Beautiful Machines

Ralph Lauren’s enjoyment of beautiful machines has been evident for many years, well before he partnered with the Richemont Group to create an eponymous watch company. Mr. Lauren’s coveted collection of more than 70 classic automobiles, several of which he has displayed in well-attended exhibitions in Boston and Paris in recent years, offers further evidence of the New York-born designer’s appreciation of clean lines, rich upholstery, detailed dashboards and polished wood accents. Indeed, all of these characteristics have imbued his watch designs since their debut at SIHH seven years ago.

“I’ve always been inspired by automotive designs—the materials, the lines, but also the power and functionality,” Lauren explains. “Cars are like art—moving art—an accomplishment in mechanics and precision. I want my watches to capture that spirit and reflect the finest in craftsmanship, made by the best artisans in the world.”

This year, Ralph Lauren lifts up the hood, adding the watch brand’s first skeleton model to its acclaimed Automotive collection. The open-worked caliber inside the RL Automotive Skeleton 45mm recalls a bonnet-free sports car with an unencumbered view of its expertly finished engine.

Developed from an IWC manual-wind movement with a large balance oscillating at a leisurely 18,000 beats-per-hour, the caliber seen inside the RL Automotive Skeleton features blackened plates and bridges that offer a subtle contrast to the black finish on the stainless steel shot-blasted case. All of this complements the gentle glow of the watch’s black oxidized hands coated with beige Super-LumiNova.

Yet, while the skeletonized components offer a dramatic expression of mechanical expertise, it’s the amboyna burl bezel that defines the new watch as a decidedly Ralph Lauren design.

“The wood is inspired by Mr. Lauren’s Bugatti,” explains Luc Perramond, President & CEO, Ralph Lauren Watch & Jewelry Co. “It is a key element of differentiation and has become a part of the DNA of Ralph Lauren. That is what we need, innovation as on this dial and bezel.”

Perramond notes that to create all of its wood dials and bezels, the brand’s technicians needed to locate specialists who could work with the wood, cut it very thin and perfectly round, and then attach it within tight tolerances to the blackened-metal case.

Recall that several years ago, Ralph Lauren debuted Sporting and Automotive models that also feature elm burl dials. As Perramond notes, these features were created to match the dashboard accents of Mr. Lauren’s famed 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe.

The burl wood used on those earlier dials accompanied galvanized matte-black dials with white numerals that recall the Bugatti’s instrumentation panel. Last year’s flying tourbillon model featured rich elm burl wood encircling a black dial with a bold 12 at the top to balance the tourbillon aperture.

But this year, Ralph Lauren has dispensed with a traditional dial altogether for the RL Automotive Skeleton. Only the distinctive hands and the six screws, here blackened, echo the previous models. A new RL logo above the mainspring barrel boldly proclaims the brand’s founder, with Ralph Lauren’s full name in block lettering just below a small running seconds indication that is essentially the only real dial visible. Steel winding works and the contrasting brass gears and escape wheel draw the eye, from both sides of the watch, into the manual-winding caliber RL 1967.

The RL Automotive Skeleton is one of five new Ralph Lauren Automotive timepieces that debuted earlier this year. The remaining models feature full dials, and all combine the materials—notably the rare hardwoods—that emulate the richness of the Bugatti’s dash, which has been a model for the Ralph Lauren Automotive timepieces since the collection launched in 2011. Two of the new timepieces feature wooden bezels in amboyna burl, while three others display elm burl wood on the dial.

One model, the RL Automotive 45mm timepiece offers a similar engine as the skeleton model, Caliber RL98295, which is a hand-wound mechanical movement made for Ralph Lauren by IWC. Unlike the skeleton, which displays its movement from front and back, you’ll need to turn the watch over to see the caliber within to enjoy its vertical Côtes de Genève and perlage (circular graining) decoration.

Turning the watch again to its dial, you’ll note that it, too, offers a galvanic, matte-black finish with beige Super-LumiNova-coated hands and the same distinctive RL logo, which Ralph Lauren notes will be seen on all the wood-bezeled Automotive collection dials. The Ralph Lauren name is spelled out on the wood-dial models.

“Mr. Lauren’s Bugatti inspires the wood. Then, once we have the idea, we need to transfer it physically and technically onto the watch,” says Perramond. ” For these we needed to find the specialist who could work with the wood and decide how to work with it. It had to be cut very thin, perfectly round and then it had to fit as the bezel on the metal case.”

These very specific technical ideas make Ralph Lauren watches unique, Perramond adds.

“It’s the ability to look beyond the standard watch craftsmanship, the work and crafts done elsewhere that we can use on our watches. These are ways to stand out. Mr. Lauren knows what he stands for and knows what he wants in each product category. We take his vision and come up with products that fit within it.”

This full-dialed Automotive timepiece features a stainless steel shot-blasted case with black finish and a smoky sapphire crystal caseback. Like the skeleton model, its visible screws secure a rich amboyna burl bezel, and its bold case is tempered with tapered lugs, a design that reinforces Mr. Lauren’s vision of how a timepiece can express the spirit of classic automobiles.

