hich standout events will be included in the two or three lines devoted to this specific watchmaking year, 100 years from now? In retro-futuristic exercises like this, I tend to focus on the major underlying trends, even if they are underpinned by concrete events.
The first would probably be Rolex’s reaffirmed leadership of the entire industry. Every industry needs a locomotive, and there’s no doubt which name is stencilled on the side of this particular engine. This applies both upstream (manufacturing) and downstream (communication and distribution). And it’s not just a matter of sales figures and profits – it’s about its leading position in the industry as a whole.
Whether in terms of distribution, with the purchase of Bucherer, of event management, with its presidency of Watches and Wonders, or manufacturing, with the emergence of movement maker Kenissi – wherever you look in the watch industry, Rolex has placed itself in a position of strategic importance. And a strategic position is also a position of responsibility within the ecosystem.
Another observation, as the watchmaking year draws to a close, is that, after a period of euphoria, clouds are gathering over the auction sector. Transparency has proved lacking, and the scent of hubris is in the air – no surprise where runaway success meets eye-watering sums of money. As the tide begins to turn in the secondary market, we probably haven’t heard the last of the crises and scandals.
It all began when revelations surfaced around a 1957 Speedmaster sold by Phillips and bought by Omega for a record sum (over 3 million francs), which subsequently turned out to be a “Frankenwatch”. Investigations are ongoing. Another cataclysm hit the hushed world of high-end watch sales: this year’s Only Watch charity auction organised by Christie’s (which set the record for the most expensive watch in history, when the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime in steel went under the hammer for 31 million francs) was cancelled after questions were asked over the organisation’s financial management. The jury is still out. And finally, the year ended with the horological treasures belonging to a collector being sold off in a confusing last-minute rush. That’s quite enough for one year.
But there’s one important thing to remember. Behind all these incidents lies the power of social networks, which are very good at ganging up on people and entities that have hitherto been happy to remain in the shadows, and hauling them out into the light. This could also be described as an underlying trend, one that is not without its own risks and excesses, albeit of a different nature!