LVMH takes aim at $30 billion watch market with high-end, reinvented pieces
Luxury giant LVMH is making a push to gain share of the global luxury watch business, with a newly formed watch division and an array of new, higher-priced models.
Sales of luxury watches worldwide are estimated at about $30 billion this year, according to market research firm IMARC Group. They’re expected to grow to more than $37 billion by 2032, as global wealth increases and Generation Z and millennials become more interested in high-end mechanical watches.
LVMH’s jewelry and watch division posted sales of $11.8 billion in 2023, representing a 7% increase in organic growth. The luxury giant now has 10 watch brands, including TAG Heuer, Hublot and Zenith, along with fashion and jewelry brands such as Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and Dior that also make watches.
Last month, the company named Frederic Arnault, the 29-year-old son of LVMH Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH Watches, which includes the TAG Heuer, Hublot and Zenith brands.
Analysts estimate sales of those three brands reached about $2 billion last year.
A Zenith luxury watch at 2024 Watch Week in Miami.
Frederic Arnault, who launched an array of highly popular new models at TAG Heuer, is expected to bring his focus on innovation, cutting-edge materials and creative designs to the larger brand group. Analysts say LVMH may also continue to acquire attractive brands if they become available.
In interviews with CNBC during LVMH’s Watch Week in Miami, the brands’ chief executives said 2024 is already shaping up to be stronger than 2023, when rising interest rates and fears of recession tempered demand. Executives say they are especially encouraged by the resilience of the American luxury consumer.
“It’s all about cycles, and the beauty of America is that the cycles are very short,” said Benoit de Clerck, CEO of Zenith. “We go through ups and downs and all that, but I can reassure you today Zenith is definitely on an upswing with good traction within the U.S. markets.”
Zenith luxury watches at 2024 Watch Week in Miami.
Watch sales are following a similar pattern to the broader luxury market, where the wealthiest consumers remain strongest. Executives say the wealthy are less affected by rising rates and economic uncertainty, so more and more brands are catering to the “super-spenders” and VIP collectors who continue to spend on the highest quality and craftsmanship.
“The high end has been really one of the main drivers of our growth,” said Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari. “I think the wealthy more than ever are eager to invest in authentic, reputable and timeless brands.”
Babin said he’s seeing rising strength at the high end throughout Bulgari’s businesses, which now include hotels, fashion and fragrances.
“We sold more high-end jewelry, more high-end watches, more high-end bags,” Babin said, showing off one of Bulgari’s coveted yellow-gold Serpenti Secret watches that retails for $350,000.
A Bulgari Serpenti Secret watch at 2024 Watch Week in Miami.
LVMH is also targeting the fastest-growing segment of luxury watches: women’s watches. While women’s watches account for only about a third of total sales, women’s interest in luxury mechanical watches has soared from more exposure on social media and a growing number of models designed for women. The rising global population of wealthy women — both self-made and inherited — is also fueling sales growth.
“The trend is toward more and more feminine and more unisex watches,” said Babin. “Women have increasing power, in terms of independence, autonomy and purchasing power. We think that will continue.”
In the highly competitive luxury watch world, brands have to constantly innovate with materials, complications and designs to gain share and keep collectors engaged.
Carrera Plasma Diamant d’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon at 2024 Watch Week in Miami.
TAG Heuer, which has its roots in car racing, scored a huge hit with its Carrera Plasma, using lab-grown diamonds. Its Carrera Plasma Diamant d’Avant-Garde Chronograph Tourbillon is priced at upward of $500,000 — and has a waitlist of more than two years.
TAG Heuer also unveiled a teal-green Carrera Glassbox Chronograph with a teal-green dial, referencing a shade of green used in auto racing in the 1920s and 1930s.
A TAG Heuer luxury watch at 2024 Watch Week in Miami.
TAG Heuer CEO Julien Tornare said LVMH’s advantage over other watch brands and groups is its relentless focus on reinvention and desirability.
“The Swiss watchmaking industry has been quite conservative to some extent,” he said. “But at LVMH, we are pushed to try new things, to move forward. I think if we want to still be appealing to [a] new generation, it’s very important to show that we will work for the future and not for the past.”
Many of the LVMH brands are mining their storied pasts for new designs and models.
Zenith launched its Chronomaster Triple Calendar, featuring a triple calendar moonphase chronograph, inspired by its rare prototype El Primero watch from 1970. The company also launched a new Chronomaster Sport in green, the hottest color for luxury watches in recent years.
A Zenith luxury watch at 2024 Watch Week in Miami.
De Clerck said that part of Zenith’s appeal to younger watch buyers and collectors is its price. While Zenith sells highly complicated watches, it tries to deliver value, like the Triple Calendar that sells for about $14,000 but could probably be priced “thousands more” based on the level of craftsmanship and complications required, he said.
“We have a very good proposition in terms of price versus the competition,” he said. “You get a lot of watch for the money, and we want to remain and keep that spirit.”
At the same time, many LVMH brands are moving up the price ladder, with more expensive, limited editions. Hublot, known for its bold, large watches, just launched a $250,000 limited-edition watch, called the MP-10 Tourbillon Weight Energy System. Only 50 of the futuristic watches will be produced, and it’s expected to quickly sell out.
“We call it the art of fusion in watchmaking,” said Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe. “We are connecting the tradition of watchmaking of over 400 years, with innovation. We do that through design, through materials, new mechanics and new ways of making movements.”
— CNBC’s Crystal Lau contributed to this report.