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New materials: genuine progress or marketing hype?

EDITORIAL

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June 2018


New materials: genuine progress or marketing hype?

Suddenly, an anxiety installs: and if the multiples announcements about new materials, particular applied for watch casing, constituted a watch Ponzi scheme? Should we believe watchmakers when they assure us that these innovations will hold over time?

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ere’s an uncomfortable thought: what if all these announcements about new materials, particularly for watch cases, are nothing more than a horological Ponzi scheme? Should we believe watchmakers when they tell us that these innovations are the way of the future? Will watch customers in 2030 see our decade as a golden age of technological growth, or a golden age of unscrupulous marketing ploys? And... have we ever seen anything as durable and robust as the good old steel watches of the 1970s?

As we introduce this dossier, a note of caution is advised. Given the explosion of new materials being hyped up by the watch industry, it’s a good idea to take a step back, and consider whether the innovative substances being touted for use in cases, bezels, crystals, dials, even straps, represent a genuine advantage for the customer.

The watch industry is a past master in the art of marketing, although, since the explosion of the internet, it has faced a backlash from the countless ultra-specialised blogs run by enthusiasts. So the question is this: are these new materials the result of “objective” research by the watch companies’ R&D labs, or do they follow an agenda set by their sales and marketing departments?

New materials: genuine progress or marketing hype?

As is so often the case, the answer seems to be a judicious mix of both: they represent both the genuine passion of many watchmakers for materials research, which is actually fascinating in many respects, and the brands’ interest in ensuring continued commercial success. Given the flurry of new materials, it seems wise to issue a note of caution to watchmakers, to alert them to the perils of counting their chickens before they hatch. Only time will tell if this is real technological progress, or so much fairy dust.

This warning is based on whispers from insiders, whom we cannot name here, for obvious reasons. One critical comment particularly struck us. “Case materials are hyped up to the point where the whole thing has become meaningless. Light? Has anyone suffered from tendinitis because their watch is too heavy? Hard, scratchproof? Are you intending to attack your watch with a screwdriver? And people talk about health, when the components are often based on a thermosetting resin composite matrix that you wouldn’t want in your house.”

So the question is this: are these new materials the result of “objective” research by the watch companies’ R&D labs, or do they follow an agenda set by their sales and marketing departments?

Good grief. Is it not enough that we are forced to entertain doubts about the authenticity of horological interest in materials research? Should we also be worrying about our health, several decades after we stopped using radium? You can’t halt progress... but it often takes time to understand all the consequences.