Archives & Heritage


Heritage: The power of the past

ARCHIVES AND HERITAGE

Español Français
December 2018


Heritage: The power of the past

In the watch business it’s difficult to talk about the present without bringing up the past. It’s almost Pavlovian.

I

n watch brand press releases it’s commonplace to start out with a reflection on the piece’s origins, traditions, heritage, DNA, roots, etc. etc. etc.

And, when you think about it, that’s quite logical, for an industry whose main function is to measure the passing of time! But it’s worth examining this phenomenon a little more closely. Why does everyone harp on about their heritage? And what’s the deal with all the reissues we’ve been seeing in recent years?

As we celebrate the digitisation of over 60,000 pages from the Europa Star archives (the first phase covers six decades) we hope to shed new light on the importance of heritage to the watch industry. We’ll also look into how watchmakers are exploiting this rich history, now that new technologies make it so easy to digitise documents that were previously archived in unwieldy binders (as ours were!). And remember also that watch historians like nothing more than a good argument. The quest for the real “father of the chronograph”, which led to the recent consecration of Louis Moinet, provides a good illustration. Montblanc was less than overjoyed when Nicolas Rieussec, a key figure in the brand’s strategy, was demoted from this position. Debates over heritage, fed by archive material, have also had some very tangible effects on current collections.

Be warned: the conversation on heritage is often dictated by marketing imperatives, and the tone can sometimes veer off into dogmatic pronouncements and purple prose. Beware of hyperbole!

But there’s one caveat: contemporary brands may be watch heritage’s best friends, but they’re also its worst enemies, when they misrepresent the past to suit their own marketing purposes. That’s why it’s important to fact-check what we are told, because the conversation on heritage is often dictated by marketing imperatives, and the tone can sometimes veer off into dogmatic pronouncements and purple prose. Beware of hyperbole!

But despite all the pitfalls, it remains an utterly fascinating exercise. Among the millions of words written in the past, how many surprising finds await us?