ecessity is the mother of invention, in watchmaking as elsewhere. The recent upheavals can be analysed through the prism of immediate current events; the disagreement over reimbursement, after the cancellation of Baselworld due to the pandemic, has led to a definitive break between the exhibition and its main exhibitors. But the shock is much bigger than that: it symbolically marks the end of an era.
The golden parenthesis of the years 2005-2015, the move upmarket in Swiss watchmaking, the growing polarisation between the winners and losers of globalisation, the digital revolution that led brands to take direct control over their own communication – these were all factors in this final parting of the ways, upheavals that are changing the way the watch planet is turning.
But the watch world is actually not so much an industry now, as it is an embryonic watch “culture”, which requires coordination between the forces involved if it is to thrive. It is time to move from thinking at the pure brand level, to thinking at the level of an ecosystem. Without a healthy ecosystem, no brand will be able to develop sustainably.
The watch world is actually no longer so much an industry as an embryonic watch “culture”, which requires coordination between the forces involved if it is to thrive.
In this respect, the decision by the largest watch brands to meet together at an annual event at least has the merit of bringing to a close a lengthy and destructive debate that was rotting the watch world from the inside with its uncertainties – even if, as committed as we are to Basel, we mourn the loss of this century-old institution. The decision has been taken.
We must now prepare for the future. What accommodation will be made for independents, non-Swiss brands, or those that are geniuses of watchmaking but not of marketing? How many will have access to Palexpo? Everything is under construction, everything is under negotiation. There is a good chance that, beyond the official event, the alternative watchmaking scene will be lively in Geneva next year. Who will be the first to set up an exhibition for the “others”, the inevitable echo of the official event?
As in any transition, it’s not quite clear whether tears of sadness or tears of joy are in order.
As in any transition, it’s not quite clear whether tears of sadness or tears of joy are in order. We mourn those we have lost, and those we will lose. But a new field of exploration is opening up, one that will hopefully soothe the tormented souls of a world that is constantly oscillating between nostalgia and resilience.
Cover image: profile of MB&F’s HM6