My take: What does your watch say about you?

It is argued by some that a watch- like many other accessories- is a window into a person’s personality. As a result, you can supposedly tell a lot about a man by the timepiece on his wrist.

For the sake of acknowledging an argument and providing evidence, I’m going to present a few examples of the so-called “character traits” associated with certain brands that I’ve come across over my short years:

  • Rolex:This is perhaps the most well-known of the brand traits. Rolex is the label associated with someone who has done well for themselves in life. The personification of the phrase: “made it”. Wearing a Rolex says that you’re able to afford nice things, and that you always know what you’re getting out of life. A Rolex wearer probably drives a Jaguar or Mercedes and drinks expensive liqueurs with their buddies at the country club.
  • Patek Philippe:Regarded as the ‘crème de la crème’ of the world of watches. The Patek wearer is at the top of the economic food chain. They don’t associate themselves with the typical bourgeois; oh no – they’re much classier than that. Their income doesn’t come from running a small successful business, but more along the lines of being a financial advisor to the Rothschild family. This is your top investment banker or hedge fund manager. A Patek wearer has Warren Buffet’s number on speed dial and spends their evening dinners discussing important political affairs and trade deals whilst drinking fine wines with names I can’t even pronounce.
  • Hublot:The Hublot wearer is a young fashionable upstart; everyone knows they’re a party animal. They have more money than sense, and use it to buy extravagant brand name clothing and drive cars faster than the sound barrier. Their Instagram profiles are full of selfies with celebrities and pictures of nights out at the world’s most exclusive clubs. A group of them in a room have a combined IQ less than a walnut.
  • Casio and Seiko:Plebs that aren’t worth the time of day to talk about.

 

I’m going to say that the above points are amusing to read and will admit to using a few of them as jokes in conversation with friends. If I wanted to, I could dedicate a paragraph each to about 20 more brands, but that isn’t the point. You’ll find variants of the above examples dotted over the place with semantics being argued upon depending on who you ask. However, it has to be pointed out that such examples of views are one sided and are inadequate as a result; especially if you want a generic ‘rule of thumb’ explanation to explain a person’s conduct. They paint a behaviouristic image of people and claim the relationship with their watches being nothing more than a preconditioned response to practical circumstances. Marketing teams of top watch labels absolutely love this as it makes for easy pickings when it comes to promoting a product to a target audience. In fact, branding is the largest contributor to the misconceptions of character and wearing watches. One of the most familiar taglines in the luxury industry is owned by none other than Patek Philippe:

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Examples of advertising shown in the Patek Philippe international magazines. (As a side-note, I’ll admit that the magazines are actually quite good, with a lot of interesting and well crafted content. I very rarely ever hold onto reading material, but Patek leaves room for an exception) 

“You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.”

The tagline is part of a 15 year old campaign that sought to brand the ownership of a Patek as a something that gives birth to a legacy. Let’s not kid ourselves over the fact that the whole marketing campaign was designed to get middle aged executives frothing at the mouth and hot under the collar. It suggests the idea of buying into a product is suddenly worth a lot more, as it somehow paves a legacy for the next of kin. The aforementioned stereotype of a Patek owner being at the top of society becomes something more intrinsic, something more achievable, and something that can be passed down the family. It sounds baffling to some people, but boy does it work.

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I sent a friend of mine a few quotes from the draft of this article to see what kind of imagery stirred in his mind. This is what he thought a Patek wearer was (having never heard of the brand prior). Copyright-Watchrant

 

 

I accept that watches can be mediums of vested interests and personal ambition and that yes, they do-to an extent-shape material life. But there’s so much more to human nature than plotting a linear graph and seeing where the piece of metal on your wrist puts you on the spectrum. Correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Take the tropes about Tag-Heuer as an example. It’s easy to look at someone wearing a Tag-Heuer and call them “unsophisticated” or an individual who doesn’t know anything about horology. What’s to say that all a Tag owner wants is a sturdy, not particularly expensive and nice looking watch that accurately tells the time? Some of the people dearest to me wear very simple and cheap watches that you can source from an Argos catalogue. There’s no basis to judge them at all.

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A simple Instagram search on the phrase “Luxury watch life” demonstrates the nature of what i’m talking about in terms of ‘vested interests’. These posts are usually paired with motivational quotes and the likes thereof.