The chief designer is Mr. Lauren, and he is integral to each stage of the development, from the drawings to the prototypes, says Perramond.  “He is very involved with the watches (and the jewelry) and is a big collector. He is dedicating a lot of time to watches, which is great because we interact with him, get his vision and understand where he wants to be.”

Perramond notes that the Ralph Lauren watch team in Switzerland develops the strategy, and the design teams come with initiatives, animation or development of new or existing collections.

“The designs have to be done so you feel his inspiration—these are his cars and he has spent years with them, and this attention is like his passion for watches. Creating emotions is what is so great about our métier.”

It’s important to think in terms of a full collection, he adds.

“It’s not just gold or just steel, it’s a full collection: steel and precious metal, quartz and automatic and complications. That’s how you create the sense that you are a true watchmaker. Today it’s important to communicate not only the technical details of a timepiece, but why it is here. Why is it here and what was the idea behind it?”


Also new within the Automotive collection but sporting rare-wood dials rather than bezels, are two models: a chronograph and a COSC-certified chronometer.

The Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph’s dial is enhanced by elm burl, which is subtly different from amboyna burl in grain and depth. The watch features a tachymetric scale and a case with alternating brushed and polished finishes. The vintage-style chronograph pushers have a subtle angle that recalls the curvature of the case. Inside, the self-winding Caliber RL751A/1, crafted by Jaeger-LeCoultre for Ralph Lauren, keeps things precise.

The Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronometer offers an elm burl dial design. This model, too, has black oxidized sword hands like the other Automotive Collection watches, but here Ralph Lauren has chosen to obtain COSC-certification for their customized Sellita-based caliber to further differentiate the collection. These models arrive in either 45mm or 39mm steel cases.

“The Automotive collection is very important for us,” adds Perramond. “We have to think of these new developments to make these watches unique, yet still anchored in the DNA of the brand. The gun metal of the case of some of our watches, developed before I arrived here, was also something new, and for that we used gun craftsmen. ”

Four new Ralph Lauren Safari Collection models represent the designer’s well-known world traveler aesthetic, essentially a more casual overall style when compared with the Automotive designs.

These RL 67 Safari Chronometer models offer khaki or camouflage green dials, and with a green or brown alligator strap. Their cases are stainless steel, but with a blackened “aged” finish meant to recall a long-lasting, beautifully made tool. The 45mm models each feature an orange seconds hand; both models are also offered in a 39mm case and feature black or beige Super-LumiNova hour and minute hands. Inside each is the same automatic Caliber RL300-1 used in the Automotive Chronometer, of course also COSC-certified.

Also new this year: an 867 Petite Diamond piece and 867 Petite Tuxedo timepieces for ladies. These 867 models feature a juxtaposition of black Arabic and Roman numerals on the off-white lacquered dial and offer open, arch-shaped attachments for the strap. The new Petite models are powered by quartz calibers.

Stirrup, a collection updated with the new Stirrup Petite, is one of the first Ralph Lauren designs, launched in 2009.

“Its shape is also becoming iconic to the brand, notes Perramond. “It reaches the ladies’ market, which I believe will become even more important to us in the future. Ralph Lauren has a strong ladies’ following, especially with the luxury collections where the women’s clientele is growing. So it’s a natural extension to add women’s watches. Indeed, at least half of all Ralph Lauren customers are women and I see jewelry as another important category for us in the future.”

The next jewelry debuts will be seen in 2016, he adds.

“We had some four years ago, but then Mr. Lauren concentrated just on the watches to establish them. But we are now ready to expand our jewelry collections again. You will soon see a brand new collection of ladies’ 18-karat fine jewelry. The jewelry is growing actually faster than watches and drives many in the industry today, especially in America.”

Stirrup ladies' watches are among Ralph Lauren’s most popular in part because of Ralph Lauren’s equestrian heritage. Few luxury watch companies outside of Ralph Lauren can boast sales to men and women at equal levels, he adds, and as a result, Perramond also plans to accelerate design and production of ladies’ watches.

“We are a house of creation and we are very dynamic,” he asserts. “And we want to demonstrate that in our watches and jewelry.”

That assertion holds true for both men and women.

“Collectors will be intrigued by our approach, with its high-end and high-quality because that is unusual for a designer. Most designer brands choose volume, low prices and fast-moving products. Mr. Lauren chose a completely different route, and people who appreciate watchmaking will see that,” notes Perramond.

What will entice customers?

“Watches that are unique and quite limited," he explains. “Take the RL Automotive Skeleton for example: It’s limited by design. We don’t have the 200 years of existence as a watch brand; we are a 50-year-old company that has been making watches for seven years. We have created interest among collectors with our tourbillon, our skeleton, or thin models. Then, with the car collectors like Mr. Lauren, they have a passion for classic cars, beautiful lines, beautiful mechanics, beautiful aesthetics. These collectors might join Mr. Lauren in his appreciation of beautiful watches.”
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