It’s been a while since we discussed fashion watches in this column, that is watches by the big fashion brands, and that’s partly because the vast majority of them are absolutely awful. I love fashion brands like Burberry but I would rather eat my own hands than wear one of its watches. And the reason is that these companies see them as a side hustle and so devote little time or effort to the design or mechanics of the timepieces.
That’s not true for every fashion brand, and I’ll concede that some have executed admirable course corrections when it comes to their watch divisions, going from abject to appealing in double quick time, much faster than the glacial Swiss watchmakers.
A case in point is Gucci, which up until a few years ago made watches that you wouldn’t even gift to Piers Morgan they were that bad. Almost entirely trading on the cachet of the name, old Gucci logo-ladened watches were cheap to look at, cheaply made and actually quite cheap to buy. Thankfully, the quality has shot up and the price only marginally so.
Of course, Gucci has been smart to inject the eccentricity and aesthetics of the main fashion line, which has been a critical and commercial hit, into its watches, and the results are eye-catching idiosyncratic pieces like the G-Timeless. The design might seem brash but whereas previously there would have been logos galore, now Gucci uses the codes and motifs of the house in more subtle, interesting and, in this case, innovative ways as the design gives a floating hologram effect to the dial, adding three-dimensional depth to the overall look.
The dial and the strap are spotted with the brand’s iconic bee and star motifs. Inside is a Ronda quartz movement and the piece is Swiss made, for those who are sticklers for such things. The 38mm case is made of steel and functions are kept simple, although it does have a handy 50 metres of water resistance. The watch is priced at HK$7,200.
One of the developments that has allowed fashion brands to grab market share has been smartwatches and it’s easy to see why. Due to the need to have a solid touch screen and operating system, smartwatches allow fashion brands to ignore the requirement to design decent dials or care about what’s inside the watch as it’s all off-the-shelf Google Wear OS. This low-risk-high-reward change to the watch business means diffusion brands such as Armani Exchange are able to offer attractively priced and functional smartwatches.
The Armani Exchange Connected, the sub-brand’s first smartwatch, has all the notifications we’ve come to expect, the only tweak being the range of Armani Exchange dial faces to choose from. The watch is pretty large at 48mm, meaning the touch screen is legible but might look huge on small wrists.
The steel case and bracelet come in four colour options (gold, steel, grey, midnight blue) and all are priced at HK$2,450.
Finally, we have an interesting and likely influential collaboration between a fashion brand and a watchmaker. Japanese designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, the man behind Fragment, has been a much sought after commodity for collaboration, lending his street cred to established brands like Nike and Louis Vuitton, and his latest is with Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer. And I will say it is bloody brilliant.
Taking on the icon that is the Carrera, in particular the 1963 model, Fujiwara has built on greatness but with subtle changes to the original design. The only obvious additions are the Fragment logo on the dial and the great selection of straps, such as the black-and-grey Nato and a “powerstrap” in black alligator leather.
Inside the 39mm steel case is a 02 calibre movement with a power reserve of 80 hours, and the watch features a chronograph. Tag Heuer’s team-up with Fragment follows on from one with Bamford Watch Department, which suggests the brand is keen on this way forward and I, for one, am here for it. The Fragment x Tag Heuer Carrera is priced at HK$66,050 and is limited to 500 pieces.