How Luxury Watchmakers Are Making High-End Pieces More Affordable

Carrera Heuer-02T_Watch - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Tag Heuer

A flying tourbillon chrono for (just!) $16K leads a wave of watches with complications at accessible prices.

After years of steady growth and skyrocketing prices, luxury watchmakers are facing slowing sales in 2016, spurring some to introduce elite models for the first time in steel this year (such as Blancpain’s Villeret Quantieme Annuel GMT) and others to deliver complications such as tourbillons and perpetual calendars at more attractive prices.

“This is consistent with watch brands trying to reignite growth in developed markets, as rich early adopters in emerging markets are moderating their spend because they bought enough high-end watches,” says Luca Solca, managing director and sector head global luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas in Geneva, also pointing to an anti-corruption campaign in China that’s hurt sales.

In March at the Baselworld watch fair, TAG Heuer stunned the market with the Carrera Heuer-02T, a COSC-certified automatic chronograph with a titanium and carbon flying tourbillon priced at $15,900, a fraction of what a Swiss tourbillon typically costs. The key to getting the price down was an ingenious industrialization process that CEO Jean-Claude Biver compares to the foolproof assembly of Legos, saving the watchmaker dozens of hours of fine-tuning.

“No tourbillon has been developed in this spirit,” says Biver. Frederique Constant retooled another revered complication: the perpetual calendar — which automatically adjusts for months of varying lengths and even leap years, theoretically, until the year 2100 — for its Manufacture Perpetual Calendar (starting at $8,795 in steel).

Other complications that are more accessible this year include an annual calendar (Montblanc’s $10,450 Heritage Chronometrie Chronograph Quantieme Annuel in steel with moon phase), a dual time zone GMT function (Oris’ $6,600 Calibre 112 in steel) and a complete calendar (Baume & Mercier’s $4,990 Clifton Chronograph in steel, which Supergirl star Chris Wood is eyeing for his collection.)

Though it’s technically not a complicated watch, Arnold & Son’s striking skeletal Nebula (from $14,500) flaunts the complex architecture of its new beautifully finished mechanical movement, which was designed to be symmetrical with 10 bridges radiating from the center like an exploding star.

Dwayne Johnson recently wore one of Arnold & Son’s skeletonized watches (a $43,000 model) on Ballers. Says actor Aldis Hodge, star of WGN’s Underground and a fan of the brand: “You could get a regular time-only watch from another company for $20,000 or $30,000, but it won’t give you as much in terms of interesting

This story first appeared in the Nov. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.