Looking back: Delving into the world of watches.

Looking back: Delving into the world of watches.

About a year ago to this date, I wrote my original ‘delving into the world of watches’ article. It was one of my first articles and consisted of a generic mash-up of points on how new horologists should get into the world of watches. I remember my main angle being that there is no right way to get into horology. I also recall making a remark about how there is no fixed set of rules for who can call themselves a horologist – using myself as an example of contrast.

I wanted to take this as an opportunity to further elaborate on personal experiences in the field of watches. An overwhelming theme of this blog has been talking about the stories behind various elements of the watch industry. These are mostly personal points of view, and insight that – to some readers – opens a window into my personality. I thought that since this is the case, maybe I can shed some more light towards my experiences so far, and lessons I’ve learnt along the way.

Engineering and watches

If you were one of the handful of readers who have been following this blog since its birth, then you’ll be familiar with 16 year-old Nizam having a huge passion for engineering, and using that as a medium of garnering interest in watches. I want to say that was the case until the height of last summer – where a series of events involving studying Maths at Bristol University, followed by studying Politics and History at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and a work placement at Barclays investment bank – ultimately lead to the heavy erosion of my desire to pursue engineering as a career. That being said, up until that point, I was heavily invested in trying to learn more about the field of engineering in the context of horology. I think the most vivid example of me trying to achieve this is when my 15 year-old self decided to send an email to Richard Hoptroff of Hoptroff London asking for some work experience with his company. I remember sending a brief personal statement about my interest and making sure to send in my CV with a set of established work experiences with engineering and design firms, as well as making it clear that I was a budding horologist.

The email is as follows (please feel free to imagine a prepubescent voice break when narrating this):

“Hi,

My name is Nizam and I’m a 15 year old enthusiast of engineering and design.
I’m aware that this is incredibly unorthodox, but I was wondering if I could be taken as a work placement student?

I’m currently on the verge of finishing my GCSE exams, and an awfully long summer awaits me. I’d like to invest my time in being productive and broadening my experience within the field of engineering. I’m a keen lover of horology and and particularly admire the innovations Hoptroff London offers within their timepieces, such as the incorporation of precision engineering to create the Atomic timepieces.

It would be a privilege to be taken under the wing of Hoptroff London and to be able to develop my skill set.
I do hope you’ll take my request into consideration.

Thanks and kind regards,

Nizam”

hoptroff cv.PNG

When looking through my emails, there was a strong element of cringe brewing in me. I’m currently 17 years of age so the memories aren’t too distant. Looking back, I would have chosen a different array of words to purvey my interest, as well as maybe  put a bit more effort into checking for repeated words. Richard did reply however, and the response is what I expected:

“Dear Nizam

Thank you for your interest and enthusiasm for our work.  Unfortunately we’re not really in a position to take on a placement student this year.

 Sincerely

Richard Hoptroff”

hop 2.PNG

I sent an email thanking him for the reply and I thought that was the end to things. It was then during the dawn of my A levels did I receive a spontaneous message from Richard asking me how things were going:

“Hi Nizam

How are you getting on in your studies?  What are your plans?  We’re not hiring at the moment, but I like your enthusiasm and would like to keep you in mind in future…”

hop 3.PNG

I was really chuffed to say the least. I honestly thought there were no more avenues to consider, in terms of establishing a foothold in the engineering side of horology – at least with Hoptroff. Richard and I continued our email correspondence over the following months, and I was even invited by Richard to SalonQP that year, where I got to meet him personally and talk about watches.

hop 4
Very excited to meet a man I held so much respect for.

It makes for a fairy-tale ending, somewhat, but the experience I had is something I am forever grateful for. Sure, I don’t currently see any future avenues in engineering (at least as for now) but that isn’t to say my appreciation and admiration for the craftsmanship behind watchmaking has degraded. I still have the same level of giddiness when handling a piece of haute horlogerie as I did when I first stumbled into horology at the age of 12. The Hoptroff label has a very unique take on horology as there aren’t any traditional watch mechanisms involved, but rather some very clever bits of engineering and physics.

hop 7.PNG
My emails with Richard were examples of me fully ‘nerding out’ when it came to engineering and physics. I  really enjoyed asking questions and learning to supplement my knowledge.