 

 

I can sing the same song about people who wear Vacheron Constantin, IWC or any other high-end brand. I’ve met some incredibly obnoxious and self centred individuals with high-end timepieces on their wrist and never once have I stopped and thought “I must be doing something wrong, and perceiving this person the wrong way. The fact that they’re wearing an *insert brand* on their wrist must mean that my perceived rudeness of their actions is false”. It sounds stupid once you put it into writing, and that’s because it is. (I’m going to admit that in reality my thought processes consist of a lot more expletives and graphic imagery)

Take a moment to notice how I chose to start the article by focussing on what a watch says about a “man”. If you were to search up the article tagline on Google then you’ll see that pretty much all of them talk about watches describing the personality of men. It isolates watches (The vessels in which horology is embodied) as tools only for males. I don’t want to come across as someone spouting “leftie” political views on a blog about watches but there is a point that needs to be made. What you have on your wrist doesn’t define your character, and shouldn’t therefore make you question your masculinity. A person should be able to wear whatever they want without the fear of being shunned. You could bump into any odd individual and it would be a poor judgement of character/decision to appropriate them by what they have on their wrist. In the end a watch makes no difference. Let’s celebrate the fact that people wear watches for any odd reason, whether it is for function, aesthetics or pursuing a hobby. Nothing productive is achieved from alienation.

To conclude, I’ll leave some parting words:

“If you are a degenerate prick, you are a degenerate prick. If you have a nice watch then it makes you a degenerate prick with a nice watch. The watch didn’t change anything.”
– ShameonWrist

My take: #makeswissmadegreatagain

My take: #makeswissmadegreatagain

To anyone who’s been remotely following the world of Swiss watches, you’ll be somewhat aware of recent predicaments surrounding the industry. To cut things short, the largest topic of interest (at least viewed by some) follows recent changes to Swiss law that make it so that any product labeled “Swiss Made” should have at least 60% of its component origins sourced from Switzerland to qualify for legitimately using the label.

Now, many of the major horology commentators have made a remark in terms of why this causes an impact to the Swiss watch industry. I made an attempt in covering this through my Code41 watches article. Following said news and sudden awareness of the semantics of “Swiss Made”, many watch labels have gone about to defend their position surrounding the matter. As it stands, there is a bubble forming where brand identity and marketing is in jeopardy.
Despite all this, one brand has taken this ordeal as an opportunity to set themselves apart and burst the bubble of identity crisis.

The brand in question as some of you will already be aware, is Moser & Cie.
In a dense competitive industry where a lot of criticisms surrounding lack of innovation and gimmicky ploys are rife; Moser is one of the very few determined to stand out by making provocative statements through outlandish stunts.

Last year, the brand threw a few humorous jabs at the industry by releasing their Swiss Alp watch. This was in retaliation to growing fears that smartwatches will somehow threaten the traditional watch industry. The humour came from the watch case bearing similarity to a “certain popular smartwatch”, yet contained a custom crafted in-house movement, along with Moser’s signature fume dial. The move was received with a combination of criticism, praise and outrage. Many failed to see the satire in that the Alp watch was supposed to be the antithesis of the general perception of a “Smartwatch”. Moser used the piece as a flagship figurehead to make a statement about the brand’s values and identity.

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The “Swiss Alp” watch is now in its 2nd generation, the “Alp S”  bearing a distinct resemblance to an unnamed smartwatch. Photo credit, The Watchrant

Continuing their plight of being provocative, Moser later announced that it would be completely removing any designation of “Swiss Made” on all of their timepieces. This was an act of protest claiming that despite the steepness of regulations increasing, the laws are still too lax to hold any meaningful value. They did however; announce that they’ll be unveiling what they claim to be the “most Swiss watch ever created” which was headed with their #makeswissmadegreatagain campaign.

 

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Inititial teasers began in December

With initial teasers popping up on social media from early December, I was among many others who kept a close watch on developments in anticipation of what Moser would bring to the table. Following a month of snippets in the form Instagram teasers, Moser finally unveiled what they had to bring to the table:

 

A $1million watch made of Swiss cheese.

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The now infamous/famous (Choose your words) Moser “Swiss Mad” timepiece. Photo credit, Moser & Cie

To be more specific: The piece, titled “Swiss Mad” has a composite case consisting Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese (Which I understand is sourced from the Village Moser’s CEO, Edouard Meylan comes from) and some high tech fancy resins. It’s paired with their in-house calibre HMC 327, along with Moser’s signature fume dial: this time in deep red with white indexes at the quarter hour markers, which is intentioned to resemble the Swiss flag. The watch also drives the dairy theme up a notch, with a cowhide strap. I’ll take a moment of remembrance to honour the sacrifice of Marguerite the cow: your legacy will continue for generations to come.

With all of this in mind and bearing the title of this article, what do I think of all this?

I think it’s bloody brilliant. Never have I been so impressed and amused with any such campaign in my short time as a horologist. Moser in this case has ticked all the boxes for me, with little for me to think about in terms of areas to improve. Before I get criticised for kissing up to Moser a little too much, let me explain what I mean:

Breaking down the concept (At least how I see it):

The topic of marketing is one of my biggest gripes in the world of horology, especially in the realm of luxury watches. I know that many will agree with me in saying the current genre of marketing in the luxury watch industry has become repetitive and unoriginal.  I’ll cover the details of this in an upcoming article, but for now you’ll have to bear with me in filling gaps. The word “unoriginal” is key here, as it correlates strongly with the conservative nature of the luxury watch industry. What Moser has done; is marketing done right. They’ve dismissed traditional conventions of conservative marketing by using a combination of satire, humour and sarcasm. This is perhaps one of the biggest feats Moser could ever do, in terms of establishing itself as a brand ready to take on the 21st century.

