While Rihanna, Zendaya and Jennifer Lopez were making the noise at the couture shows in Paris last week, at its Avenue Montaigne store Dior’s luxury watch division quietly unveiled a collection of high-end Swiss-made mechanical watches. The brand — whose sales of categories like fashion, perfume, jewellery and homeware have boomed in recent years — hopes it can now inject some much-needed zip into its watch division.
The brand has opted to retool and revive Chiffre Rouge, a discontinued line originally conceived in 2004 by former Dior Homme creative director Hedi Slimane. Dior hopes that the high-end, unisex model will catapult it into the luxury watchmaking big leagues, where fellow luxury fashion houses like Hermès, Chanel and LVMH stablemate Louis Vuitton have recorded significant revenues in recent years.
Chiffre Rouge, an asymmetric design named after the red 8 on the watch’s date wheel, was last seen in 2015 when Dior switched its focus to women’s watches. But while creations such as the Grand Bal and La D de Dior (designed by Dior Joaillerie’s celebrated artistic director Victoire de Castellane) have been commercially and critically successful (a version of the Grand Bal won a prestigious GPHG award last year), the house has lagged behind the competition.
LVMH does not break down revenues by brand or product category, but according to Morgan Stanley’s most recent estimates, Dior’s watchmaking division likely recorded revenues of 65m Swiss francs ($75 million) in 2022.
The opportunity is surely much bigger: Christian Dior Couture wields the brand awareness and global store network of a €9 billion business, according to estimates. That’s not to mention the marketing boost from splashy campaigns by its sister company in beauty, Parfums Christian Dior, whose “Sauvage” fragrance is the world’s best-selling scent.
Meanwhile, Swiss watch front-runner Rolex has seen sales surge to an estimated 9.3 billion Swiss francs, while Hermès — the biggest player among non-specialist luxury brands — reported watch revenues of €519 million in its last full-year results, fuelled by new designs such as the H08 sports watch.
Dior’s Jewellery and Timepieces Business Unit Director Lan Cittadini Cesi told the Business of Fashion that it was time to expand. “A few years ago, Dior took the decision to focus on its feminine, high-end offering, but we felt it was time to reinvest in Chiffre Rouge to reach out to men as well,” she said. The new collection will include models with 41mm or 38mm cases, with no sign of the popular pre-2015 36mm unisex size.
As the luxury market cools following a post-pandemic surge, many brands are ramping up their focus on top-end designs to attract the wealthiest clientele and offset falling volumes at lower price points.
Chiffre Rouge is no exception: The references set for release between now and later this summer will start at €7,90 ($8,500) for the 38mm Black Ultramatte automatic with a third-party Swiss mechanical movement, rising to €170,000 for the top-end limited-edition Chiffre Rouge Tourbillon Rainbow, which has a bezel set with precious stones in graduated colours and which is powered by a bespoke calibre created by La Fabrique du Temps, Louis Vuitton’s specialist high-end Swiss watchmaking facility. One of the last Chiffre Rouge models introduced in 2015 was the Chiffre Rouge C05 GMT, which featured an upgraded movement with a second time zone function, and cost €6,200.
Cesi said that bringing back the Chiffre Rouge fit in with the house’s strategy. “Dior is a global luxury house that caters for both women and men and it seemed logical to offer our male customers the chance to complete their silhouette with a watch,” she said. “Chiffre Rouge will also appeal to women looking for watches with a masculine, casual-chic look.”
One analyst said the Chiffre Rouge would give Dior’s watchmaking business a focal point and stimulate growth. “It’s a good idea to revive an icon that once enjoyed success,” said Oliver Müller, founder of the Swiss luxury consultancy LuxeConsult and a co-author of Morgan Stanley’s annual watch report. “Dior needs an iconic product to get more visibility in the watch world and the Chiffre Rouge is its equivalent to the J12 at Chanel.” According to Morgan Stanley’s estimates, in 2022 Chanel’s watch business generated revenues of 275 million Swiss francs.
The addition of a “flying tourbillon” (a technical, spinning anti-gravitational device that appears to float in a window through the watch’s dial) to the Chiffre Rouge collection hints at Dior’s lofty watchmaking ambitions. “The tourbillon is one of the benchmark complications in the watchmaking world,” said Cesi. “It seemed appropriate to begin the story with this complication.” There’s also a chronograph model powered by the well regarded El Primero movement, provided by Dior’s LVMH sister brand Zenith.
Müller saw Dior as following a well-trodden path. “We’ve seen the same thing at Hermès, Louis Vuitton and others; that brands start a business unit producing watches as accessories to create traffic in their boutiques, and then raise the positioning of the product to reflect the brand,” he said.
Cesi declined to confirm Dior’s targeted volumes, but said that with its red detailing and signature cannage motif, Chiffre Rouge would “pay tribute to the creativity and modernity of the House of Dior, while respecting the traditions of Swiss watchmaking,” and that it would “continue to convey these strong values in the years to come.”
Disclosure: LVMH is part of a group of investors who, together, hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed shareholders’ documentation guaranteeing BoF’s complete editorial independence.