hat madness is this? It’s something we haven’t seen for a long time – not since the “Swatchmania” of the early 1990s. We’ve descended a long way from those dizzy heights, and many people have wondered aloud whether the Swatch watch was on its way out, and whether the increasingly strenuous creative efforts to keep it alive weren’t doomed to failure.
But all it took was the announcement of an unprecedented and vaguely incestuous marriage between Swatch and the Speedmaster Moonwatch, Omega’s iconic timepiece, to trigger a new global watch tsunami. All over the world, previously unthinkable scenes were reported: queues around the block, noisy altercations and even fisticuffs. Apparently, even people who had turned up at 6.30 in the morning were forced to leave empty-handed, several hours later.
In Geneva, they say, hordes from the nearby French district of Annemasse camped outside the Swatch boutique all night and, after making their purchases, did double duty as security guards, taking upon themselves the responsibility for crowd management and triage. As soon as the CHF 250 had been handed over and the in-store transaction completed, watches began popping up on social media sites with price tags in the thousands. Some cost even more than an actual Omega Moonwatch (CHF 4,950).
It’s something we haven’t seen for a long time – not since the “Swatchmania” of the early 1990s.
So, what is this madness? We believe it marks a paradigm shift – one that could well be permanent. The watch no longer has any utility value; it has become a purely speculative product. The watch is an illusion, a mirage. Watchmakers continue with their superhuman efforts to improve the timekeeping of their sublime mechanical toys – an endeavour that has spanned centuries – but it’s all pointless. The only thing that counts is image, resale value, hype and the number of likes.
Is this a risky operation for Omega, as a number of commentators have suggested? No. In fact, it’s extremely intelligent. Look at Andy Warhol – the artist who foreshadowed the inexorable rise of consumer society. His repetitive portraits of Marilyn Monroe in every possible colour combination didn’t cheapen the image of the “real” Marilyn (or of Campbell’s soup, for that matter). They did the opposite: they exalted her, deified her... transformed her into an icon. And I’ll stick my neck out here: I’d be willing to bet that, within a few months, the price of the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch will start to climb, and auction results will double.
Street fashion invariably follows what happens behind the closed doors of the upper echelons. People in rarefied haute horlogerie circles have understood for some time now that, in terms of investment value, watches have a lot going for them. They’re almost as good as real estate – except that they’re easier to move from one safe to another. Or from one pocket to another.
Look at Andy Warhol. His repetitive portraits of Marilyn Monroe didn’t cheapen the image of the “real” Marilyn (or of Campbell’s soup, for that matter). They did the opposite: they exalted her, deified her...