The tagline #makeswissmadegreatagain is a very clever play on political pop culture. Some will argue that the choice of tagline is an unimpressive and lazy manoeuvre by the brand. I think otherwise. Thanks to the recent endeavours of a certain tanned skin President elect, almost every person not living under a rock can identify with the origins of the term. Moser has taken the main plight of their campaign and synced it with one of the most identifiable slogans in modern history. I see this action as a bit of a ‘tongue in cheek’ ploy to satirise how some people are hung up over how certain things are labelled. Moser also released an ad, which managed to effectively wield humour as a means of attracting attention. In the ad, Moser poked fun around the whole idea of how ridiculously inflated the term “Swiss Made” is. An opening remark of Switzerland being an island “surrounded by Europe” is an example of this. Whilst the ad may be distasteful to some, you have to credit Moser for not taking themselves too seriously.

I’ll move on to the flagship of the campaign: The “Swiss Mad” watch. The name is an amusing play on words and anticipates the reaction of an onlooker and further drives home the idea of being ‘tongue in cheek’.  The material of choice can perhaps be simply seen as homage to a Swiss national icon, but also a nod to how “cheesy” it has become to rely on Swiss labelling as a sign of quality. I pointed this out in my Code41 article, how the term “Swiss Made” has been exploited and doesn’t really hold much water. The pricing of the watch has been subject to a lot of criticism, as it is seems to cast a shadow on all the other things Moser has done. The actual sum, which totals to 1,081,291 CHF is a reference to the founding date of Switzerland. Moser has announced that the proceeds of the watch will help finance a foundation to assists independent watchmakers. The pricing can also be seen as a way of how stupidly (Note my choice of words) inflated some “Swiss Made” watches can be. I’m going to go out on a limb say that the one-off piece solely exists to make a statement, and the concerns of selling it aren’t primary. If they do make a sale, it’ll probably be by someone who strongly supports the cause of independent watchmaking. In case cheese isn’t to your liking, Moser has released a more toned down version of the watch, called the “Venturer Swiss Mad” and will be priced at $21,500, which is in line with their other timepieces.

Overall, I’m very impressed with what Moser has done. Some will outright dismiss the above interpretations, and that’s fine. I don’t think Moser needs to worry too much about how they tread forward with this. Moser takes pride in their small volume production, and their client base sympathises with the ethos of the label, putting a lot of trust in what they do. Sure, Moser can’t be labelled as an outright Samaritan as they have a lot to gain from this, but that’s beyond the point. They’ve put their reputation on the line via a complex campaign strategy, the outcome of which has been executed wonderfully. A much needed change of pace has been introduced, freshening things up tremendously. Any brand willing to shake the roots of an industry through innovation gets my support. And with that, I say kudos to Moser.

Could this be an opportunity to disrupt the watch industry?

Could this be an opportunity to disrupt the watch industry?

 

CODE41 is a startup initiative that aims to shake up the watch industry with brute transparency

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As of current, the Swiss watch industry is all over the place. What we have is a heavily saturated market that’s having to cope with fluctuating currency, weakened overseas demand, criticisms over lack of innovation and trying to adapt to new technology trends. You would think then, that there isn’t room for any new troubles?

It appears that one particular brand isn’t going to let the Swiss watch industry get off lightly. The folks threatening to interfere with the ‘status quo’- Code41, plan to unmask the elements which certain parts of the Swiss watch industry isn’t really keen on sharing.

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The emphasis of transparency

Think of the last time you saw a “Swiss Made” written on something. I’m sure you acknowledged it as a mark of precision and high quality associated with some of the world’s most premier brands. That’s pretty fair. You might also think that the product was made entirely in Switzerland. That’s also pretty fair; but there is an off-chance that you could be wrong.

In reality, the use of “Swiss Made” to describe the origin of a product is regulated by the Swiss government. There are two sections in Swiss law which dictate how the term can be used, with one of the laws referencing Swiss watches directly. To save you reading through legislature, the current principle of a Swiss watch is as follows:

  • The movement is of Swiss origin
  • The movement is cased in Switzerland
  • The manufacturer carries out the watch’s final inspection in Switzerland
  • A movement is Swiss if at least 50% of its value (not including cost of assembly) was realised in Switzerland AND if it has been assembled and “inspected” by the manufacturer in Switzerland.
  • The watch must be fully assembled in Switzerland

 

There are a few semantics regarding this:
The extent to which a watch is actually “Swiss Made” varies greatly from each individual watch manufacturer. The point of interest (as shown above) is that the component origins of a Swiss Made watch need to be at least  50% to be able to legally use the term. The case, dial and strap can be sourced abroad. I’ll quickly mention that as of 2017, this will be increased to 60%, and will encompass the Case, movement and strap. The movement will still have to be completely “Swiss”

The Code41 project aims to change this with transparency. Run by a trio of designers by a small design studio called Cosanova design. The firm has spent over a decade designing watches for the likes of Tag Heuer, Parmigiani Fleurier and Montblanc. Their concept is being called “TTO”: Total Transparency of Origin. The company will not only let clients know where the watch parts have come from, but also how much they cost to make, and how it differs from the retail price.

