Maximum minimalism - watchmaking is a good mirror of society

March 2011

Since time is in the form of a spiral, meaning that it always returns upon its x-axis but not on its y-axis (or the opposite, if you like), we always return to the same trends even if they are a bit different every time. The ultra-thin movement, since we are talking about it, of 2011 is not exactly the same as the ultra-thin calibre of the 1960s of the last century. Just try, for example, to return exactly into your footprints left in the snow or in the sand…

Based on the expression of the architect, Mies van der Rohe, that “less is more,” the artistic minimalism of the 1960s seemed to be a reaction against subjectivity, against emotional overload, against the ornamentation that prevailed up to then. We might also say, history repeating itself, that today’s new watchmaking minimalism is a reaction against the stylistic overload and the ornamental and mechanical excesses of the preceding years.

Maximum minimalism - watchmaking is a good mirror of society

With too much excess killing excess, we are now returning to an era of much greater simplicity, like a person who is sickened by the sight of food after a very rich meal. In analyzing this return to stylistic frugality, there have been many reasons, if not explanations, beginning with the ‘crisis’. Watchmakers, however, have nearly always evoked this crisis as if it had nothing to do with them, as if it was merely a fatality that fell upon them without warning. This is faulty reasoning, in our opinion, because watchmaking, like many other sectors, has nourished the terrain of the crisis with its excesses. Clearly, it was the financial community that started the crisis with activities that were closer to casino gambling than healthy financial management, but they evolved in a larger universe that permitted all this, that pushed them into this.

In its own way, watchmaking is a good mirror of society. Larger, more extravagant, more visible, heavier, and more expensive were the words of the day that everyone, not only the bankers, more or less followed. But watch-makers, seeing the land beneath their feet suddenly falling away, changed direction.

And, like a single individual, they decreed that the times of excess were over, that it was necessary to return to more measured thinking. They thus turned, in unison, to what they imagined to be their new savoir—after the maximalist era, long live minimalism. The creation of new collections is measured in many months, and in this case, they all reached maturity at the same time, more than two years after the initial direction change. But the simultaneous flood of propositions involving three hands and small seconds also sends a cloudy message. If we in the watch community know who has true legitimacy in the thin movement and who does not, if we know who has worked steadily and consistently and who is merely being opportunistic, the public at large understands this to a much less degree. To maximize the minimalist offer, we again run the same risks. Those who are on a diet of bread and water for so long will, in turn, become sick of it all, and thus will want to order a copious meal. But while waiting for the next change of direction, which should not be long in coming, let us slowly savour our pleasure in the frugal offerings, made of a pure product, one devoid of sophisticated sauces and other garnishing. And, between us, what is more beautiful than a watch in its most simple form?

Photo: ’The minimalism superhero’ (source: wlppr.com)

Source: Europa Star February - March 2011 Magazine Issue