 

I’ve since developed a keen interest in the business side of horology and want to make use of every resource I have to learn and grow. I wanted to share this story with you as a means of demonstrating what I meant about the many ways in which horology can be pursued. Does that mean I advise you to go around emailing the CEO’s and founders of watch labels? Not necessarily. I advise you to pursue avenues that you genuinely have an interest in, as sincerity can go a very long way. Maybe that’s turning up at a watch gathering, or visiting an expo or exhibition? The confines of what you can do are only limited by your imagination.

 

Writing about horology

I’ve often been asked in person why I choose to write about horology, as well as how I came up with the idea of starting the Watchrant. I realise I’ve never written the reason why, so I reckon now is about as good of an opportunity as any to give an explanation.

The Watchrant started off as a result of a failure. Around the spring of 2016, I met up with Tiffanie Darke, a former editor of various national publications such as Telegraph and Sunday Times. I held huge admiration for her as a woman in media, but also for her wacky approach to the world of high-end fashion. I remember exchanging stories about altercations and mishaps with LVMH, to which she ended up losing sponsorship after publishing a risky article criticising Dior. I gave a few of my own examples of mishaps surrounding Richemont, where I somehow ended up breaking Vacheron Constantin’s traditionelle world timepiece (twice). She became interested in the stories I had to tell and suggested that I should write an article for her, explaining how I got into watches. That article became my ‘Yes, it’s about time’ piece and was something I drafted together during my first year A level exams. I remember sending the piece off – full of excitement – thinking this could lead into new avenues, only to find out that it wasn’t what she was looking for.

hop 5.PNG
I’m pretty sure I’m cursed with these watches. copyright- Watchrant

I was somewhat disappointed with, but not entirely disheartened by, the outcome. I knew that I really hadn’t written any essays or practiced my creative writing since my GCSE English exams and it clearly showed in my writing style. I also thought that maybe my story wasn’t as unique as I thought it would be, so it wouldn’t catch any interest. I did, however, send off my work to some friends of mine, asking for general feedback so I could look to improve. I was given a few pointers in writing technique and rephrasing some sentences,  but otherwise their comments were very positive. All of the people I sent the article to said they enjoyed it, despite the errors and despite a lack of interest in horology. It was then suggested by a friend of mine to ‘keep on writing’ as that would be the only way I would improve. To this day, I refuse to edit my original article, as it stands as a monument of how far I’ve come. So that’s what I did. I decided to sign up to WordPress, purchase a domain name and publish my first article. To those wondering why I chose ‘Watchrant’ as a name, I guess the best explanation is that I acknowledge that my writing style tends to be quite informal and relatively freeform, like a rant. I also thought it would be fitting since my topics of discussion tend to be exclusively from my points of view, though I have taken measures to consult industry experts where necessary.

hop 9.PNG
I’ve enjoyed meeting new people and sharing my story with fellow horologists and business enthusiasts. Seen here with Fashion Businesswoman, Amber Atherton

In the end, I’m glad that I failed in this instance. Had I somehow succeeded in impressing Tiffanie with my writing, I probably would have entered a completely different field of interest, or at least channelled it in a completely different way. Instead, I discovered a way of supplementing my hobby through productive means. I have an excuse to stick my nose into current affairs and share my perspective with my growing audience. The Watchrant gives me an opportunity to think on my feet, learning about time and business management, effective networking, marketing, content creation and being innovative in a saturated field. How many countless ‘watch pages’ are there on social media?

IMG_6865.JPG
I try to make sure I’m original with the content I post. Most of the content I have is applied in the context of being a schoolboy, such as this Patek 5370 sitting on my Ti84 calculator during my exams. copyright- watchrant

It’s a platform I use to learn about business and also develop myself. I feel that these are the ingredients required to create an organic entrepreneurial flair. Ultimately, the pursuit of horology is a journey that lasts your whole life. The trick is to sit back and enjoy the ride, not knowing where you’ll be taken or who you’ll meet. As I said earlier, my writing acts as an extension of my personality. Whenever I receive criticism or praise for an article, it gives me areas to work on. The desire to develop myself ultimately feeds into my daily life, and I have you – the reader – to thank for that.

