-gold chronograph and worldtimer. Each offered a unique riff on the 1960s Memovox aesthetic. The throwback vibes were strong, but the collection felt thoroughly modern. No small accomplishment. 

Now we have the newest addition to the Polaris lineup, the Polaris Date Limited Edition, initially available only to North American customers. All the better for the brand’s U.S. clientele to secure their piece of the rock; produced in a series of only 800 pieces, the Polaris Date Limited Edition represents one of the more exclusive (and desirable) new Polaris models yet. 

Polaris Date by Jaeger-LeCoultre, $8,250

Polaris Date by Jaeger-LeCoultre, $8,250; jaeger-lecoutre.com

Nautical by Nature

Panerai’s latest collection isn’t just promising the spirit of high-seas adventure, it’s actually dropping you in the deep end.

Aspiration and high-end watches go hand in intricate hand. Indeed, what you wear on your wrist tells people not just who you are, but who you aspire to be. Wear a certain watch, and you’re a part of man’s first mission to the moon. Wear others, and you’ll conjure the savoir-faire of a British secret agent, the determination of history’s greatest diver, or the impossible cool of cinema’s finest pool shark. Companies have whipped up as many of these kind of promises as there are ways to tell time, yet rare is the watch that actually delivers on one.

Both promising and delivering is Panerai’s new Submersibles series: three watches inspired by the storied brand’s heritage and packaged with the real experiences and characters they evoke.

The Submersible Guillaume Néry, a limited edition of 15 pieces comes with an invitation to dive with the world champion of freediving in French Polynesia

For example, those who purchase Panerai’s new Marina Militare Carbotech won’t just get a dive watch designed in collaboration with the Italian Navy, they’ll get the real-life experience of training alongside COMSUBIN, the Italian Navy’s equivalent of the U.S. SEALs. As you might imagine, gathering more than three dozen willing and able customers who can afford the Marina Militare Carbotech’s roughly $40,500 price tag, and then flying them halfway around the world to train in the choppy waters off the Italian peninsula alongside real candidates for Italy’s most elite naval outfit is not without complications.

“Our head of retail is a little nervous,” says Panerai spokesperson Aileen Schiro. “It’s the first time COMSUBIN has let the public into their operations. That was the most difficult to coordinate, as I understand it. A big part of their work is sea rescues. People get stuck, it’s very very rough water. There’s pirates, it’s scary stuff. They helicopter in and drop in to do rescues. Skydiving. So the experience embodies all of that. It’s very authentic.”

Those unwilling or unable to experience that level of authenticity can still enjoy the timepiece itself, of course. Each watch in the collection comes in two versions: a special edition that comes with the experience and one without. For the COMSUBIN piece, there were 33 experience editions available, one for each of the gold medals of valor the unit has received in its history. Each one has a unique carbon fiber dial that’s both lighter than titanium and stronger than steel to help the watch withstand pressures up to 300 meters in depth. The design also incorporates a new luminescent aspect: The dial’s markers are made with blocks of lume that have been 3-D laser-cut. Finally, each case features the engraved image of either a frogman or a diver on the reverse. (As with the rest of the collection, these have sold out, though the success of this first edition might lead to more in the future.)

The purchase of the Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech allows for 33 owners the opportunity to train with the COMSUBIN, Commandos of the Italian Navy for a few days.

The collection’s other two watches take similar cues from the brand’s existing partnerships with intrepid characters. Staying with the naval exploration theme, the second piece is the Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Edition, which takes its name from the record-breaking free diver and photographer. Those who purchase one of the 15 available experiences—one for each world record Néry has broken—will be offered the chance to visit French Polynesia to dive with the man himself while staying at his house. (The Néry, similar to all experience-based pieces in the collection, retails for just shy of $41,000.)

The experience is timed so that divers will witness nearby whale migrations, with or without the guidance of an elite diver. “A big part of the area is an eco-preserve,” Schiro says. “Getting the visas to go in is very difficult.” As part of the purchase process, interested parties had to commit to be available on the trip’s predetermined date. (One presumes a certain level of physical fitness might be useful as well.)

The watch itself, designed with Néry’s input, is appropriately sporty, with white luminescent markers that remain visible even in the pitch blackness of a deep dive. There’s a unidirectional bezel for timing dives, and the back is engraved with the “126”—the record-breaking number of meters Néry dove underwater on a single breath. The experience edition also includes an etching of Néry himself, along with the island of Moorea, the site of the customer’s guided adventure.

The final piece is a collaboration with adventurer Mike Horn, the first person to explore both the North and South poles in the same year. The experience on offer here allows buyers to join him on his amphibious, glacier-climbing expeditionary sailing ship, The Pangaea, as he navigates the ice floes of the Arctic. (If the timing works out, guests will also witness the Northern Lights.)

Though the experience is limited to 19 people, all who opt for just the watch will get something rather unique. Horn’s timepiece reflects the explorer’s committed environmentalism: the straps are made with recycled plastic materials, as is the packaging, which is itself recyclable. The Submersible Mike Horn Edition is also the first chronometer be made with a form of aeronautical-grade recycled titanium. It’s also subject to extreme-weather robotics testing designed in part by Horn itself. The result is sporty, sleek, and durable—a suitable piece for no matter where your personal adventures take you.

Created by Panerai for explorer Mike Horn, the Submersible case is made from EcoTitanium, a world premiere new material introduced by the Panerai “Laboraatorio di Idee” with a strap made out of recycled plastic.

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