e’ve probably never dreamed of the ’70s so much. Who would have thought it? When the internet arrived in the watchmaking world and began to overturn its distribution chain, coinciding with the sudden arrival of the connected Apple Watch, one could have been forgiven for assuming that its effect would be primarily disruptive.
However, the opposite phenomenon occurred simultaneously: a thorough “revaluation” of a more distant watchmaking heritage. Young people with dreams of vintage chic resurrected from the dungeons of history watches that were hitherto sleeping the sleep of the just. Is it simply nostalgia?
Probably in part, because in this age of “short time”, where absolutely every facet of everyday life is accelerated, “long time” is a dream. Give man what he wants and he will always turn to its opposite!
But that’s not all. It’s also a technological phenomenon, because the web has unlocked the most incredible surge of knowledge in the history of humanity. This also, of course, concerns watchmaking, which has made time its industry. Archives have been opened, specialised sites have multiplied, sales platforms dedicated to vintage and pre-owned watches have emerged, and every year sees new records set at auction. Watchmaking’s heritage, which used to be so difficult to research, locked up as it was in dusty libraries and chilly basements, has emerged from its icy tomb, revived by the heat of electronic networks!
The web has unlocked the most incredible surge of knowledge in the history of humanity. This also, of course, concerns watchmaking, which has made time its industry.
The digital fate of vintage brands
Brands understand the benefits they can derive from this well-informed “back to basics” wave. Hence the multiplication of vintage models and reissues we have seen over the past two years at watch fairs. Brands such as Rolex or Patek Philippe, which have always been prized at auction, are less affected by this exercise, since their entire history has been based on consolidating their heritage with as few breaks as possible. Collectors have consequently been more than happy with these developments.
Watchmaking’s heritage, which used to be so difficult to research, locked up as it was in dusty libraries and chilly basements, has emerged from its icy tomb, revived by the heat of electronic networks!
Companies that do not have this opportunity, or which lack the wisdom to take it, perhaps penalised by strategic zig-zags and changes of ownership or management, must endure a counter-revolution that takes the form of re-evaluating their past – which can lead to semantic exaggeration and historical shortcuts.
And brands that have no pedigree, such as those launched almost daily on Kickstarter by budding entrepreneurs, take up the aesthetic codes of yesteryear and invent a historical narrative based on a watch bequeathed by someone’s grandfather. Anything goes, as long as it hints at a long watchmaking history!
We should also mention here the pure and simple rebirth of some of the wonderful brands of the past, as well as the still sleeping beauties like Universal Genève, which are being sought out on sales platforms and auctions and giving sweet dreams to aficionados. These brands may not yet have any new collections, but they already have a community, and without any marketing at all!
Omega to alpha
Generally speaking, the information revolution engendered by the internet (which may yet translate into a sales revolution) is a bonus for the best-established houses in the marketplace, those with the richest heritage, which have retained some kind of historical coherence. One brand that is rapidly climbing the vintage rankings, and which has clearly understood this phenomenon, is Omega. Last year, its 1957 Trilogy (Seamaster 300, Railmaster and Speedmaster) set the tone. A more recent initiative gives new life to calibres dating back to 1913!
On the face of it, these old models have greater powers of seduction with new customers than James Bond himself. Incidentally, the latest opus of the 007 franchise revived the superb 1963 Aston Martin DB5 – yet another sign of the times. Clearly, it was unthinkable to destroy such a beautiful object for the needs of the Skyfall movie (illustrating how spectators can instantly pass from ecstasy to fear!): a Porsche 928 finally did the trick.
The information revolution engendered by the internet (which may yet translate into a sales revolution) is a bonus for the best-established houses in the marketplace.
But perhaps the most striking illustration of how to successfully navigate between “short time” and “long time” is Omega’s second Speedy Tuesday operation. Finely orchestrated on Instagram, it featured 2,012 pieces of a 42 mm watch inspired by the Speedmaster worn in the early 1970s in the Japanese Ultraman saga (one of the most famous examples of the “kaiju” or “giant monster” genre), featuring a bright orange seconds hand.
Combining a vintage reissue with the current fashion for superheroes on large and small screens (Netflix has announced the relaunch of an Ultraman animated series) means guaranteed success with all those overgrown social-networked teenagers who are watch aficionados! The 2,012 limited edition watches went on sale for CHF 6,350 on Tuesday July 10th at noon on the brand’s Instagram account; they all sold out in exactly 1 hour, 53 minutes and 17 seconds (we expected no less in terms of precision from an Olympic timekeeper!). That’s nearly 13 million francs in sales, in less than two hours...
It should be noted that the Speedy Tuesday concept was launched in 2012 by the Fratello Watches collectors’ website, first as a hashtag on Facebook and then as a forum for Omega and Speedmaster enthusiasts. It’s interesting that this idea has developed organically from a community of aficionados, brought together through the internet around a watch with venerable origins. Originally, the brand itself was not involved in the Speedy Tuesday events, which shows the power of networks (and people) to create independent, original initiatives in the vintage niche.
The two Bell & Ross accounts
Another more recent brand has also adopted a very interesting approach to the use of social networks: Bell & Ross. The Franco-Swiss house, founded in 1992, has two Instagram accounts. One – bellrosswatches – is for “short time”. It’s the most popular, and also the most classic, with fast, heterogeneous and continuous posts on new releases, at the blistering rate imposed by the social network. The other, bellross_chronology, is more surprising. This one is for the “long time”, with a very limited number of visuals, organised in a chronological and ultra-methodical way. A way of slowing the flow of time, perhaps...
“This second account is a bit like the anti-Instagram,” Carlos A. Rosillo, co-founder of Bell & Ross, explained at a recent meet-up in Paris. “It’s based on the concept of sustainability; it goes against the diktat of instantaneity that we see everywhere. We’re reintroducing the concept of memory to a network that tends to forget everything. The concept of ‘curator’ is also very strong on this account.”
Is it not precisely this delicate balance that human beings seek today, between a daily tide of demands and notifications, and their inalienable will to rise above their human condition, and their fate as homo digitalis?
So we have two accounts and two approaches, to avoid descending into schizophrenia. Because it’s easy to get lost between long time and short time, there’s a constantly updated, frenetic, regular account – and an account based on what we want to bequeath to the future: sustainability and memory. Is it not precisely this delicate balance that human beings seek today – between a daily tide of demands and notifications, and their inalienable will to rise above their human condition, and their fate as homo digitalis?
Pictures Ultraman Character ©Tsuburaya Productions
Europa Star is in the process of digitising its rich archive stretching back over 90 years (the company was founded in 1927). Soon to be online, as well as in our November 2018 edition dedicated to Heritage.