Classic is trendy, or the sheep effect
What generates trends, who creates them, where do they come from?
For the past two years the world of watchmaking, whether or not at the top of the range, has confirmed the great return of the classic watch, through both its production and the first trade shows of the year.
What triggered this great return to a form of watch design that many brands had forgotten or abandoned, or, for the more recent, had never even known? The economic crisis? Improbable economic forecasts or poor vision of the future, even in the short term? A simple cyclical effect after a decade of unbridled creativity? Or, more prosaically, is it a type of response, a revolt against all these watches from the first decade of the millennium brimming with testosterone, sandwiched between a thousand new materials and built with screws and other visible components that are sometimes as unaesthetic as they are useless? It was the era of “more is more”.
Perhaps it was a little of all of the above!
But let us leave the wonderful microcosm of watchmaking for a moment.
Fashion and trends
In the world of fashion, which creates, lives and feeds off trends, there are numerous examples of trends that we have all experienced. Trends are like an item of clothing. They are created and constructed by choice, by fortunate coincidences, by the street, in times past by the audacity of some dandies or more simply for economic reasons*.
Today’s fashion trends come from the growing influence of the big brands and their marketing bulldozers. But their origin can always be found in the spirit of the times (which depends on the era), in urban tribes or even in a TV series. Because all artistic directors read the same influential blogs, read the same magazines, visit the same exhibitions by the same contemporary artists or photographers. Trends can also come from next door. Briefs from fashion brands very often refer to objects, colours, jewellery or clothes seen at competitors (this also applies to the car and watchmaking industries). And here, everything can move very fast. Because the embryo of a trend that has been spotted will immediately be “moodboarded”, adapted, adopted, produced, presented, marketed and then consumed en masse more or less quickly. This is why today’s fashions converge more than they diverge. Even trends are globalised.
What makes a trend?
For a simple effect of fashion to become a lasting trend it must above all be perennial and capable of evolving, to gradually become a new standard until it is replaced. Consider as an example the tightening of trousers, which has seen the cut of all types of trousers – from basic jeans to three-piece suits – slimmed down over the past ten years. Rest assured that you will be able to wear comfortable clothing again some time in the future.
The car, another good example.
Nearly a decade ago, in 2003 to be precise, Audi presented a concept car with an oversized grill: the Audi Nuvolari. One year later the first car of the modern era with a gaping grill rolled off the production line: the Audi A3 Sportback. Since then, how many brands have adopted this code and reinterpreted it on their range? Almost all of them. It has become so well integrated in car design that cars with a large grill have now become the norm. Audi started the trend.
Let’s get back to watch design
What is the big trend of the moment? We alluded to it in our introduction: it is definitely the return to sober and classic designs that respect the codes of the past. At least that is what the world of watchmaking is showing us.
Why this return?
In this world of watchmaking that is so dear to us and which seeks to renew itself by any means, to reinvent itself incessantly, everyone seems to have forgotten that you cannot wipe the slate clean of your past with a magic wand. Too many brands have forgotten this. With a worrying abandon they have sold part of their soul by giving in to the sirens, or perhaps we should say to the bleating of the first sheep.
From 2002 to 2007 everything was going so well that all you had to do was produce watches similar to your daring competitors and the money would come in by supertanker. Which brand did not want to mix materials in its collection, or add some screws (let us spare a thought here for Gérald Genta, who designed the Royal Oak, which was launched in 1972), add carbon fibre plates or other exotic metals? In short, every brand wanted their Richard Mille (2001), or a Big Bang (2004). It was a time of mixing materials and complicated watches and movements—in all senses of the word. It was the hallowed era of “more is more” in a herd. Because watch brands are made by people much more than by their products and their marketing campaigns and these people are in every sense identical to the artistic directors mentioned above. Some of them are simply more visionary, more coherent or more daring.
A dark day in September 2008 was all it took to bring this beautiful machine, which had become almost crazy, to an abrupt halt. From one day to the next and without any kind of discretion, practically all investment, and with it all innovation and creation, was frozen. And now what are we going to do?
This unexpected knockout and the long period of convalescence that followed were not used to the same effect by everyone. There were a number of lost sheep. They had to take a step back, refocus and be introspective. Was it this renewed lucidity and humility that led to the return of classic watches? Or is it the new customers from China, who are the driving force behind the growth of the entire industry and who prefer these classic watches? Or is it simply the fact that trends follow cycles? It’s a little of all three!
In summary, the watchmaking industry was undoubtedly at the end of a cycle and was thus ripe for this return to classicism. It was just given a little extra push to return it to its past. And once again, the best will know how to adopt these classic codes, reinterpret them in the spirit of the times and transcend them.
So we can look forward to beautiful watches for a long time to come. Because doesn’t the very strength of a Classic (with a capital “c”) lie in the fact that it never goes out of fashion?
*Read Icons of Men’s Style by Josh Sims.
Source: Europa Star February - March 2012 Magazine Issue.