I spoke to founder Claudio D’Amore, who explained his approach to the whole thing:

“I always wanted to start a watch brand and at the beginning of this year I thought “why not?”. When we first started, we knew we didn’t want to be like all the other brands in a similar situation. We thought about going the Swiss made route, only to quickly realise what a big joke it was. We didn’t want to be part of that”

Claudio was very vocal about how even the most renowned luxury brands would simply multiply their cost of production up to tenfold. He added however, that the retail for Code41’s watches would be 3.5 times the cost of production (with some subsidies for kickstarter supporters). Claudio explained that the pricing strategy was feasible as the brand would not operate through traditional distributors and retailers. The watches would be available online and then delivered by an eCommerce partner. The company has designed and developed its first model, from the suggestions of up to 10,000 registered users and has raised over 300,000CHF since their campaign launch. The first watches are to be delivered sometime in June

“What we are offering is complete transparency and letting the clients know exactly what they are part of.  It’s not like we’ve come up with a brand new concept of horology in terms of movement, we are watch designers who are offering a watch with a great design. Our story is what gets us support from the community”

 

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The watch will feature a Japanese Miyota mechanical movement and will be assembled in China, using Chinese made components. An option of various straps and bracelets will be made available upon order. Pictures with permission from Code41.

My take:

Having looked into the brand and spoken directly to the people behind it, I have to say the prospect at hand is very interesting. Here we have a brand that is willing to share just exactly what goes on behind the scenes of producing their watch.

It has to be said that the idea of letting the clients know price margins of a product can be called “unconventional”. As pointed out, a lot of big labels would rather have it that their customers don’t know the margin between cost of production and final retail. That being noted, the concept of pricing is relative and choosing prices will determine your customers. There will always be a market for people spending exorbitant amounts of money, and luxury brands exist to fill that gap. Customers will always create a mental hierarchy when presented with various price ranges. In the case for Code41, I think this will play as a strength. The brand is unapologetic about it’s use of Chinese components. Such examples of the “no frills” and honest nature, gives the brand a strong sense of integrity. It is the retailer’s job to both set the price and convince the customer. Code41 claim that they can compare quality of production of their piece, with a watch priced at around the $2000-$3000USD mark. That competes with quite a few entry level watch labels.  The fact that Code41 will provide all the details of how much their watch actually costs to produce, will most likely lead to heightened buyer confidence. Their Thousands of supporters is a testament to this.

The aforementioned supporters will be crucial in this, as Code41 won’t exactly be making any industry friends with their outspoken views about pricing and origin of components. That being said, the larger Swiss labels won’t really have anything to worry about. Brands that go nearer to the five figure price range are in a different tier entirely; in terms of history, marketing, distribution and quality of production. Code41’s pieces will be competing with entry level watch brands, and so that’s where the pressure will be. The “origin of source” concept is where this pressure will come from. An example that a friend mentioned to me, is that there are a lot of watch startup companies in Asia. Quite a few of them are from common manufacturers in the far East. Some of these brands have been fiddling around with legal loopholes, allowing them to market watches as “Swiss Made”. The watches produced by said brands tend to be made with lower standards than legitimate “Swiss Made” timepieces. The issue is that they then have the nerve to charge a luxury price for them. In other words, newer companies with no track record of success are solely relying on the status that Swiss watch companies have built and earned over the past 300 years.

Personally, I welcome the idea of bringing something fresh to the table.  As shown in the dying retail industry of Asia, customers no longer want ‘face on’ value, but are looking for something more “genuine”. There are already labels that cater to this: offering a healthy ratio of quality and price. In terms of horological value, they won’t be turning heads. Their price range roots them at the very entry level of the horology world. What Code41 has however, is a branding concept that’s new. It’s a concept that appeals to many people, which is important. It’s too early however, to say if that will represent any actual value, but I have to give the brand credit for trying. They’ve built themselves up as a sort of ‘Horological political pressure group’ in the watch industry. I absolutely love that. They may not cause the level of disruption they advertised, but they’ll certainly ruffle feathers. By raising awareness, companies might have to reconsider using the term “Swiss Made” on their watches. That’s quite a way to make an entrance into the watch scene. I’m looking quite forward to seeing what they have to offer.

You can check out their campaign here.

Quick comments: Fidel Castro

Quick comments: Fidel Castro

On November 25 2016, Cuban state television announced to the rest of the world that; former politician and revolutionary, Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90. I’m going to quickly say that I acknowledge my words are treading thin ice, but I’m going to say that describing Castro any further without stirring sentiments to either his critics or worshippers, is an impossible task.

