It is a persistent impression and one confirmed by a whole series of all kinds of indicators. But what impression is it, exactly? The impression that every imaginable avenue is open to exploration. And that nobody really knows what the future will look like. We are talking about the future of watchmaking, of course. But in talking about watchmaking, we are also talking about the world in general, because watchmaking is not up on a pedestal and is not disconnected from basic material requirements, whether they be economic or political (such as the anti-corruption campaigns that have been launched in China). Everything is possible because everything looks like it could change tack from one minute to the next. One example is the now famous “smart” watches, which could, according to some, or certainly could not, according to others, take over our wrist real estate, relegating the old mechanical technology just like quartz did in its time. Before it re-emerges, takes vengeance and once again triumphs in value.
If the Swiss were once almost wiped off the map of watchmaking, it was in large part due to their own short-sightedness. Situations of absolute dominance often foster arrogance and arrogance hardly encourages clear-thinking. So we need to be careful that this explosive mixture of arrogance and lack of clear-thinking doesn’t repeat itself. But if this impression that all possibilities are open persists, it is also for other reasons. Mechanical watchmaking certainly hasn’t said its last word, but when visiting factories and peering over workbenches we feel a certain hesitation about the avenues to be explored as a priority. Should they be returning, forthwith, to classicism, calming things down, betting on more sobriety? Or, on the contrary, should they be innovating at all cost, even outbidding themselves with products made possible by modern design and production methods, but whose deeper meaning escapes us? Especially since Chinese watchmakers seem to be making inroads into the world of complicated watchmaking, for example offering tourbillons in jade for 380,000 US dollars! (Read the excellent report on this by Paul O’Neil, back from Hong Kong).
Another issue, confirmed by a recent stay in Japan (it does appear to be from the “complicated” East that these questions come): the younger generation no longer seems to need the social “fetish” of a watch, which has become an accessory for dads. Badges of social belonging and signs of identity are changing, “luxury” – in other words the emotional and financial investment in the superfluous – is changing shape. The notion of the watch as an instrument, with several functions, is gaining ground over that of mere “representation”, which is not disappearing but is taking on different forms. And when function fits with representation, then success is guaranteed. The “danger” in this respect does not come only from the forthcoming avalanche of connected watches, for which there is not yet any indicator of potential dominance but which could very well succeed in mixing technology, design and precious materials to reach up into the high end. There are other “possibles” as well. It will, for instance, be interesting to follow how the atomic technology launched by Hoptroff this year will develop. Because although the proposed watch (whose price is equally atomic) uses a super-precise type of “battery”, it also has a dial full of hands that is of the utmost classicism. The winning equation of the future?
Source: Europa Star October - November 2013 Magazine Issue