uch ink has been spilled about the cancellation of Baselworld and Watches & Wonders. But all that is really just a distraction from the bigger picture. Since the emergence of the coronavirus, supply chains have been severed, shops deserted and the entire industrial fabric of the watch industry has been thrown into disarray.
Here’s the problem: unlike in the quartz crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, when the entire industry faced upheaval, or even back in the 19th century, when a concerted industrial response was put in place to meet the threat of American mass production, an increasingly individualistic attitude has taken hold over the last decade among the powers that be. It’s every man for himself. The disaffection with Baselworld was the most obvious symptom of this malaise.
Coronavirus has struck at the heart of an already fragmented watch industry. Both upstream and down, many of the minor players have become disillusioned by the way they have been treated. Suppliers, already weakened from years of pressure from actors who seem to be increasingly disconnected from the watchmaking “soil”, were the first to feel the impact of the crisis. These fertile sources of innovation will also be the first casualties when (when?) calm returns.
When the time comes to rebuild everything that has been destroyed, all too many of those firms that are the heart, the brains and the limbs of the watch industry will have vanished.
Downstream, many retailers are already in too precarious a position to react. They have lost their role as “prescribers”, all too often becoming no more than showcases for the diktats of the brands that control their destiny. As someone pointed out to us recently, “a delivery company could do that just as well.”
The media, among which we count ourselves, are also strongly impacted. Many journalists are now taking the decision to refocus on direct watch sales or brand communication, or they’re leaving the sector altogether. Only a slim space remains for a publication such as ours, whose aim is to produce high-quality, uncompromising and impartial journalism and analysis, as we have done since 1927 (and for which we thank our loyal supporters!). An industry that abandons its specialist and independent journalists will also have to face the consequences of intellectual impoverishment.
The watchmaking ecosystem relies on all these actors, these artisans who toil behind the scenes, driven by a quiet determination. But for a few years now, it’s been clear that there is “something rotten in the state of watchmaking”. The pandemic is an accelerator of history, throwing the spotlight on fault lines that have been spreading, unnoticed, for some time. They say that a man’s character can be judged by how he treats the weak. The character of a watch brand, or of an entire industry, can also be measured against this yardstick. And as things stand, let’s just say… they don’t come off too well.
When the time comes to rebuild everything that has been destroyed, all too many of those firms that are the heart, the brains and the limbs of the watch industry will have vanished. Vanished – through a lack of solidarity, a lack of vision and – oh the irony – a lack of time.