Independent watchmaking has been gaining rapid momentum in the last three years. Young and talented watchmakers have emerged to seek recognition (and sometimes riches) in the mould of Philippe Dufour, Kari Voutilainen, and François-Paul Journe. Now the field is about to get the nod of approval from the luxury-goods establishment, with Louis Vuitton having announced the Louis Vuitton Watch Prize for Independent Creatives. Conceived to promote “horological creativity”, the award begins in 2023 with a broad remit. It is open to anyone in watchmaking and watch design, and even from fields related to horology.
As the world’s largest luxury brand, Louis Vuitton has unsurprisingly been making high-end watches for some time – last year was the 20th anniversary of its first mechanical wristwatch. Following its acquisition of Geneva movement maker La Fabrique du Temps in 2012, the brand’s ambitions have grown, resulting in impressively complicated watches like the Tambour Carpe Diem, a minute repeater with automaton. From that perspective, the Louis Vuitton prize is a natural extension of the brand’s progress as a watchmaker, a way for Louis Vuitton to make known its commitment to high-end watchmaking.
The fact that Louis Vuitton is using its considerable resources – the brand’s 2021 revenue was in the region of €15 billion – to support independent watchmakers is a welcome development. The prize money is substantial, reputedly in the low six figures, which will be helpful for new watchmakers, especially one-man operations, who tend to have a tough time getting started in ordinary times (the hyper demand enjoyed by the industry during the pandemic was an exception).
Also important is the fact that the prize is open to one and all. When Jean Arnault, the Director of Watches at Louis Vuitton, announced the prize on his personal social media account, he stressed the competition is inclusive; everyone and anyone who wants to participate will be able to submit an application.
While the fact a mega luxury conglomerate is seeking to recognise fine watchmaking of the smallest possible scale might raise some eyebrows, Mr Arnault has taken care to ensure the credibility of the prize with a jury composed of industry veterans that include journalists and prominent watch collectors, similar to that of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve.
The Louis Vuitton Watch Prize might just emerge as the best avenue for emerging watchmakers to get their name out there while gaining much-needed financial support, hopefully allowing them to push the envelope and create some genuinely incredible watches.
The competitive process
According to Louis Vuitton, the competition begins with prospective candidates submitting their respective creative projects to the dedicated prize website, which is open from now until May 2023. By September 2023, a committee of industry experts will be convened by Louis Vuitton to whittle down the submissions to 20 semi-finalists who will be announced online.
The committee will then deliberate and evaluate the semi-finalists along five criteria: design, creativity, innovation, craftsmanship, and technical complexity. In December 2023, the committee will elect from its ranks a five-member jury that will select the five finalists. The final audition and interview of the finalists by the jury will take place in Paris in January 2024, followed by the announcement of the very first winner of the Louis Vuitton Watch Prize for Independent Creatives.
The winner of the prize will receive a monetary grant and a one-year mentorship at the La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton (LFDT), the brand’s watchmaking division. Guided by LDFT founders Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, the prize winner will embark on a mentorship catered towards his or her creative style. Along with this, the winner will receive support from a dedicated team at Louis Vuitton that will assist with his or her brand’s business fundamentals, namely marketing, legal aspects like copyright, and even the financials of a startup.
For more, visit louisvuittonwatchprize.com.
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From May 9 to 12, 2019.