I do my best to keep this blog free from any talk about politics or any current affairs relating to such. However, if said current affair can be interlinked with the world of horology, then an exception can be made. This is one of those exceptions.

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Castro Visiting the United States Source

 

It’s fair to say that the infamous/famous [choose your word] Cuban ‘politician’ has quite a portfolio to his name.
These merely include being the thorn in the backside of 11 US presidents, bringing the conflict of the Cold War to the far Western hemisphere (briefly causing the world to contemplate the brink of a thermonuclear war, mind you) and serving as Cuba’s absolute leader for 50 years.
I’m going to add an additional, lesser known note to his profile: He was also one of the most significant figures in the history of horology.

There are two habits of Castro that have been noted down by historians. The First was his passion for smoking fat Cigars, and the Second was often wearing 2 watches on the same wrist. The watches in question happened to be Rolexes.

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Castro with dual Rolexes on his wrist Source

In all honesty, there aren’t any definitive sources to explain why he did this. The most common and plausible explanation for him doing this, was to be able to view multiple time zones at the same time. One of his pieces was a GMT, the other one a Submariner. It is often said that the watches were set to local time in Havana, Moscow and Washington. (As an additional side note, Washington D.C. and Havana are currently part of the the same time zone (UTC -5), but between the years 1960 and 1964 Havana used the time zone UTC -4) Source

 

“How is a communist leader able to put one of the world’s most iconic luxury brands on his wrist?”

Now, those who are up to date with their history might pick up on this supposed discrepancy. It doesn’t get much more ‘bourgeoisie’ than wearing a watch that most common people wouldn’t be able to dream about affording. It incites the infamous phrase: “Capitalism for the bosses, communism for the masses”.
Well, that’s what you’d believe at first: wearing a Rolex is the symbol of hypocrisy for Castro. Or is it? This is where it gets interesting; you’ll need a bit more context before jumping to conclusions.

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Castro and Pope John II. Copyright Reuters

 

 

There have been obscure claims that the watches worn by Castro were looted from jewellers, or confiscated from political opponents. Others have said that the watches are mere counterfeits. These claims are somewhat dubious and I will dismiss them for the reasons I will outline in the next paragraph.

In terms of current image and reputation, associating oneself with the name “Rolex” draws imagery of wealth, success and personal accomplishment. This wasn’t the case during the peak of Castro’s reign. Throughout the lifespan of the brand, Rolex has always been known to produce high accuracy timekeeping devices. It has to be noted however, that the watches coming out of the Rolex factory were historically viewed (at best) as high-end tool watches, rather than the prized luxury items they are seen as today Source. I have to say that Rolex watches have never been considered “cheap” by any standards. They did however; occupy what can be described as a much more “accessible” price range. To give you an idea of what i’m talking about, a Stainless Submariner Date (1680/16610) retailed for $180 in 1957 Source. Adjusting for inflation, that would only be equal to roughly $1,600 today. To put that into modern perspective, a brand-new, stainless steel Submariner Date now costs $7100 (A rough average given the various models and demand). Simply put, it would have been a lot more feasible for the common working man to have a Rolex on their wrist during the 60’s, than today.

 

 

Another fact I’ll point out is that having a precise timepiece (Especially in the era before quartz watches) was a necessary piece of equipment for field commanders. Worn by personnel from every continent, an accurate watch was crucial for coordinating and synchronising military operations. Castro would often gift a Rolex timepiece to his advisors and close friends. It is said that fellow revolutionary, Che Guevara received at least two different Rolex watches from Castro during the late 1950’s and 1960’s (The story behind that will be mentioned in a future article)
Just to further ‘hit home’ the scale Rolex and communist relations, the father of the Communist Party in China Chairman Mao Zedong , owned two yellow gold Rolex Datejust watches as did Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
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Taken on the 27th of April in 1963. Here Fidel Castro is seen smoking a Cuban cigar and wearing two Rolex watches in the Kremlin while he chats with Khrushchev, in front of a Karl Marx picture. There are a lot of fascinating elements to this picture. The point of interest is everyone smiling and looking at Castro smoking a cigar. The watches are a nonchalant accessory. Having briefly studied history at UNDERGRADUATE level, I have to appreciate how images like this would have either been censored or outright banned to the public. Source

 

The death of Castro will stir up emotions for countless people. This article was not intended to be insensitive to said people. Being a politics student, this news entails an abundant amount of things. But as a horologist, the reason this topic interests me so much, is that this is a testament to how deep horology is ingrained in our history. To think that some of the most interesting and unexpected figures throughout time have chosen to wear a particular watch on their wrist, and uncovering the reason why is incredibly fascinating.

 

 

 

 

Quick comments: Phillips auction 2016. An unexpected head turner

Quick comments: Phillips auction 2016. An unexpected head turner

I very rarely ever talk about the world of watch auctions. I frankly have no interest in that area. Upon hearing the words “watch auction”, my mind draws an image of middle aged men frothing at the mouth, itching to raise their hands in response to the garble of steadily increasing numbers being spewed by the auctioneer. That’s my own thought on the matter, and I usually leave it at that.