Advertisements

Quick comments: Attending my first ever official ‘watch label launch’

Quick comments: Attending my first ever official ‘watch label launch’

 

Sidenote: I understand I’ve been somewhat inactive with my blog over the months. I’ve since lost the original website due to someone hacking the server and have had to revert to my backup site until I can finally sit down and sort out the technical issues with the website. This is my first blogpost in a while. Enjoy – more to follow.

On the 14th of July 2017, I was invited to Wimbledon to participate in the launch event of Avantist watches – a tennis themed watch label that also has the title of being the first watch label to come out of Brunei.

Now I’m going to be honest here – this was the first ever ‘brand launch’ I’ve ever attended (not including the unveiling of individual watches) so I was quite excited and interested to see the mechanisms involved in the fruition of a new watch label. Though in fairness, it’s not as if though a new watch label is unveiled every other weekend; so an opportunity to learn whatever I can is appreciated. I’m not a reputable name in the watch industry, but I do hear about a few things every now and then. Generic news about new ‘luxury’ labels is something I usually ignore as I have seldom interest in them. Though I had particular interest in this event as Avantist is a label I’ve been following for quite some time – long before they were publicly announced.

Snapchat-249251995.jpg

I wanted to dedicate this ‘quick comments’ article as an informal summary of what I observed at the event, and my take on the general marketing approach Avantist has taken with their label. I have plans to focus on the horological side of things in a separate article, as part of a larger project I’m working on (more to follow). I just want to say that even before attending the event, there were many aspects I was already quite impressed by; such as the fact the marquee was booked on a Friday night in Wimbledon during the semi-finals or perhaps more-so: the brand ambassador for the label happened to be none other than Martina Navratrilova.

IMG_5740
From left to right: Zachray Nordin, Martina Navratrilova, Keeran Janin, Andrew Murphy- Copyright: Watchrant

I set off for the event straight after a day at school – having had a few minutes to quickly wear a suit to take away the ‘schoolboy’ vibe. I remember putting on my ‘Watchnerd’ badge on my lapel and happily taking a quick #teamwatchnerd picture for Instagram in hope I would meet with fellow watch enthusiasts. It was then a One hour trip to the other side of London as I made my way to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. I made it to the venue about Ten minutes earlier than I expected, where I was greeted by hospitality staff who kindly stored my briefcase in a cloakroom (yes, I understand normal teenage boys don’t walk around carrying briefcases). I then met up with the CEO of the label, Keeran Janin and thanked him for the invite and quickly proposed a plan to work with him in an upcoming project of mine. After establishing the initial formalities I was then offered drinks – to which I pointed out that I was underage and opted for a glass of water (I could’ve easily gotten away with drinking but of course I’m much more responsible…!) Hospitality staff quickly exchanged the water for a seemingly endless supply of Orange juice and I was set for the night.

IMG-20170716-WA0000
Lots of opportunities to interact with other guests – Copyright: Watchrant

The venue was very nicely set up, with small canapé/drinks tables to encourage conversations and Avantist branding plastered everywhere so you didn’t forget what you were there for. There were marketing assistants walking around the venue with demo watches for presentation purposes. I remember being presented with an example to which I promptly threw a bunch of quickfire questions such as asking about the case material and movement. These are standard questions you can ask at any watch retailer or watch show, yet I was given a number of hesitant responses at which point I eased back on the questions.

IMG_5702.JPG
A side view of a demo watch – Copyright: Watchrant

I want to quickly isolate the event and briefly mention a few words about the watch (more in the follow-up article). All I have to say is that the watch itself is absolutely stunning. It’s a tonneau style case (something I have a bit of a soft spot for) made of a combination of Steel and Titanium. The timepiece is very well made with fine finishes for it’s class. The display is very legible and uncluttered, with raised indices and an unobstructed date window. The watch is paired with a comfortable and durable feeling calfskin-on-rubber strap. The highlight of the watch is that on the dial is an inlay of a ring of string that Martina Navratrilova herself used on the racket that gave her the 1987 title at Wimbledon. Each piece is embedded with a bit of history and soul, which I found very charming and accentuated the feeling of intimacy. I remember looking at Keeran’s Instagram story and watching him unboxing the racket from the mailbox. Seeing the final product in person was very satisfying. There are approximately 30 examples of the first series pieces where if you buy one, you get to sit down with dinner with the tennis champion!

