What am I talking about? About the state of our planet, obviously. About the health of our only home, which is threatened by accelerating destruction, and the spectre of tragedy and catastrophe on an unprecedented scale. It’s five minutes to midnight, and we have very little time left to try to turn back the clock, to put an end to the hubris of our voraciously destructive civilisation, recklessly eating away at the branch on which it stupidly thought it would sit forever.
Only a complete recalibration of our way of life, our behaviour, of our vast appetite to consume, and our limitless regard for our own comfort, can perhaps spare us the worst. The impression that it’s five minutes to midnight affects every aspect of our present existence: democracy is being eroded by increasing inequality; economic growth is being pursued with blind, disconnected greed; society is being torn apart by individualism; technology is freewheeling towards dehumanisation; democracy is losing its vitality and entire species are collapsing.
And within this depressing picture, or own little corner, watchmaking, is no exception. For us too, it’s five minutes to midnight. I’m not talking about environmental catastrophe, but a series of disruptions that are upending virtually all the parameters on which the model has functioned for a good thirty years or so, since the renaissance of mechanical watchmaking.
These disruptions are visible in the product itself – with the arrival of the smartwatch, which has upset the status quo in the entry-level and mid-range; sociological change and altered consumption patterns – with millennials who prefer vintage and pre-owned; retail – with global e-commerce; market changes – with the slowdown in China; a kind of creative exhaustion in the mid-range; and growing polarisation between the high-end and the rest. And that’s not even beginning to consider the wave of Kickstarter brands that have come out of nowhere to nibble away at precious market share. In our special issue of Europa Star devoted to the future of watchmaking #5/19, we look at all these problems and obstacles in detail, through interviews with many of the people most closely affected, from brand CEOs to retailers and analysts. But, as with our planet, so for watchmaking: the very worst thing we can do is to do nothing, to bury our heads in the sand and wait (in vain) for everything to blow over. In the face of mounting threats and a growing need for transformation, fear is a poor counsellor. What we need to take back control is imagination.
It’s five minutes to midnight. When midnight strikes, it’s either party time, or... catastrophe.