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June 2015

The players would have been quite happy to continue their friendly game of poker, playing according to the usual rules.

But outside their circle events are escalating, threatening to overturn the table, tear up the rule book, and break up the party. Around the table, the players are casting sidelong glances at one other, poker-faced. Well, it was nice while it lasted. It was an exclusive and rarefied world: big international luxury groups, venerable historic maisons, successful industrialists and, as window dressing, the odd tame artist to add some spice.

But now the madding crowd is clamouring at the door. Our Chinese clients are turning away from our products, which are suddenly too extravagant and ostentatious for their leaders’ tastes. Our Russian and Ukrainian friends have come to blows, and their passion for our timepieces will have to wait for calmer times. The Middle East is a bloodbath, and the situation is becoming tragically more desperate every day.

And as if all this bad news wasn’t enough, other giants are trying to muscle in on the action. ‘Giant’ is a euphemism. In fact they are monsters with unparalleled fire power. Just think: Apple alone has a market capitalisation equivalent to 30 years of Swiss watchmaking! And let us not forget Google and Samsung and the rest, all hungrily eyeing our wrists, desperate to smarten them up with some of their connected wizardry.

Paul Cézanne, Les joueurs de cartes (1894-95)
Paul Cézanne, Les joueurs de cartes (1894-95)

Well, let them have at it. We’ll see how it turns out. Some producers are trembling in fear of being swept away by a tsunami; others can hardly contain their scorn, convinced that nothing will knock them off their pedestals; and some are secretly marshalling their arms, rationalising that a bit of connectivity never did anyone any harm. But deep down, they are all a little afraid: the future has become impossible to read. And as always in such troubled times, we take refuge in the fundamentals, we reassure ourselves with memories of our glory days, take comfort in rose-tinted nostalgia for our past.

Have we been pushing our luck in recent years? Did we go too far? Might it not be time for a little moderation? Given the general downsizing apparent at the latest Baselworld (39 mm is once again the benchmark for good taste), seeing the proliferation of minimally reworked vintage models, and noting a return to purity of line, it could be said that the deck is indeed being reshuffled, albeit amid considerable disarray. Will the future of mechanical watchmaking really be assured by enshrining it in its past? Or should we give in to the lure of connectivity? When will the Chinese once more be allowed to display their wealth?

These are just a few of the hundreds of questions one could ask. The cards are on the table. But it will soon be time to deal a new hand.

Source: Europa Star June 2015 Magazine Issue