We Ask The Experts: What Will Watch Design And Marketing Look Like In The 2020s?
We asked five leading watch creatives to peek inside their crystal balls. Among the lessons they say the pandemic has taught us: It’s possible to have too many novelties.
Watchmakers are hyper-focused on presenting novelties. But to anyone familiar with the Swiss watch industry’s obsession with vintage-inspired and heritage revival timepieces, the choice of the word “novelty” — which Merriam-Webster defines as “something new or unusual” — feels more than a little ironic.
Over the past decade, variations of the watch world’s proven bestsellers have saturated the market. And the pandemic has only exacerbated the industry’s collective tendency to celebrate its greatest hits. “Usually, when times are difficult, that’s what you see a lot of redesigns,” says Martin Frei, co-founder and chief designer of Urwerk. “But especially [in] these times, one should also look the other way.”
To get a sense of how watch design and marketing will morph and evolve in the 2020s, we asked five of the industry’s leading creatives to think about the future. Has the pandemic affected their approach to design, and, if so, how? Which design trends do they anticipate will be important in the decade to come? How will the future of watchmaking differ from the past?
Their predictions touched on the use of more high-tech materials, the development of hybrid timepieces that employ both mechanical and electronic components, and the obligation for watchmakers to dream about the future instead of perennially celebrating the past.
The quintet also addressed what Cyrille Vigneron, CEO of Cartier, described during a recent video presentation as the trade’s “addiction to novelties.”
“Everyone was producing so many things that were forgotten so easily,” he said. “The pandemic has shown that true value and true beauty [are] more important than something new because the market wants it.”
As a philosophy, “less is more” sounds just right for these unpredictable times. Read on for what else you can expect from watchmakers in the coming decade.
Martin Frei, Co-Founder and Chief Designer, Urwerk
“One thing we started taking seriously is the smartwatch threat or the smartwatch input. Electronics and the smartwatch will become more important. People who are interested in buying a watch in the future will look at it very differently because they already grew up with this.
“You can still say the mechanical watch is something one doesn’t give up, but it could be interesting to include contemporary technology. Don’t close the door. You don’t have to do it the same way the smartwatch is doing it, but we have studied for a couple of years how to include electronics in a mechanical watch that are not so obvious. There’s a possibility to do that.”
Marco Borraccino, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Singer Reimagined
“Sales today are driven by very few major companies. I’m pretty sure people will wake up one day and realize they all have the same watch and will start looking for something different. In the meantime, we have to keep making things that will let them dream differently.
“Of course, everyone loves Rolex or the Nautilus, but when you sit at the table, and everyone has the same watch, you have to ask, ‘What is it actually worth in terms of novelty and exclusivity?’ ”
Claudio D’Amore, Founder, CODE41
“Part of the evolution of the watch industry in the next 10 years is being able to design watches with a bit more character than what’s done today.
“Whenever it is crisis time, people don’t want to lose their jobs, so they just redo things they’ve done in the last 10 years. They just look back. But you don’t want to just go back all the time.
“What’s next? It’s clear: The industry needs to have more creativity. You can see there is nothing new at the moment because, in crisis, you just go to your bestsellers and change the color of the dial, but this isn’t the way to get out of a crisis.”
Clémence Dubois, Chief Product and Marketing Officer, Girard-Perregaux
“We’ve been reducing the number of references and points of sale and working on a clear assortment. Today, everyone has to be even more creative because we have to do more with less.
“We’re focusing on our iconic shapes, like the Classic Three Bridges, with traditional finishes in rose gold. On the other hand, you have the Neo-Tourbillon, a very contemporary version. We pushed the extreme in 2019 with the Quasar execution and in 2020 launched the Quasar Azure in a blue sapphire case. When you present less, you have to give more.
“We will keep on experimenting with new materials. In 2020, you had the occasion to see carbon glass and how we reshaped the main plate of the Laureato so it stands out as an octagon. We’ll keep on playing with shape aesthetics and functionality and do more with our icons.”
Max Büsser, Founder and Managing Director, MB&F
“The word ‘scarcity,’ which everybody uses these days, clearly is a driver. If you can find a product everywhere these days, nobody wants it.
“Twenty years ago, a good brand would have to have 40 watches in a showcase. Now, if you have 40 watches in a showcase, nobody wants your brand.
“You go to a Richard Mille boutique, and there are no watches in a case. That’s the symbol of a great brand. That’s the 2020s, for sure.”
(Photography by Watchonista)