IN TODAY’S conversation of modern pioneers shaping the way of the future, the Arnault name undoubtedly comes to mind. Albeit a family of immense wealth — Bernault Arnault, who oversees the LVMH empire, is, after all, the world’s richest man — each member of this illustrious clan has forged their own respective path to success.
Jean Arnault, the youngest, is revolutionising Louis Vuitton‘s watch division. Alexandre Arnault is dazzling as Tiffany and Co. Executive Vice President of Products and Communication. Antoine Arnault sits on the board of LVMH and is also the CEO of shoemaker Berluti. Delphine Arnault, the oldest sibling, is the CEO of Christian Dior. And of course, Frédéric Arnault, the sibling touted to oversee all LVMH operations at the conclusion of his father’s tenure, is breathing new life into TAG Heuer, a historic watch brand that perhaps lost its spark in the decade past.
Sitting in a room with Frédéric Arnault earlier this year at Watches & Wonders, the watch industry’s biggest trade fair, it’s hard to imagine that at just 28 years old, he has been able to achieve what some haven’t in a lifetime. As the brand’s CEO — and the youngest CEO in the watch world at that — money has never been the factor to solve a problem. Sure, it helps, but it’s Frédéric’s inventive ideas and clear vision for the future that has brought TAG Heuer front of mind for global consumers, creating a company that presents as one of the most formidable among the luxury watch lexicon of today.
TAG Heuer is fresh, it’s exciting, it’s revolutionary. Leading men want to be a part of its ride (take a look at Ryan Gosling and Jacob Elordi, two of its loyal brand ambassadors). The branded parties are cool, the marketing collateral is eye-catching and the product speaks for itself.
So how did Frédéric Arnault do it?
Joining TAG Heuer at the beginning of 2017 to manage its smartwatch activities, it wasn’t until 2018 that he was appointed Chief Strategy and Digital Officer, a role which helped him lead the company’s ambitious transformation and digitalisation efforts in close collaboration with Stéphane Bianchi, CEO of the LVMH Watchmaking Division and of TAG Heuer.
In July 2020, Frédéric was appointed as CEO of TAG Heuer. As head of the Maison, his ambition to accelerate the development of the storied brand was evident from the get go, with a thirst for innovation and a plan to maximise the value of the brand’s iconic collections.
Below is our exclusive chat with the man making moves in the watch industry today.
Esquire Australia: Frédéric! It’s been a big year for TAG Heuer. In your opinion, can you name one release that best symbolises the innovative spirit of TAG Heuer?
Frederic Arnault: So if we talk about an innovative spirit, I would have to go with the TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma. We are one of the first brands to have had the unique vision of using lab-grown diamonds to create something new, something never seen before, that would be impossible to recreate with natural diamonds. And this year, we went one step further in the Plasma’s design by adding diamonds on the bezel and on the aluminum strap. I think it really symbolises the innovative spirit of the brand.
Esq: It also signifies, perhaps, to expect the unexpected from TAG Heuer… how did the conversation start around the Plasma and what was the impetus for creating such a bold timepiece?
FA: Well, when we talk about Avant-garde innovation, we wanted to look through an angle of innovation and we thought, ‘okay, there’s a big discussion topic right now on lab-grown diamonds, let’s try our hand and propose a vision.’ And it took some time before we could have the right idea for the brand. We had to ask ourselves, ‘how can we do something new, never seen before?’
Once we had this idea, then there were tons of designs, tons of creativity, and really, it’s just the beginning of the journey – we already have some crazy ideas for the years to come.
Esq: Touching on innovation, can you discuss the strategy for the brand when it comes to pioneering innovation, especially in a market that’s quite competitive. What’s your point of difference as a brand?
FA: Firstly, I would say that we have such a strong heritage, 163 years. We have icons of the past, like the Carrera, which was launched in 1963. The Monaco was introduced in 1969, and the code of designs and the spirit that made it so successful back then makes it still very successful and desirable today.
