aving just emerged from a pandemic that put everyday life on hold for two years, the world has fallen back into its most destructive behaviour: conflict. One might have hoped that the lessons of a world united against a common enemy would prevail. In just a few weeks, this hope has been dashed. The strain is visible on everyone’s face. It’s as if the destructive energies contained by the pandemic had suddenly been released. Perhaps this two-year interlude, an unprecedented event in itself, was merely the calm before a much more violent storm.
We’re living in deeply worrying times. And, of course, we must put our own significance, and that of our industry, into perspective. The efforts to help victims of conflict are admirable. So are the appeals for unity. But one cannot help but feel a deep sense of powerlessness and despair in the face of the reopened fractures, the gaping wounds of a world brought face to face with the reality of deadly conflict, against a backdrop of nuclear threat and climate collapse.
Watchmaking finds its own grandeur in the measurement of time, in the stately countdown towards the end of a race that we know is lost in advance, but that we can at least try to make as beautiful as possible. But time seems to repeat itself. Two decades into the 21st century, it’s as if we have fallen back into the most worrying periods of the previous century.
It’s as if the destructive energies contained by the pandemic had suddenly been released. Perhaps this two-year interlude, an unprecedented event in itself, was merely the calm before a much more violent storm.
The watch industry thrives on the blurring of boundaries. The emergence of the “super-retailers” that are the subject of our new issue’s main feature is proof of this reality. The most agile among them have been able to bounce back by expanding outside their original markets. Take the major Hong Kong retailers, who have opened multiple points of sale in mainland China, even as the island has lost its status as an undisputed watchmaking hub.
Watchmaking professionals have always had to deal with geopolitical and economic uncertainty. Our own archives are full of such moments of crisis, when the industry wondered about its future. But the very nature of today’s challenges – pandemic, nuclear threat, climate disaster – gives a particularly bitter taste to our times. We are floored, incapacitated, as if someone had spiked our drink and plunged us into a nightmarish alternative reality.
Our own archives are full of such moments of crisis, when the industry wondered about its future. But the very nature of today’s challenges gives a particularly bitter taste to our times.
The watchmaking industry will have to reckon with new generations who are immersed in this paradoxical universe – in most cases spared immediate conflict but saturated with anxiety about the very future of the world. Perhaps this is why young people are increasingly taking refuge in nostalgia. The watch industry will also have to find ways of rekindling the spark of hope, to counter this everyday, intangible despair, which is as muted as background noise. Even the most affluent can’t escape, because even in the midst of privilege, pure enjoyment no longer provides the antidote to a deeper, more existential evil. Giving meaning and hope: this will undoubtedly be the most beautiful legacy we can leave to future generations.
Image: Henri Rousseau, La Guerre, 1894