However, it appears that every now and then, something will turn up in the watch enthusiast circles that’ll start causing a bit of a stir. In this case, it was the news that the Phillips auction house would be putting on offer, a trio of Patek Philippe ref. 1518 with their ‘flavours’ being: Yellow Gold, Pink Gold and Stainless Steel. The famous Aurel Bacs would be the one putting the pieces on the block.
In reflection, seeing a bunch of well mannered professional adults turn into a bunch of excitable school children made me quite curious to find out what the fuss was about. I’m still very new to this game, and can barely scratch the surface of the vintage watch world. I’ll try and attempt a summary.

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The Patek Philippe ref. 1518. Copyright Phillips

With these pieces in particular, I understand that they all house the handwound calibre 13’’’130Q which features a chronograph with column wheel and a perpetual calendar. This already raises my interest, given my love for perpetual calendars. They’re actually the first perpetual calendar chronographs to be made in series, putting the family of watches at the apex of desirability.
The movement is housed in a 35mm diameter case and except the ‘flavour’, you can hardly tell the difference between them, being that they look so similar. The steel example supposedly stands out because it has “Patek Philippe & Co Genève” on the dial, instead of “Patek Philippe Genève” like its gold counterparts. (I have no idea what the significance is). That, and it’s one of only 4 known models to exist.
What’s the point of me telling you this? Well it just happens to be that the hammer for the stainless steel model dropped at the insane sum of 9.6 Million CHF, or 7.7 Million GBP. If you want to include the buyers fee, the grand total was 11,002,000 CHF! As a result, the watch now boasts the title as the “most expensive watch ever sold in history”.

I was simply blown away by the news. Insane is perhaps one of the words you can use to string a sentence of response. Some might ask what it is that will push a person to put spend that kind of money. In comparison to the scale of things, this auction makes the ref.2499 look like a charity shop special! I mean, what do you do with that kind of watch? Do you even have it serviced? Do you put it on display, only to be admired visually? Perhaps bragging rights?

In the end it doesn’t really matter. The world of horology never ceases to amaze me. It’s so small, yet so vast, with lots of amusing little tidbits to enjoy here and there. This is one of those stories that’ll serve as a remarkable outlier. Somebody has invested in something they see value in. Perhaps they wanted add a crown to their collection, or simply so that they can admire the piece as their own? It’s up to the new owner. Will it reshape the world of consumer watches, causing a huge shift in customer interest? Nope. Will it change the course of the market, bursting the bubble of watch retail? Probably not. The watch has been sold and questioning motives is a fruitless endeavour. I’m just going to say that it was entertaining to see the story unfold.

Let’s leave it at that.

Trying to understand why people are saddened by the ‘Stepan Sarpaneva/Kari Voutilainen phone’

Trying to understand why people are saddened by the ‘Stepan Sarpaneva/Kari Voutilainen phone’

Near the end of October, the online horology world was in uproar over a bit of news that seemingly came out of nowhere: Kari Voutilainen is apparently making mobile phones for luxury company 8848. As a natural response to this, the timepiece wizards over at the major journalism sites began frantically typing away at their desks to give their views on the matter.
The problem at hand is that the nature of the news was extremely short notice and as a result there really wasn’t much information circulating around. But boy was it a topic that would generate headlines. The fact that a lot of the information available was speculation didn’t stop the online world from blasting Sarpaneva, who was also commissioned by 8848 and Voutilainen with criticism. Hodinkee managing editor Stephen Pulvirent wrote a pretty damning article that expressed how “disappointed” he was with the venture. I have to admit, I was also lulled into the hysteria following sensationalised articles and Instagram posts.

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The dust has since settled, and a lot of new facts have emerged. The idea of someone with an upstanding reputation such as Kari Voutilainen potentially “cheapening” his brand by putting his name on a shoddy Chinese phone has mostly subsided. What has now come to light is the fact that Voutilainen and Sarpaneva will only be producing a limited run of bespoke sim card covers (using the dial/bezel making techniques the duo are famous for) that essentially act as an additional accessory to a luxury phone. The craftsmanship and quality of the covers will be the very same as you’d expect to see on both of their timepieces. Apart from that, there isn’t any further relation between the horology masters and the phone company.

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The whole ordeal took place during my school half term so I had a bit of free time to follow up on things. I was actually quite fascinated by it all. I initially asked the question: “Why are people riled up over this?”
It’s fair to say that following the world of watches is quite a niche interest. We’re talking about a community that finds it ‘controversial’ if a particular watch label moves the positioning of a subdial by a fraction of a millimetre. It can be said that any sudden sparks of news in the volatile industry can start a fire. I took this in mind and began trying to come up with an answer. My initial approach was to use the model of ‘Food Truck Economics’. The idea being that, a well established small business with a loyal fan base seems to work on the sole basis it’s a simple thing to appreciate.

