In the watch industry there is a direct link between emotion and value. That link is invisible, vulnerable and dynamic and must be treated with the utmost care. If that emotion, the story of the maison, is no longer enthusiastically being told by enough passionate people the history that has been passed on for centuries without ever becoming boring will start to fade away.
No one takes a Patek Philippe Nautilus for sale on eBay for a few thousand euro seriously: it’s either fake or stolen. But economic bubbles are something we can only see afterwards. Strange, that. Year after year the Swiss watch industry has been realising record turnovers. The big groups took the lead and new, small watch brands followed in their wake and the prices went up and up. No one, including myself, noticed the fact that slowly but surely a bubble was being created that strongly resembled the Dutch tulip mania.
I apologise if you think you have recently read the headliner before. Maybe because you recently read an article or press review of the new Piaget Polo S. A new watch that is named precisely that: The Game Changer. But what is a game changer in the watch world? Well, Piaget calls their new Polo S a game changer. Not only because it is their first watch of steel in decades. But also because the Polo S is priced very compatible compared to…well, pretty much any watch from Piaget the last ten years or so.
I guess you have heard it already. The Swiss watch exports are suffering. Hong Kong and Macau are paralyzed and the Swiss manufacturers are stunned by export numbers that are as low as they were in midst of the financial crisis in 2009. The novelties on offer at Basel World 2016 did reflect on the slump and several of the luxury watch brands offered more steel watches that before.
Let’s go back to the late 1980s when Frenchman Alain Silberstein decides to give up his job as an interior designer to start his own watch brand together with his wife, Sylvie. Silberstein’s watches are like birds of paradise among sparrows. Primary colours and clear geometric shapes, that reflect some of the Bauhaus philosophy as well, are the foundation of his watches. In-your-face watches that you either love or hate.
Within the IWC brand - with a largely male-dominated customer base - there was some surprise at the success of the mid-sized Portofino model on its release. Women adored the watch, and sales climbed rapidly. This year was the turn of a mid-sized pilot's watch, the advertising video showing a professional female wrist in amongst the uniformed pilots. The brand’s conventional collections have featured many models with a very feminine design, which was carefully emphasized in their presentations.
With its Heuer-02T Tourbillon, TAG Heuer makes the statement that for many years now everyone has been paying far too much for a tourbillon - not that 40,000 euro is a sinecure - and that building such a complication isn't as hard as it is purported to be. TAG Heuer puts the tourbillon under bright fluorescents instead of giving it flattering atmospheric lighting and soon everyone will be awake; wide awake. And then? Then I want a minute repeater for under 10,000 euro
A paralysed Russian currency, record low oil prices and the endless wars in the Middle East. All this and other world problems seem to not really bother any of the watch brands presented on the luxurious Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. Champagne was poured, smiles were big and parties were held for the carefully selected members of the world press and retailers.
And suddenly there was the question that arose during a discussion with a befriended watch journalist. That intriguing thought and consideration: do you select a watch the same way you choose a life partner? That choice may be conscious or subconscious. It may be based on the head or the heart. In the blink of an eye or after careful deliberation, but the question remains the same.
Recently, it has been said and read that products that flash the makers' logo in big fonts and repeatedly on their products are facing a grim future. A new generation of influential shoppers seems to have had enough walking around like human billboards - which for certain brands sounds like bad news. But not for the makers of really iconic products. The Hermès Birken bag is easily recognized metres away, but would anyone recognise a Louis Vuitton bag without the LV-logos plastered all over it?