The New York Minute: The Watch Collection of Tiffany & Co.

Whilst you'll probably associate the name with a small blue box with something very expensive on the inside, Tiffany & Co. have been involved in watchmaking for over one hundred years

The Atlas watch is one of the most recognisable tiffany watches. its design is based off the atlas clock that sits atop the entrance to the fifth avenue location. photo courtesy of Tiffany & Co. 

The Atlas watch is one of the most recognisable tiffany watches. its design is based off the atlas clock that sits atop the entrance to the fifth avenue location. photo courtesy of Tiffany & Co. 

Last week I talked about the history of Tiffany & Co. double stamping dials but today I want to talk about Tiffany watches,. It was Tiffany that imported the very first stopwatch into the United States in 1869 and it was Tiffany that held the patent for using luminous paint for watch numerals and hands until 1903. Their latest collection, the CT60 and East West, might be their best release in years but to understand how important these watches are to Tiffany you have to look at the years of legal battles and billion dollar lawsuits that led up to it.

In the mid 2000's the watch business of Tiffany was shrinking and constituted only 1% of their total business. They had been selling their own watches for years with the Atlas, modeled after the large clock above their Fifth Avenue location, as the most recognisable. Watch articles from the time say that it was down to a lack of consumer awareness that resulted in low sales as customers weren't aware Tiffany even made watches and that they were sold by staff whose focus was clearly on diamonds, not timepieces; Ariel Adams went so far as to describe them as clueless. What Tiffany needed was a partner who knew how to manufacture and sell luxury watches at a high level in multiple markets around the world. Enter the Swatch Group.

It was well known at the time that Swatch had long wanted a luxury jewelry watch brand of their own as it was the one piece missing from their pyramid of brands. So to go into business with Tiffany, easily the most recognizable luxury jeweler in the United States, must have seemed like a match made in heaven. In 2007 Tiffany & Co. and Swatch Group announced their new 'strategic alliance' and the creation of Tiffany Watch Co. Ltd, an entirely new company that was entirely owned by the Swatch Group with Nayla Hayek, daughter of Nicolas Hayek Sr, as CEO. This was one of the first times that Tiffany & Co. allowed a third party to license and operate under their name and to sell those branded products at non-Tiffany locations. Whilst Tiffany & Co. did not own Tiffany Watch Co., they did take a share of the pre-tax profits, had a seat on the board of directors and had seats on the production design and marketing committees. 

The Tiffany Watch Co. watches released in 2009 and 2010 garnered a tepid response and whilst personal taste is subjective, many in the watch press thought that these designs were unsuitable for a brand like Tiffany; a brand that has always aimed for timeless elegance over the passing trends of fashion. Even their watches from the 1980s and 1990s, decades that sometimes don't age as well for watch designs, manage to look better than the odd protuberances and black rubber of the Swatch/Tiffany watches. These were watches you'd see a Macy's, not at 727 5th Avenue.

The partnership was meant to have last twenty years yet it ended all too suddenly in 2011. Swatch announced the separation first by saying that "following Tiffany & Co's systematic efforts to block and delay development of the business and fruitless attempts of the Swatch Group Ltd. and its affiliate Tiffany Watch Co. to solve this dispute amicably, the latter were forced to terminate these agreements". If those words didn't cut deep enough, Swatch promptly sued Tiffany & Co. for 3.8 billion Swiss Francs with Tiffany responding with a counterclaim of 541.9 million Swiss Francs and said that "Swatch has failed to provide appropriate distribution for Tiffany & Co. brand watches, with the result that our current business forecasts do not include any meaningful increase in watch sales or royalty income". Eventually Tiffany's counterclaim was dismissed and after a private arbitration was forced to pay Swatch $449.5 million plus interest and legal fees.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany & Co.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany & Co.

Without being privy to the private communication and behaviour of the two companies, I must say I side with Tiffany on this one. Whilst Swatch was within their rights as owners of the Tiffany Watch Co. to do whatever they wanted with their license, you have to wonder why they chose to design a product which was the antithesis of the idea of Tiffany luxury. I can imagine that both parties went into the agreement thinking that they were the ones in charge which caused disputes about the direction of the business, hence Tiffany's supposed "efforts to block and delay development". Who can blame them really?

Despite a few bridges being burnt, it seems that everything ended up ok for both companies. Swatch finally got their luxury jewelry brand when they purchased the jewelry and watchmaking divisions of Harry Winston and last year Tiffany & Co. released their latest collection, designed completely in-house and in-line with the vision and history of Tiffany.  Listening to Nicola Andreate, Vice-President and General Manager of Tiffany Swiss Watches, talk about the new collection, it's clear to see how the experiences with Swatch shaped the development of the CT60 and East West Collections. 

It very very important in the aim of becoming a global luxury house to start developing this category in a much better way with our own watches in Switzerland. We selected the best of the best of the independent manufacturers that today are available the Swiss watch industry, to produce and manufacture for us following our directions in terms of technical design, in terms of expertise, to produce and manufacture all the components that we use in our watches
— Nicola Andreata, Vice-President and General Manager of Tiffany Swiss Watches

The CT60 Collection is named after the company's founder, Charles Louis Tiffany,  and the phrase the New York Minute which Tiffany is credited with coining. The design of the watch is essentially a modernized version of a watch given to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an 18kt yellow gold two-register chronograph that he wore during the last few months of his life. Visually the CT60 collection is everything that te Swatch-era production was not: sophisticated, timeless and in-keeping with the design ethos of Tiffany.



Motifs from the FDR original remain such as the large block Arabic numbers, the long faceted lugs and the pointer date but elements have been modified for a modern look namely the larger chronograph pushers and crown. The design was subtly changed to accommodate different complications including a chronograph, calendar, dual-time and a complication free time and date model. 

The East West Collection is easily one of the most fun watches I've seen in a long time, a rectangular watch whose dial is sideways. It's kind of ridiculous yet utterly charming all at the same time, especially so when you consider that it's released not by a small independent but by Tiffany & Co. You might think the design is needlessly quirk but it's inspired by a Tiffany  travel clock from the 1940's and I just love it. It originally was released in quartz but this year Tiffany added a small automatic movement into both the men's and ladies pieces. Unsurprisingly a sideways watch is not for everyone but I happen to think it's great, who said that big brands can't have a little fun?

Both the CT60 Collection and East West have their roots firmly planted in the rich heritage and history of Tiffany and you have to wonder if not for an unfortunate strategic alliance, would Tiffany have been so emboldened to release watches like this? 

None of the new collection uses an ETA caliber (one can't possibly fathom why) so instead we have a Dubois Depraz caliber for the limited edition calendar pieces, a La Joux-Perret for the chronograph and a Sellita for the time and date model. There is no retailer branded watch that comes anywhere near close to the level of quality and design of the CT60 and East West, not counting those double stamped Tiffany & Co Patek Philippe's of course. Whilst it might be easy to quickly snipe and say that spending over $4,000 for a retailer branded watch is a waste of money, I think those people will be missing out on two stylish and timeless watches.