A person drives around in a van selling food in a street corner, whilst customers happily queue in line to get a bite to eat. There’s a strong direct relationship between the person making/serving the food, and the customers, which is what makes this unique. The model is broken however, when the presence of ‘big business’ gets involved. All of a sudden the interactions between the customer and food truck owner are lost, as the business begins to expand and making profit is the highest priority. Suddenly the food truck has lost its intangible value and people begin to point fingers and accusations of being a “sell out” begin to emerge.

I suspect this is the main reason people had strong emotions over the news that Voutilainen was associating his name alongside a Chinese phone company. Voutilainen is a leader in independent horology, something that is deemed beloved for its “purity” in an overall industry that often gets riddled with criticism over cheap marketing tricks, superficial exploits and pointless gimmicks. Not to mention the fact that the product in question is a smartphone, which I remember describing as a bit of an antagonist to the realm of traditional watches in my first ever article.
Let’s not forget the fact that there are some clear cultural biases involved. The whole idea of “made in China” already provokes negative sentiment. Any immediate thoughts of luxury in China often stir up images of poor quality items or outright fakes. It definitely plays a part in the reason some might claim the relationship cheapens the brand. I can imagine that there would be less emotion involved, had a well established British luxury label such as Vertu approached Voutilainen instead.

After breaking down the question “why are people annoyed?” the next question is “Does it even matter?”.
It was pointed out to me that Voutilainen isn’t someone who is just “selling food out of a truck” but he is in fact the face of his brand and the owner of a business. Choosing to look at independent watchmaking solely through the window of its “purity” is quite naive. There is a bigger picture to be painted.
What has to be understood is that in a market where the taste of a client can change at a moment’s notice or a sudden dive in the economy will drastically affect buying habits, the prospect of making sales is uncertain. Traditional watchmaking is very resource intensive. The cost of labour and materials runs high. Buying a block of Gold and training a craftsman for several years to tinker away at tiny bits of metal doesn’t come cheap. An opportunity to open doors to a new market of Chinese collectors by showcasing what the watchmaker is capable of producing, especially during financially difficult times is always welcome. If anything it opens a door to ‘insourcing’ and harbouring talent in a well established field.
As Ian Skellern from Quill and Pad stated: “There’s irony in the fact while many Swiss suppliers have been threatened by manufacturing moving to China, here is at least one instance of a Chinese manufacture sourcing from Switzerland.”

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I personally played around with the phone myself, belonging to Voutilainen. Whilst the phone was originally marketed using Voutilainen’s name; with the Sim card cover off, you wouldn’t have the slightest clue that it was associated with a watchmaker. It’s really well made and feels quite good to hold. The performance is snappy and I even took a selfie with it. The Sim card cover added a bespoke feel to the device, something that is sought after in luxury items. Voutilainen seemed like an ideal craftsman to approach for the matter. If anyone is personally familiar with his work, you’ll know how much he values the human interaction with objects. Each of his watches are lettered with “Hand Made” on the dial, to really drive home the emotion. I can see why Voutilainen agreed to work alongside the 8848, and more importantly, why his partners and existing client base had no problem with it whatsoever.

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It appears that the people who were stirred up the most emotionally, were those who skimmed through headlines and Instagram, without taking a moment to really look into things. To the snotty Hodinkee fanboys crying about entitlement to opinions, I’d like to kindly say let’s not worry about how the value of your outlook has devolved, but rather look at how a pair of watchmakers are going out of their comfort zone with the intention of achieving more than just their own personal gain. The business of creating is about being free and bold. Let us not forget how the innovators of the past were criticised for their (then seen as) outlandish actions, only to be praised thereafter.

Brexit on watches

Brexit on watches

 

Intro

Over a week ago, a historic decision was made by the people of Britain. By a narrow majority, a referendum took place, with the outcome leading to Britain declaring it was going to leave the EU.
This isn’t a political commentary page, so I won’t be commenting my views on the decision. But as a horology blog, I think this makes for an interesting opportunity to talk about how Brexit has affected the watch industry.

Brexit, Output, Emergency Exit, Eu, European Union

British Horology

One of the major fears of a Brexit was the idea that a lot of industry would be affected. Foreign multinational companies were predicted to pull out of the UK, looking for alternate trading access to the consumer giant known as the EU. In light of this, I think there isn’t much room for concern for the watch labels of the UK. I think the British watch industry (not including the individual political views of each label) has been and will continue to be, mostly undisturbed by the aftermath of Brexit, at least in terms of selling watches. One thing that has to be noted is that British watchmaking is very niche, with many labels being independent, and having a relatively small client base. Brands like Bremont have a very strong international following, with clients across the globe. Sales abroad will unlikely be affected, though I don’t have any insider information on any company sales. I would think however, that foreign buyers will be all the more interested, given the economic prospects on making purchases in the UK.
British collectors might be in a bit more of an uncertain condition, as they’ll be affected by simply being residents of the UK. That being said, if I’ve learned anything about collectors of such brands, it’s that said collectors are very loyal and won’t give up on their preferred label. They also tend to plan things carefully before making a purchase. Any immediate purchase plans can be put on hold, with the ability to work with, and contact the watch label directly.