Then I would say that one very strong point of difference is the fact that early on, we, as a brand, knew the importance of branding and not simply creating a watchmaking product. And TAG Heuer has done amazing brand campaigns, has had strong collaboration partnerships, is very tightly linked with the world of sports, of course, performance, speed, and motorsports specifically. And I think that’s really one strong point of difference for the brand.
Esq: Before you came on board as CEO, the link between motorsports and TAG Heuer wasn’t as prominent as it is today. Can you talk to us about that growth in that field but also, this watch, the Carrera – is it perhaps the most significant re-release of the Carrera collection today?
FA: Definitely. I think this watch embodies a lot of what the brand represents and a lot about the vision that we have today. It’s a historic connection, the inspiration from the watch of 1963 with the sharp lugs, with the legible dial, with the glass box. But we made the watch modern because we want to continue to tell the story today. It’s not a story of the past, it’s the story of today. Hence, the wider glass box with this new construction, the reinvented dial to have a better tachymeter readability and keeping the racing spirit of it.
Motorsports has been so strong in the history of the brand. And when I joined, it was still present in the brand, but it wasn’t a priority. In fact, our investments had become somewhat diluted, working together in universes in which we didn’t necessarily have a very strong say.
I think it’s very important, especially nowadays in such a competitive environment, to have areas where we can really be the leader, really dominate. And when we talk about cars and motorsports, we can say TAG Heuer dominates the watch space, the world of motorsports and cars. And it was important to say that out loud and reinforce it strongly. Hence, the partnership with Porsche that we signed, I think is the best brand fit for us and the most iconic car manufacturer out there. And Formula One, while we already had the partnership with Red Bull Racing, we put it forward much more in our communication. There’s also a bit of luck involved – at the same moment we decide to invest, Formula One has become cool again, young; it’s not just a masculine sport.
Esq: On the topic of Formula One, there’s been a steady growth in interest for the original TAG Heuer Formula One sports pieces of the eighties and nineties. Is that an area that the brand would look into developing again?
FA: Well, we can see there’s hype and interest there and we think it’s great that there is a healthy vintage market because it’s a vintage piece at the end of the day – I think it makes the brand of today stronger. We will see…
Esq: I read somewhere a reference you made towards brand partners; that one needs good partners to achieve success. Can you elaborate on this statement?
FA: It’s important that brand partners represent the value of the brand and we need to feel there’s a strong brand fit there. But it’s not enough. We also have to feel that the ambassador is genuine and authentic in collaborating with the brand. And before signing anything, we first want to build an authentic relationship with them so that they get to know us, we get to know them. We also co-build a plan of what we’ll be doing together, which is what we did with Ryan [Gosling]. It took us a year and a half before he became our ambassador. We had to know him, what he liked, what he had done. It felt natural that he was wearing the brand. So this is very important to us. It’s the same with Jacob [Elordi].
Of course, Porsche. Well, we used to be with another car brand that was iconic too, but the relationship felt forced because there was less of a DNA link, and now with Porsche, it’s very natural because everyone in the organisation is genuinely excited about working with one another.
Esq: Since you’ve been at the helm of the brand, what would you say has been your proudest moment to date and personally, your biggest success within the brand?
FA: I don’t really think about that because there’s so many great elements. Maybe the first launch of the connected watch. Or I can think of the partnership with Porsche. When we signed it, it took us a long time and I really thought, atthe time, it was going to be a game changer to reinforce this brand. And that was a really long term, decisive moment for the brand.
I’m also really proud about this new TAG Heuer Carrera. Redesigning an icon is not an easy thing to do; everyone has an opinion. There’s so many aficionados, collectors that would say, “Oh, don’t do that, give this a try.” I’m very proud of the way this piece has been received so far. Some people say it’s the best TAG Heuer watch that has been released in years. It has so many elements of the brand. And I think it’s here to stay. I’ll be happy if I see it in 10 years and 15 years time.
Esq: In three words, can you explain what we can expect to see from Tag Heuer in 2023 and beyond?
FA: Authenticity, innovation and boldness.