Watchmaking and the pandemic: #Resilience

The watch industry’s mirror


June 2020

The watch industry's mirror

Let’s be honest: in the ocean of economic, social and societal catastrophes, watchmaking is no more than a drop of water. But drops of water become rivers, and many things are reflected in this horological drop of water. The watch industry has always held up a mirror to the society that surrounds it, and in which it measures out its cycles of prosperity and decline. But one thing is certain: it can’t thrive in lockdown.


atchmaking is a social phenomenon. That’s how it started. Originally, clocks were used to remind monks to wake up for their nocturnal prayers. Thereafter, they were prized by royalty, who fought the Church for the right to say what time it was. Subsequently, with the industrial revolution, they became a favourite tool of the factory foreman, helping to structure, regulate and standardise the working day and its permitted breaks. Clocks were vital to scientists. They allowed the first trains to run, thus becoming an instrument of conquest, exploration and adventure.

And then, little by little, the timepiece in its original mechanical form lost the utilitarian importance that used to be its central attribute, and became a status symbol, a fashion accessory, a trend, sometimes even an investment. For anyone today who needs to know the exact time, the traditional watch has simply become obsolete. These days, it’s fair to say that watchmaking is purely ornamental. But it’s also a reservoir of expertise.

“All we can tell you is that winding the crown of a mechanical watch is like lighting a wood fire. It’s a small thing, but so very reassuring.”

However hard the industry tries to innovate and overcome its own limitations, the mechanical watch remains a luxury object, regardless of whether its price is modest or astronomical. And yet... As we said earlier, even so, it remains a mirror.

What will this mirror reflect back, as we emerge from the historic crisis that has so profoundly affected us all? Will its status change? Will the watch become an accessory of times gone by, a thing of pure nostalgia? Or will it become a way of affirming that the time for acceleration is past, that all those instantaneous flows and exchanges were leading us straight into a brick wall? A brick wall against which time itself is shattered and dislocated.

Wearing a mechanical watch is not an act of disconnection, but one of connection – connection to values other than the intrinsically ephemeral dictates of so-called “real” time. Wearing a mechanical watch, or an ornamental watch, could be seen as a statement that we do value time.

It is so precious; it is our only real luxury; and to hold on to it we must stop trying to measure each fraction of a second. We have to tune into its regular, but by their very nature imperfect, beats. No one has any idea how all this will turn out, and all the self-proclaimed prophets of business as usual or radical transformation know no better than anyone else.

All we can tell you is that winding the crown of a mechanical watch is like lighting a wood fire. It’s a small thing, but so very reassuring.

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