One point that has been mentioned throughout the Brexit campaign and not just within the realm of watches, was the idea that people who wanted Britain to remain in the EU were severely undermining Britain’s ability to produce goods that would appeal and sell to the rest of the world. While this is a valid point to note, the current negotiations of trade deals and access to the free market-such as Switzerland have proven unsuccessful. Many labels who source and produce parts outside of the UK, will have their costs increase. This doesn’t bode well with labels who have their prices fixed by the pound and might end up running unprecedented costs.

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British Watchmaking may be seen as relatively small, but there’s certainly no shortage of brands to provide unique and innovative products.

A golden investment opportunity

One of the immediate aftermaths of the referendum was an implosion of the British economy. Overnight, the value of the Pound Sterling fell sharply against rival currencies. Global markets went into a frenzy, and everyone was in panic and shock. The luxury retail sector will most certainly be affected. Many clients of retailers have asked “What effect will Brexit have on our timepieces?”

The answer to this question isn’t too difficult. There have been numerous market and financial collapses over the decades, I wasn’t alive for most of them. In the world of horology as a whole, it’s a proven statement that timeless and collectable watches have withstood these events; facing crises of the past,maintaining and even increasing in value. As the news has begun to settle, investors have begun looking hopefully at opportunities to buy watches at a reduced price. With the current unpredictability  of the market, it can be seen as the perfect time to invest in luxury watches. There’s no denying that the fruits of such an endeavour will be very rewarding.

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Pidgin economics explain the benefits of buying fixed price goods of a weaker currency, with a more valuable currency. Less money is spent by the investor, and the returns can result in being a very worthwhile purchase.

Asking the watch industry

What better way to get an insight on how Brexit has affect the watch industry, than by directly asking the executives of watch labels?

Alexandre Meerson, Founder Of Meerson Watches

Alexandre Meerson D15 MK-1 GMT British Luxury Watch Brand Swiss Made aritisans

The Meerson D15 Sport Travellers watch. Copyright Alexandre Meerson

 

An independent British luxury watch and accessories brand, whose aim is to cultivate art in the details of their products. Meerson watches are proud to be of British design, and are manufactured in Switzerland, under a team of 88 skilled artisans and watchmakers.

 

“I think we are going through the shock of the vote now, but Brexit – if there is an actual Brexit – will not take place before several years. For us it immediately meant a surge of demand from the US and Europe because of the low British pound. But that is short term. The most important thing is that people are now seriously thinking before buying and will be  greater considering the integrity, reality and the quality of what they are buying, and this is very good for us”

Edouard Meylan, CEO of Moser & Cie

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The Moser Endeavour Perpetual Calendar concept. Copyright Moser & Cie

An independent family run business, Moser stands out among fellow labels for it’s  elegant yet outlandish design, constantly redefining  simplicity.

“Any long term effect is difficult to judge but I don’t think it will affect much. Currently the main effect is the change in currency valuation which makes watches very cheap in the UK we seem to see an increase in sales. This is a short term effect and will stabilise once the arbitrage levels up as retailers review pricing”

 

Giles Ellis, founder of Schofield Watch Company

A British watch label based in the West Sussex countryside. Schofield strives to produce unique and impeccably designed timepieces, made both in Germany and England.

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The Schofield Blacklamp Carbon. Copyright Schofield Watch Company

“We will not forecast the effects of leaving the EU, as it was guessing that got us in this mess to begin with. We deal in facts and at present these are financial. The weak pound is a double edged sword, it costs us more to buy parts from Europe but we see increased sales outside of the UK. It is business as usual for Schofield”

 

Richard Hoptroff, Founder of Hoptroff London

A London based watch company, Hoptroff timepieces can easily be distinguished as the most accurate in the world. Each piece is a compendium of physics and maths, paired with unique design.

Hoptroff No.16

The Hoptroff no.16 can be credited to be among the most accurate timepieces you’ll ever see on a person’s wrist. Copyright Hoptroff London.

“It’s hard to say what the impact will be, since there nobody seems to know where we go from here!  What is clear is that we will have a weakened exchange rate, meaning importing parts will be more expensive, but our watches will appear lower cost to export markets”

Summary:

I think as a whole, particularly on the level of high end luxury; the watch industry will be a bit ruffled from the Brexit news in early days. A lot of people are quite uneasy over the idea of making forecasts, but the basic facts are enough to draw a decent conclusion. It has to be noted that there will be a unanimous need to adjust to the immediate geopolitical and economic climate. Things will be volatile-but there’s confidence from all sides that the industry will regain it’s footing over time. I’d also like to give a huge thanks to the watch labels who have agreed to be featured in this article.