oday, lots of brands are led by technocrats who talk about emotion,” recently told us Jean-Claude Biver (read the full article “Jean-Claude Biver: past, present, future”).
Browsing our archives – a vast treasure trove of data that has recently been digitised* – we came across an interesting quote from Nicolas Hayek in 1993 expressing a similar opinion, just as Mr. Biver was starting work at Omega: “For a long moment, until the beginning of the Eighties, Omega had to put up with heads that were incapable of understanding the brand’s message. They behaved more like managers than entrepreneurs.”
At a time when the industry’s messaging tends to highlight the human qualities of mechanical watchmaking and its value as a form of contemporary craftsmanship (the watch as an object having lost its monopoly over technical precision), it is even more important that this narrative should convey warmth, substance and authenticity.
“For a long moment, Omega had to put up with heads that were incapable of understanding the brand’s message. They behaved more like managers than entrepreneurs.” Nicolas Hayek, 1993, in Europa Star
In other words, the industry needs to appear human; it needs to offer a welcoming face to newcomers hoping to be initiated into this wonderful art. But the risk of “de-humanisation” is ever-present – perhaps all the more so in our digital era. As Nicolas Hayek rightly noted in the 1990s, this is also a concern at the top of the pyramid, as evidenced by the frenetic whirl of managers who are more functionaries than entrepreneurs.
And there’s another risk, linked to brand communication. As production has become more standardised and the industry has coalesced around huge international groups, the compulsion to focus on the human element where marketing is concerned has become all the more pronounced. Sorry, that should be Marketing with a capital M.
External agencies are springing up like mushrooms, as they are in every industry, to “manage” the dialogue and “streamline” the narrative. But emotion must first come from the guts of the spokesmen who are the watch brands’ primary ambassadors.
The risk of “de-humanisation” is ever-present, perhaps all the more so in our digital era.
And, when it comes down to it, the products themselves are still the main vehicle in terms of perception of the industry’s essential humanity. Look at Bulgari: in recent years, the Roman jeweller has made great strides in watchmaking because it has forged ahead into unexplored territory with the Finissimo line. Bulgari’s managers don’t finesse their financial quarters in response to shareholder pressure – they act out of an utterly human spirit of enterprise and initiative.
In an era in thrall to digital tools and accounting deadlines, that touch of human magic has never been so important for watchmaking success. After all, the idea of strapping onto your wrist a piece of technology invented centuries ago – that must be the ultimate act of human folly.
With one click, you can gain access to 60 years of watchmaking on www.europastar.com/club.