IMG_5758.JPG
For a watch of it’s price range and target audience, the finish is impressive.

 

IMG_5710.JPG
I decided to wear the very first ever Swiss watch I ever owned (a private label Rothschild piece) as I thought it would be fun to look at another example of a tonneau style case. My watch has been beaten up quite a bit- copyright: Watchrant

To the credit of the marketing assistant, he did try to advertise the timepiece through non-technical means. I recall a particular point about how the watch “sits nicely on the hands” and that the crystal didn’t obstruct any views. For any luxury timepiece, this should be expected. I could easily get hold of this information by skimming through the brochure, but since this was an event showcasing a luxury watch, extra attention-to-detail and convenience should be standard. I asked whether the crystal was made of domed sapphire glass to which I got a blank stare as a reply. It appeared that I was the first and only person at the event to ask such questions, as most of the guests were just interested in how ‘nice’ the watch looked. I then found out that the assistants demonstrating the watches weren’t official employees of Avantist but rather part of a separate marketing company. To my knowledge, Avantist is only made of three founding members where everything else from physical marketing to watch construction is outsourced. I think from a watch collector’s perspective, a little bit of extra homework from the marketing assistants would go a long way. These are of course minute details, but something to consider for future launch events (I understand there is another upcoming event in New York).

IMG_5720.JPG
A much more elegant wristshot featuring non-alcoholic beverages- copyright: watchrant

When looking back at the guests, I remember casually walking up to a couple to start a conversation with “So, are you guys watch collectors?” to which I was met with a prompt “No” as an answer. I then followed the question up with “Do you even follow anything to do with watches?”  And once again “No” was the answer. My final question was “Do you like Tennis?” at which point their faces lightened up and I got a “Yes”. I began drawing a mental image of what this event actually entailed.

Usually when attending watch events with fellow enthusiasts, I come across as someone who lacks in technical knowledge, as I’m more interested in the story behind watches and the business side of brands. Yet this was an instance where I was the snobby technical watch geek- a completely new feeling. I remember looking over one of the guests who was praising how he liked the fact that the watch ‘didn’t tick’ to which I promptly said “It’s a mechanical movement, the sweeping feature is a standard trait unless of course you have a deadbeat seconds complication”. I could’ve been speaking in a completely different language for all the impact that one sentence made.

I came in thinking this would be a watch event featuring tennis, it turns out it was actually a tennis event featuring watches. The vast majority of the people invited were either tennis enthusiasts or employees for partner companies of Avantist. Though i’m sure there was the odd keen horologist scattered around the place. Another highlight of the event was a Q&A with Navratrilova asking questions about moments in her career and current plans, as well as insight into the ongoing Wimbledon matches. The rest of the evening was just a series of non-horology conversations and networking opportunities.

IMG_5737
Q&A with Martina Navratrilova

 

As a final summary of the event and my take on the marketing approach of the brand launch, all I can say is that I don’t think that the Avantist watch is for someone who is a solely horological purist. That being said, I don’t think that was the avenue the brand and its partners were looking to go through. I feel that this watch is primarily for someone who is a tennis fan and an enthusiast of design. If anything, it’s an opportunity to share a piece of history and have a connection with a tennis idol via a luxury accessory that happens to tell the time. At £8000 and an ETA movement, this is a watch that enters the mid tier of luxury watches and ‘entry Rolex’ price range, so it was never meant to be an outlandish example of haute horlogerie- at least not one that I’m familiar with. That being said, I think it’s incredibly good value for what’s on offer. It retains the class of ‘luxury’ but doesn’t alienate a potential client base with immense prices. As I said, not for the horology purist, but more along the lines of ‘bragging rights’.

