At Dior, there are some things that are shared and others that are kept secret. In an intriguing paradox, the Chiffre Rouge collection – which seems clearly destined for the general public – was initially designed as a product for a select group of informed
connoisseurs. Because the chiffre (number), contrary to what one might think, is first and foremost a question of… letters.
The secret origins of Chiffre Rouge
Gaining an understanding means going back to the origins of the word chiffre. That was exactly what Hedi Slimane, who inspired the collection, decided to do. In 2004, he was the only one to realise that the word had a hidden meaning, because long ago, a chiffre was the insignia of the nobility – the interlaced initials that were applied to household linen and silver. In short, a token of heraldry that followed on from coats-of-arms and crests. At the turn of the 15th century, the chiffre was even defined as “a secret writing or code” (Alain Rey, 1995).
And so what about red in all of this? It is one of Dior Homme’s primary colours, along with grey, white and black. These are all to be found, and almost exclusively so, in the Chiffre Rouge watchmaking collections.
Today, Dior has not in any way departed from this creative direction inspired by Hedi Slimane. Chiffre Rouge is an independent collection, deliberately divorced from the haute couture calendar of the parent company. In La Chaux-de-Fonds, the place where the collection is created and made, no one bothers about when the next Fashion Week will take place. Nor has the company expressed the slightest wish to celebrate the tenth anniversary of this line with a limited edition, as any other brand would have done.
In short, Chiffre Rouge is free. No one tries to impose either a calendar or an aesthetic canvas on it. Any desperate attempts to find out what this famous red number is – by looking for an 8 or something else – are completely in vain. As the company discreetly explains: “More often than not, we put the date in red but not always. It depends on the material selected among the four possible options comprising steel and the three different gold colours. It’s all a question of aesthetics – our one and only leitmotif.”
A sense of kinship
When push comes to shove, its critics may say that it is very hard to view the Chiffre Rouge collection as all being part of a single line. And it’s true. Every model is liberally interpreted by the company according to its creative desire at that particular moment.
Nevertheless, certain recurrent trends can be detected, starting with the exclusively round format or the asymmetrical case, firmly ensconced between large lugs. The key word would be understatement, the main additional complications being the date, chronograph and moon phases. An astonishing watch with eight time zones perturbs the nomenclature: the T01 model released in 2010. A “T” that emerged from nowhere in addition to the existing MACI initials: M for watches with a Manufacture movement, A for basic models, C for models with several complications, I for the irréductibles, an in-house – almost affectionate – nickname given to limited collections.
Today, the Chiffre Rouge remains powered by its initial calibres, which haven’t changed in ten years: Zenith for the chronographs and the Manufacture spirit, ETA, as well as Soprod, which developed exclusively for Dior the famous ‘inverted calibre’, whose oscillating weight is visible through the dial instead of the underside. And tomorrow? “Anything is possible” say those at Dior. The father of the collection, Hedi Slimane, has joined Yves Saint Laurent, but his work has matured and is today looking ahead to a new decade.