With its dial-side rotors designed to mimic the swish of ballgown’s skirt, straps for haute joaillerie made from trainer material and three-dimensional dials decorated to look like details from Mr Dior’s legendary gardens, Dior is most definitely the brand where fashion and watchmaking intersect.
Make no mistake, these are not fashion watches, but high-end timepieces made with the same care and attention as the Maison gives to its couture.
It isn’t surprising that Dior was one of the first major fashion houses to show an interest in proper watchmaking. Its first foray into this world was in 1968, when it launched a collection of women’s watches produced in Switzerland by Bulova. By 1975, it had launched its Black Moon. This dark, moody design was a massive hit made for Dior by licensee Benedom; a watch manufacturer that was latterly inducted into the LVMH family when the Wilmot Group, who owned Dior, went bankrupt in 1981, and CEO Bernaud Arnault bought Dior for a single symbolic franc.
From then on, the watches were made independently for Dior in Switzerland and originally using only precious metals.
Early designs were very geometric rather than the whimsical creations for which it is now known. Straight lines dominated, which went through the dial in a rather avant garde fashion, and the patterns on the straps were extensions of the intersections and diagonals seen on the dials.
Once Dior was taken over by LVMH, the watchmaking side was amped up. It got its own development and manufacturing arm – Les Ateliers Horlogers Dior in La-Chaux-de-Fonds – and started a decade-long process of establishing itself as a watchmaker, not just a fashion house that dabbles in watches.
The first step was the La D de Dior, designed by the head of Dior’s fine jewellery division Victoire de Castellane. Castellane was inspired by the purity of men’s designs, but filtered that simplicity - these watches have no indices and no date - through a feminine lens. The result was a delicate, yet not ultra-feminine design that continues to be a major part of the collection.
Men briefly got a look in in 2004 in the form of the Chiffre Rouge, but the next big launch was 2005’s Christal, which was created by then-creative director John Galliano. A more adorned version of Chanel’s J12, it featured sapphire crystal, more commonly used on watch dials, as pyramids on the bracelet and as marquetry on the bezel; a concept it took to haute horlogerie heights with its jewel-encrusted Dior Christal Tourbillon in 2008 and 2009’s version with a mysterious movement, where sapphire crystal is used to create the movement components so it appears invisible.
However, these still felt like playful fashion creations rather that serious watches. That would all change in 2011 when the Dior VIII was launched; so named because eight was Dior’s lucky number - Monsieur Dior founded his couture house on October 8 1946, ensured it was in the eighth arrondissement of Paris and named his first collection ‘en huit’. It combined the aesthetic savoir faire of the fashion side of the business, but with the industrial masculinity associated with mechanical Swiss watches. As part of this launch, Dior collaborated with movement manufacturer Soprod and watchmaker Frédéric Jouvenot to create the Dior VIII Grand Bal - a couture-inspired collection with a very special dial-side rotor, which wound the movement and could be adorned in everything from diamonds and feathers to lace that only one woman in France can weave.
Dior continues to design its watches in Paris in its Avenue Montaigne Studio, in order to take advantage of the inspiration afforded by its couture department; those designs are then made reality in La-Chaux-de-Fonds. The full range is divided into one collection for men - the Chiffre Rouge - and four for women. La D de Dior, Dior Grand Bal and Dior VIII are the core then there’s the High Timepieces; unique creations that feature dials set with beetle and butterfly wings, adorned with golden thread and studded with complexly set precious stones.
As more couture Maisons join the ranks of watchmakers, Dior still continues to stand out as one of those brands that manages to translate its fashion personality into watchmaking in all its wonder and beauty.
It has to be the Grand Bal. Just having an inverse rotor is mesmerising enough, but it’s what Dior does with it that makes it truly special. It has weighted feathers with gold and diamonds so they can spin, had rotors woven from gold thread and layered gradated mother of pearl into graphic kaleidoscopes.