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From SIHH to Baselworld 2016: three annoying utterances

Love it, hate it, it's all the same battle! The passion is there, either way, so a certain sensitivity that comes with age and a lot of sensible analysis is certainly worth expressing.Especially since few even try…

By Joel Grandjean

Cherishing a particular sector, defending it, loving it, also means broadcasting a few messages, knowing for sure that the opinion could spread like a contagion thanks to the forcefulness of the evidence. And maybe it could get a few things going?

Utterance No. 1: Smart Watches? We must stop calling 'them' watches!

Decreed: That all persons with close or distant ties to watchmaking banish from their vocabulary and from this day onward, and in a radical and definitive way, the expression "connected watch." There, I have said it. And I am inciting rebellion, even though this may attract the wrath of the Webster's people. But the nominal group "connected watches" should no longer have a right to be mentioned in our mansions. What would be more appropriate is to speak of "connected objects," of "intelligent bracelets," or of "gadgets" that give the time. Let me begin with an often under-estimated idea. Words are powerful and a certain dose of reality and actualization does in fact emanate from a written or spoken word. So I would suggest that as of now, we prohibit these "things" that just happen to give the time from usurping a name that we should consider a conservation area in our use of language. After all, are we – collectors or insiders – not all parties to that economic miracle we call "the Swiss watch"?

Votre montre mécanique vous stresse? Does your mechanical watch stress you?

When these objects left our pockets to take up their position on our wrists about 100 years ago, the watch, and hence watchmaking itself, earned itself a terrific victory. At that point, the watch was in fact not too far from our eyes and quite close to our heart, a location that was practical, ideal, strategic, and obvious, of course.  But now, at the start of the Third Millennium, we are suddenly witnessing a new "war of the wrist" launched by a few uninhibited hybrids, mutant phone avatars, who sometimes just add on the watch attributes to make themselves more attractive: cases, bracelets of leather or rubber, sapphire crystals, a real "horlogerie" look …

Let us decide to vanquish these mutants, tame them, draw inspiration from them, even surf on the wave of their success or offer them some petty and unholy partnerships, but people active in the world of watchmaking should never elevate them to the status of "watch"! Because even if our dictionaries keep on telling us that a watch is "a little portable device that functions in all positions and serves to give the time and other indications," to paraphrase one of them, I still would like to call for a revolt. Or rather, to a linguistic attitude that is proactive, not reactive: connected objects, mutant telephones, geek-toys, and many more… The choice is indefinite. So, please go ahead, I know, it's a bit of mental gymnastics, but it could prove to be a saving grace in the long term.

Vintage? Vintage?

Utterance No. 2:  Vintage. You said vintage?

Now there is a word that has made gallons of ink flow in the watch media. Normally, it refers to a period that ended at the latter edge of the 1960s and goes back to a time in the 1920s, when the first wristwatches started to outstrip pocket watches in terms of popularity. But increasingly it is nibbling away at time and is now applied to a number of icons from the 1980s. In short, there is nothing more practical than this nomenclature that allows brands to willfully occupy a pristine segment of the market with the justification that they are in sync with their history.  Only here is the problem... there is an old saying: "Been there, done that." And it has really been dictating the timorous assays of the watch companies when it comes to creation and innovation (see error No. 3 below). After all, there is a crisis on, so why not just batten down the hatches and stick to well-known shipping lanes. The year 2016 was one of consolidation and without risk-taking. The advantage? The real innovations will stick out of the crowd, and for those whose strategy is properly synchronized with the reality of the product, it will certainly expand and improve their history and treasures.

And so, during SIHH 2016, the similarity between some of the marketing disquisitions were quite irritating. As if the speakers had all received the same memo… And then the references to past products proliferate to justify the appearance, as if by magic, of a new collection, which is in fact merely the application of an impulse from the marketing department. The models are iconic, of course. The result was that before each presentation, we were given a retrospective with a highlighting of three or five models to justify certain esthetic choices for 2016. As one of my fellow journalists said so pertinently, a man whose quotes are sometimes quite sharp, the sentence that was the biggest killer at the last SIHH event was "the link between tradition and modernity." Basically a one-size-fits-all phrase that allows brands to introduce a portion of identity legitimacy where mentioning the simple and normal tendencies of market share would be enough. But there is no point getting distracted here: specialized journalists and watch fans are getting a little tired of this routine… 

Innovation? Innovation ... Can you define?

Utterance No. 3:  Innovation? What is that in fact?

Innovation in watchmaking is one of those strange terms that is used a lot, but, while very practical, is usually vague, trite, and somewhat insipid. Also, it has never really been defined in this context. Suddenly, changing the color of a dial or using some different material, bluing the tip of a second hand, or adding a bulge to the indices will turn you into an innovator. This is not to say that these ideas should be disregarded or are not good. Far from it. But they do not belong in the box labeled "innovations." Those who know me well are aware that occasionally, after a good meal with lots of wine, I could release my tongue from its cage and name a few names – this is an invitation! For others, I will remain silent. But one thing to think about: Because the watch brands all too often use this word, they are cutting the branch upon which they are sitting. Because on some glorious day, when they'll have recovered from their contextual and cyclical chills and regained their inspiration, they will really have something novel to offer. I know that day is coming, and I am waiting for it impatiently.

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SIHH 2016: the future goes vintage

By Vincent DaveauContributor
Futurism is quite the trend at the SIHH 2016 with the presence of nine companies that are in the business of nouvelle horlogerie. Nevertheless, a number of...