An omnipotent billionaire. A clutch of heirs primed to take over the family business. Speculation over which successors are in favor.
All are elements of the TV series “Succession” that can also describe the Arnault family, whose 73-year-old patriarch, Bernard Arnault, is the world’s second-richest man and the chairman of the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy luxury goods group.
All of Mr. Arnault’s five children hold positions at his conglomerate. Delphine Arnault, 47, is the executive vice president at Louis Vuitton and a member of the LVMH board. Antoine Arnault, 45, is the chief executive at Berluti, the head of image and environment at LVMH and a member of the company’s board. Alexandre Arnault, 30, is the executive vice president of product and communications at Tiffany & Company. Frédéric Arnault, 27, is the chief executive of TAG Heuer.
The youngest sibling, Jean Arnault, 24, joined the family firm in 2021, taking a position as the marketing and product development director for Louis Vuitton’s watch division. The family’s only member of Gen Z, Jean Arnault graduated from Imperial College London and holds master’s degrees from Imperial College and M.I.T.
Last month, Jean Arnault was promoted to a new role at Louis Vuitton, as the brand’s watches director. On Wednesday, he will unveil his most public initiative to date: a pet project called the Louis Vuitton Watch Prize for Independent Creatives.
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Up for grabs are a 150,000 euro prize and a yearlong mentorship, rewards similar to those received by the winner of the LVMH Prize for fashion design. Applications, which open early next year, are encouraged from students, fledgling brand owners and experienced in-house watchmakers who want to set up shop on their own. Louis Vuitton plans to announce the prize’s inaugural recipient in January 2024.
Ahead of the initiative’s launch, Jean Arnault spoke to The New York Times about his hopes for the prize, the support he has received from elder siblings and why he felt it was time for him to step out from behind the scenes. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Is the new award the watchmaking equivalent of the LVMH Prize?
Definitely. They are very similar in terms of ethos. A big incentive for both is to use the power of the Louis Vuitton brand to support talent for the luxury industry. A key difference, though, is that there is no age limit for the watch prize. Getting into watchmaking and the schooling can take a lot longer than fashion schools. So we wanted that to be different.
Will you use the contest as a way to recruit from a specific talent pool?
Our goal is not to get access to and hire people, nor is that the case for the LVMH Prize. In the case of the watch prize, Louis Vuitton is not part of the decision-making process in the semi finals or the finals. We are facilitators in making sure talent is found and fostered in terms of independent creative watchmakers, whoever they are and wherever they are from. I think there is a perception that all fine watchmaking happens with a backdrop of mountains in Switzerland, but that isn’t true. When applications open early next year, I really want applicants from places like China, Japan and America to also go for this prize. I hope ages range from 18 to 95. What we want are bold visions.
The prize is a big public move for you. How comfortable are you coming out of the shadows?
I’m ready — and I have plenty of people to keep a tight grip on me so I don’t say any nonsense.
How did you end up in watches?
I would say watches have grown on me over the years. Initially, I was interested in all areas of the LVMH group. But a watch obsession really started raging when one of my brothers, Frédéric, started working at TAG Heuer. We would talk about all the cool things he was working on. I was at university in London then, and I got really excited about specific models and mechanisms — I guess I had a lot of free time then. It was definitely a space I wanted to work in.
Do you talk to your siblings regularly about work?
All the time. Especially Frédéric, with whom I am very close. We like to keep each other updated. We are in two different parts of the market, with two different clienteles, so it’s healthy. We can speak candidly without any sort of competition. We run both our segments very independently, and I ask for his advice and insights a lot. I count myself lucky if he asks for mine.
What was the first watch you received?
A TAG Heuer Professional Golf watch designed by Tiger Woods. I was 15, and it came from my father. I didn’t understand how to work it for the first month I had it. These days, I wear a watch every day — even two on some days. If I could, I’d probably wear three.
What has surprised you the most about the world of watches?
Everyone works at their own pace, you can’t rush things. It’s been like this for a century and a half, and it’s not going to change. Trying to navigate around that can be quite a tricky endeavor. I often get cold sweats.
Professionally, what has been your proudest moment?
I’ll be able to give a clearer answer next year, as there is so much in the pipeline in terms of designs being unveiled from our high-end watchmaking segment. Not a lot of people know that Louis Vuitton makes watches, which I hope is going to change soon. But for now, I am super proud of this watch prize, which is our first big initiative in the watch world. It took a lot of long and hard work to pull together — and to convince everyone in the company that it was a good idea.