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MARTIN GREEN — JULY 25, 2014
Ask somebody the time and instead of a flick of the wrist, you often see a quick grasp into a pocket to reveal a cell phone or other mobile device emerge to answer your question. What the quartz-crisis did for the mechanical watch, current days should do to watches in general and confirm once again the faith of the mechanical watch; they are DEAD!
Yet even with a slowed down economy in most parts of the Western world, the annual reports of the mighty luxury conglomerates show a different fate for watches, especially mechanical ones. Swatch Group reported an increase of sales over 2013 of 8.5%, totaling CHF 8.456 million, of which CHF 2.314 million is profit. Richemont, another luxury conglomerate heavy in the watch industry, reports similar findings (their financial year ends in March, so exact number weren’t available yet). So how can an industry that is supposed to be dead be so vibrant?
An obvious answer can be found in the saying “Dress to impress”. People simply use a watch as an accessory to show off wealth and social status, since everybody already has the iPad and other electronic devices. But this can only be the truth for part of the people that buy high end watches, who will also focus on brands and models that are well known and noticeably expensive. What is noticeably expensive is a concept that can vary wildly. Watch connoisseurs can cradle an Urwerk 103 like it is their new born child, while your fellow passengers on the subway think you got lucky with the claw machine. Yes, perception of luxury can be that different and it is all based on information.
Even when you are not a watch connoisseur, stories about how mechanical watches come to life are often fascinating, and so is the history behind many brands and models. Thanks to amazing magazines, rich online sources and forums buzzing of activity, a lot of these stories are told, re-told and, perhaps most important, saved for future generations.
Although an important part of what keeps the heart of mechanical watchmaking beating, they have not become folklore. It is more than stories and anecdotes of “the good, old days”, illustrated by some iconic watch models and historic brands. Mechanical watchmaking has elevated to the status of being an art. In practical sense it is almost as useless as a painting on the wall; of course it can tell time, and depending on the complications it has much more, but it is surpassed by far superior technology. Even, or perhaps especially, that three-axle tourbillon submerged in a gravity reducing oil with a six digit price-tag must admit his master in terms of accuracy to even the least expensive Hello Kitty-quartz watch on the wrist of a 7 year old, but that is not the point. The point is that human hands, with the assistance of elaborate machinery which was made with human hands….at some point, can dream up and make such a miniature device!
By moving further away from the necessity of mechanical watchmaking, we embrace it more. Like that painting is more than just something to cover an otherwise bare wall, is a mechanical watch more than just a timekeeper. It is a companion, a piece of mobile art around the wrist, ready to be enjoyed when ever we want to take a micro-break from the hectic life inflicted upon us by all those electronic devices around us, who keep reminding us of the state of the world around us, professional and business.
That is why high end watchmaking is so vibrantly alive today. Released by the chain of having to be a practical, sensible object, watchmakers can venture off into new directions, creating watches that aren’t there to tell time, but to capture a unique combination of rare crafts as being a time-capsule. And then the question all of a sudden becomes; High End Watches….tell me why not?!