img-20170716-wa0001.jpg
The Rafael Nadal branded RM-35 comes in at 6 figures. Though it doesn’t feature match-worn tennis string! -Copyright: Michael Imbrogno

I also want to mention that the idea of appealing to watch enthusiasts and tennis fans aren’t exclusively separate variables. There are plenty of opportunities for the two areas of interest to cross over. This isn’t the first example of a tennis player endorsing a luxury watch label, with Roger Federer and Rolex being quite close, along with Richard Mille having Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev as brand ambassadors and limited edition watches produced in their name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet Avantist promotes a different case of luxury, in that they’re able to offer intimacy and emotion with their timepiece. For this brand launch event, tennis is at the core, and this was to appeal to wealthy tennis enthusiasts who would hopefully take interest in a watch endorsed by Martina Navratrilova herself. I don’t follow any particular professional sport, though I do like to keep myself physically active through Kendo and Badminton. For me, participating in sport promotes discipline and a desire to succeed, and here we have something to embody that. There are another Two ‘match played’ rackets to go through as well as opportunities to partner with other tennis players or even venture into other sports. Who knows, maybe a Serena Williams edition? The brand itself has huge potential for growth in terms of tapping into a niche area of interest, but with a budding potential client base.

IMG-20170716-WA0003.jpg
Two more match played tennis rackets to go through!- Copyright: Watchrant

As another point of interest, since intimacy and emotion is a prevalent theme, maybe Avantist can look into producing memorabilia for their events? I know I usually complain about being overwhelmed with random tokens, but I still appreciate the effort put in, as well as the fact the brand leaves behind a positive final impression. My desk is littered with various little items from watch labels across the globe, but I enjoy the fact I have them. The co-founder Andrew Murphy did give me his own Avantist badge as a little joke to recognise me as their youngest supporter, but the recognition could be spread among the few people who attended the launch event. I know the likes of Patek Philippe has random trinkets which even the most prestigious of collectors (the sort of people who don’t blink an eye at spending six or seven-figures on a watch) get giggly over. Though I suppose with Avantist, setting up an opportunity to take a selfie with Navratrilova is an amazing thing in itself.

img_20170716_140359.jpg
Left with an additional freebie. As seen on my living room pillow. The Avantist logo is meant to symbolise the Swiss cross.

If they can make their mark in the right way, the prospects on hand could be immensely lucrative. Keeran has set himself apart as remarkable individual with a keen and ever evolving business mind, and has garnered my full respect as a result. The execution of the sheer scale of what has been achieved by Avantist is highly praiseworthy. It’s usually after several years of a label building up a reputation do they have the resources to enlist someone of Navratrilova’s caliber to represent and endorse their brand.  I was given a behind-the-scenes ‘sneak peak’ involving some very ambitious projects the brand is working on. Needless to say, there’s a lot more to the brand than meets the eye. I for one am in support and look forward to following their activities and seeing their growth and development, all whilst learning more about horology and business. The brand is still in it’s infancy and still has a long way to go before it can stand out as a competitor in the fierce luxury watch industry. With that being said, I look forward to give you a much more in-depth look into the brand and the story behind it’s birth.

IMG_20170716_150907.jpg
Had to take a final picture with one of my new horology/entrepreneur heroes!

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:

IMG_20170411_120459_HDR.jpg
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.

Patek Philippe.jpg
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.

Screenshot_2017-04-11-11-34-07-894_com.instagram.android
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.

IMG_3949.JPG
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.

 

Cz9ps9TWEAAglQy
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.

moser cheese 1.JPG
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

Goldgena - Vue A.jpg

 

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.

jhgjhvgjy.JPG

 

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”

 

m2.jpgb2.jpg

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.

220px-Fidel_Castro_-_MATS_Terminal_Washington_1959.jpg
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.

castro two watches.jpg
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.

pope castro.JPG

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.
Fidel Castro lighting a cigar and wearing two Rolex watches during a meeting with Khrushchev, Kremlin, 1963.jpg

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.

038_90296_pateksteel1518-1

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.