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Dubai Watch Week

The Characterization Of A Generation – Millennials Still A Focus At Dubai Watch Week

As Dubai Watch Week kicks off, we take a look at why the Millennials’ role in the watch industry is more discussed and emphasized than ever.

By Barbara Palumbo

George Bernard Shaw is attributed with the saying, “youth is wasted on the young.”

But had the Irish playwright been alive today, he might find a Millennial or two who’d debate how their seemingly complex generation is often painted by the masses.

Dubai Watch Week is only a couple of days old and yet there has been much talk thus far about the Millennials, their likes, their wants, and whether or not we’ll be seeing more of them as watchmakers – and watch collectors – in the near future. As a generation X-er, I often question the world’s obsession with Millennials and don’t quite understand the confusion about them. To me, they’re fairly easy to figure out: they work hard for what they want but do so on their own terms (largely, via a mobile device), they care about experiences, they like to share their lives via social media, they believe in brands and products that are ethically and responsibly made, they would rather put money toward trips abroad than spend it on luxury, and they believe everything should have a story. Some of these facts have rattled the watch industry, however; an industry that prides itself on tradition and is often accused of being too set in its ways to deconstruct – then take a long hard look at – what made it so great in the first place.

But all hope is not lost, at least, not yet.

The Dubai Watch Week forum titled, “Millennial Watchmakers” brought together a panel of design and watchmaking icons to discuss how an industry imbedded with age-old traditions can reach and appeal to a younger audience. The panel included Alexis Georgacopoulos, Director of ECAL-University of Art and Design Lausanne, Felix Baumgartner, founder of Urwerk, Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, CEO of Agenhor, and legendary IWC watchmaker, Kurt Klaus. Moderator Suzanne Wong asked questions to the panelists about what they feel and believe needs to be accomplished in order to make fine watchmaking appealing to future generations. Alexis – the only non-watchmaker on the panel – stated that by putting more of a focus on design and on the look and feel of a watch, Millennials would become interested in watches, to which Jean-Marc replied that while outward design is important, the movements themselves are also designed because today’s watchmakers are more than just watchmakers; they have to be designers in their own way as well. Another thing that Jean-Marc mentioned that was interesting was that by working with women in the industry, he feels that he’s been able to take a fresher, more open-minded approach to his work.

After a sixty-six-year career (with fifty of those years being at IWC), Kurt Klaus sounded as positive about the future generations as I imagine he’s always been. “When I became a watchmaker, watchmakers were exactly that. Now you have to be more.” He stated, continuing by telling the audience that he looks at the younger generations of watchmakers who come into the watchmaking school very closely.

“What we have to do is introduce them to the fascination of the mechanical watch.”

He said, adding “when we watch these younger people in the school, we can tell who is going to be good and who is going to be great.”

A chance run-in with Maximilian Büsser shortly after the panel continued the discussion as he and I got into how many actual millennial watchmakers with their own brands exist in the current environment. “I mean, look at Rexhep of AkriviA. There is Rexhep and a couple of others but not many more.” 

Max was referring to Rexhep Rexhepi; a thirty-year-old watchmaker out of Kosovo and founder of the brand, AkriviA which just celebrated its fifth anniversary as a company. Rexhep has been hailed in the industry by the likes of Kari Voutilainen and many other established watchmakers and with good reason. Having started an apprenticeship with Patek Philippe at the age of fourteen, the man has literally been a watchmaker for more than half of his young life. 

So, one of the questions that’s been asked here in Dubai is where are all the Rexheps of the watch world?

The answer I have is this: why do we *have* to know? I realize that answering a question with a question is frowned upon but why exactly are we obsessed with foreseeing the immediate future? Is it not enough to be a watchmaker – an artist – who simply creates beauty through machinery because he or she feels good about it? Because their work is their art and those who like it will buy it and those who don’t, won’t? Maybe it’s time to stop trying to figure out Millennials and start looking at a natural progression of change no matter what the next generation is into. And maybe by figuring out a way to be current within traditions through the use of technology, comedy, and storytelling, Millennials and every generation after will come back to mechanical watches because they’re just naturally drawn to them. The answers to our questions aren’t always apparent, and that’s okay, because when we don’t have to put so much focus on having to have answers, we’re left with more time to create, connect, and ultimately enjoy. 

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