Industrial culture

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June 2009

With the economic crisis, certain words are returning to our vernacular -words that, only a short time ago, hardly a few months at most, were considered outmoded, old-fashioned, even quite frankly…vulgar.
Let’s take, for instance, the word ‘industry’. It evokes the smell of grease and sweat, as well as noise. It has nothing to do with the sterilized and ethereal world of ‘luxury’.
In the industrial world, an object is the product of hard labour. It leaves a factory that is filled with machines that are manned by workers, technicians, and engineers. We can imagine it being born in the grease, oil, and iron filings.


Charlie Chaplin - Modern Times

In the ‘luxury’ world, on the other hand, an object is born as if by magic, enchantment, or ‘immaculate conception’. In luxury, there are no smelly or noisy factories. There are only the most ancestral and silent ‘manufactures’ if not small picturesque ateliers where only exceptional artisans toil away.
Oh, come on!
With the exception of a very few rare solitary master watchmakers, such as Philippe Dufour or Kari Voutilainen who are manufacture-factories in themselves, the watch is above all an industrial product in these times of ‘mass market luxury’. The world wants to forget this fact but the current economic slide is bringing this clearly back into focus.
Those companies that have a true industrial base are withstanding and will withstand these troubled times better than most others. As an example, let’s look at the Swatch Group, with its 162 factories in Switzerland and its 24,000 employees around the world. The great lords of global luxury had a tendency to look down on them, a little condescendingly, like aristocrats regarding the ‘peasants’. ‘Peasants’ that have succeeded, yes, but remain, in the eyes of the aristocrats, hopeless ‘country bumpkins’.
During the turbulence of the current storm, however, the Swatch Group has shown that it has a greater ‘resilience’ than many others. Nicolas G. Hayek doesn’t beat about the bush, “A wild gold rush. Everyone believed that they would instantly become rich by making watches. Companies with no legitimacy or expertise entered the arena. . .and the industry’s entry threshold was practically nil, thanks to those who produced upstream. This is not the case, for example, in the automobile industry. . . for them, this bubble will continue to inflict damage.â€
The current situation is seeing the revenge of hands covered with grease over hands with manicured nails. It is a return to common sense, a victory of the misunderstood industrial culture. Ah but yes, industry does have a culture, a real culture, with its own history, its roots, its customs, and its savoir-faire - a ‘popular’ culture, maintained by those who work the machines in the factories. There is nothing virtual about its culture, only concrete substance.
Its revenge is that of the ‘real economy’ over the ‘financialization’ of the planet. It is that of ‘cash’ over the astronomical calculations of mathematicians who sold their science to the hedge funds.
It is really quite simple, Nicolas G. Hayek admits having withdrawn ‘billions in cash’ from the UBS and other large Swiss banks that dabbled in financial Ponzi schemes. Where did he put it? In the Post Office Bank (Post Finance) and the Cantonal Bank of Argovie. This is so much less glamorous than Wall Street, but oh how it is so much more reassuring. It is less ‘luxury’ but more ‘industrial’.

Source: Europa Star April-May 2009 Magazine Issue