March 19, 2023
by Ariel Adams
While in Courchevel, France attending a launch of new high-watchmaking products from Louis Vuitton, I sat down with the company’s Watch Director to discuss the first-ever LV Watch Prize campaign (originally debuted on aBlogtoWatch here with a Jean Arnault interview). The LV Watch Prize is a new initiative from Louis Vuitton that seeks to empower a new generation of artistic watchmakers and horologically inclined creative minds. Jean Arnault revealed that Louis Vuitton intends to award the prize every other year (so, the next one will be in 2025) and that this is not a one-time campaign. Arnault explains that the overall goal of the LV Watch Prize is to use Louis Vuitton’s heft to promote voices and personalities that might otherwise remain extremely niche. Louis Vuitton wants to provide meaningful mentorship and support to aid in the creation of emotionally moving timepiece creations.
Applications have been open for just a few days (February 22, 2023, was the launch), and the Louis Vuitton Watch Prize has already received nearly 600 applications, demonstrating global interest. Because the prize is open-ended in terms of eligibility, I asked Mr. Arnault for more details about who should apply, but more importantly, what he is hoping to find in candidates. He was quick to remind me that he and his team may have hopes for should apply, but it is ultimately up to the LV Watch Prize judges (of which I am one) to determine both the pool of finalists and the eventual winner. There is no specific design, price level, mechanical or electronic technology, or origin that is required to apply for the LV Watch Prize. What is important, again, is originality, personality, and the ability to execute ideas in a physical form.
Mr. Arnault himself is a fan of traditional watchmaking craft, as well as today’s broad spectrum of independent watchmakers. He aspires to support artisans who dream of creating timepieces where emotion and art take center stage, with watchmaking is the medium. He acknowledges that it can be a very challenging task for even a skilled watchmaker to bring a product to market and that non-technical designers with otherwise brilliant ideas may never otherwise have a chance. For that reason, the crux of the LV Watch Prize isn’t a cash reward (though the winner will receive 150,000 Euros as part of their winnings), but rather hands-on help from Louis Vuitton and, more directly, from the talent at Louis Vuitton’s esteemed La Fabrique de Temps watchmaking facility in Geneva, Switzerland. The particulars of the “mentorship” (as Louis Vuitton refers to it) are challenging to describe because each winner will have a different set of needs. In general, Jean Arnault assures candidates that winners will have incredible access to help wherever it may be needed, from how to market their products to the public to where to purchase a CNC milling machine.
Louis Vuitton has experience with such initiatives, though the LV Watch Prize is brand new. For years, the LVMH Prize has existed to attract the attention of the world’s best new talent in fashion. One of the interesting things Lous Vuitton learned from past prizes is that the best candidates are those who demonstrate the combination of originality, dedication, and follow-through. What Louis Vuitton is not looking for are people with mere ideas on paper. The LV Watch Prize wants to support actual watches that people will eventually be able to purchase, and more so wants to support projects that can become a reality. One specific requirement of the LV Watch Prize is that applicants have a “commercialized” watch by the May 30, 2023, LV Watch Prize application deadline. This term might be a bit confusing because it does not mean that the applicant must be actually selling watches, but rather that a working, final physical product has been created and that the concept has proven industrial feasibility. More so, Arnault explains that the LV Watch Prize is about people. The company wants to support candidates with not only the dedication to bring their creations to life but also the follow-through to make those products a reality. Louis Vuitton can help in very impactful ways, but it all begins with the will of the applicants themselves.
Jean Arnault says that similar to LVMH’s long-term relationships with the LVMH Prize winners, he hopes to maintain contact with LV Watch Prize finalists and winners for the long term. He even describes situations where previous candidates who did not win may try again for subsequent prizes when they have better refined their concepts and creations. Louis Vuitton, in general, sees itself as a “hub for culture,” and likewise, Louis Vuitton Watches can serve as a hub for watchmaking culture. That includes not only the perpetuation of traditional artisanship, but also the incorporation of modern ideas, aesthetics, marketing strategies, and, of course, personalities. Louis Vuitton does not always (or even often) need to tie these cultural elements into the brand’s products themselves, but rather the experience of watching or participating with Louis Vuitton should be a curated lens into relevant culture. In other words, no matter the trend, if it is cool, Louis Vuitton wants to share it with you. That’s a beautiful and bold concept in a world where luxury is increasingly exclusive.
As someone with a self-professed “passion” for watchmaking and contemporary wristwatch culture, Jean Arnault has another interesting goal for the LV Watch Prize. The LV Watch Prize affords Jean Arnault a unique opportunity to support the industry he loves to create new things while maintaining his position as the leader of an important brand’s watchmaking segment. Many of today’s best watch brand managers are indeed such “category enthusiasts.” Traditional corporate mentality might suggest that managers need to remain hyper-focused on their niches, but in reality, it takes a serious timepiece enthusiast to effectively pilot any major watchmaker today. Even at a young age, Jean Arnault is demonstrating a real dedication to the horological space, and the impact of the LV Watch Prize over years will probably have a very important impact on his legacy.
Louis Vuitton, a self-described “house of culture,” has fully committed itself to the LV Watch Prize and its selection of candidates and eventual winners. This initiative is one of many that will allow Louis Vuitton to hold a position of influential power when it comes to shaping the modern watch industry, above and beyond its laudable collection of timepieces. The novelty of the LV Watch Prize means that fans and industry colleagues, alike, aren’t quite sure what to make of the eventual outcomes, and really that is part of the fun. This type of fresh and inclusive thinking will go a long way toward shaping the tone of the watch industry’s future. For now, all eyes are on the 2023 LV Watch Prize, which is accepting applications until May 30, 2023. Learn more about the LV Watch Prize, and apply here.