IN DEFENCE OF TRADITIONAL WATCHMAKING
Now that so-called “intelligent watches” have entered our lives, I want to defend even more the – let’s call it traditional – manufacture of automatic watches, which have been around for a long time. I’m not against this new category of watches, indeed, I think competition is necessary, even if it only serves to reaffirm a brand’s identity. But I honestly don’t understand the commotion surrounding them or the amount of press and news coverage that’s been dedicated to them. I think it’s been more in response to a very powerful marketing campaign than to the originality of the product or anything new it might offer us. The most pessimistic (or self-interested) commentators even predict the end of the traditional watch industry. So, why am I saying this?
- Yes, it’s true that intelligent watches incorporate new developments and the most advanced technology in terms of chips, processors and touchscreens, but personally I don’t see anything original (without going into the design aspects). I see them as opportunistic by products of a mobile phone industry that has taken advantage of the technological developments made to date in order to shoehorn a new product category into our lives and create a new consumer need.
- And with regard to originality, if we look for intelligent watches that have “useful” features, then they’ve been around for at least 15 years as far as I can recall – they just haven’t been visible outside the sporting world. And if you don’t believe me, you can ask the people at Polar, for example.
- As far as technological progress is concerned, well, I don’t quite know what to say, but the automatic watches has taken more than 150 years of development by the watch industry, ably assisted by cutting-edge technology, to reach the level at which traditional watchmaking currently finds itself. For those unfamiliar with the sector, let’s remind ourselves; a watch with mechanical movement is able to measure time with deviations of plus or minus 2 or 3 seconds per day, based on the perfect coupling of more than 150 different pieces, including cogs, wheels, springs, and coils. And this is done without batteries or any other source of energy save that which accumulates in the spring from the wrist’s own movement (automatic-winding mechanical movement) or from manually turning the crown (manual-winding mechanical movement). This mechanism is approximately the size of a two-euro coin and 5 to 6 mm thick – it’s a veritable work of mechanical engineering.
Let’s now get down to what I believe is the heart of the matter.
If we look up a dictionary definition of a watch, it tells us that it is “an instrument for either measuring time or indicating the time of day”. Well, we need to either amend the dictionary definition or change the name of those gadgets to “non-watches” because it’s clear that time is the thing they’re least concerned with. But why on earth do they insist on providing a watch with more features? Do we really believe that’s where the success of these gizmos lies (or will lie)? To give a very illustrative example; why do women buy high-heeled shoes? Buying a pair of high-heeled shoes does not correspond to a functional need, i.e. walking (what’s more, doctors completely advise against it). Instead, it’s an entirely emotional response to some buying impulses that originate deep inside our brain and are difficult to identify (Martin Lindstrom explains it very well in his book “Buyology”).
The same thing occurs in the traditional watch industry; buying automatic watches is an entirely emotional act. It doesn’t matter if a watch has an infinite number of features. If the brand doesn’t connect with me at an emotional level, if I don’t identify with it, then I won’t buy it (of course, this is based on the premise that I like the watch, aesthetically speaking…and I’m in a position to buy it). That has been the success of “Fruit’s” watch, the name of the fruit.
Most likely, the marketing of the traditional watch industry has been a failure. Traditionally, automatic watches have been aimed at a specialised, expert audience of collectors, and the industry has been unable to reach out to a more generalist audience (or hasn’t wanted to or needed to do so). This audience is not so knowledgeable about watchmaking, but it is interested in searching out different brands and new designs with which it can identify, brands with emotional connections.
For traditional watch brands, I don’t think the way forward necessarily lies in starting to make “technological hybrids” of automatic watches (except for those brands that absolutely must have a presence in all product categories). Instead, I believe it consists in reaffirming their identity and looking for points where an emotional connection can be made with a target audience that up until now has been an unknown quantity – one that identifies automatic watches with their grandfathers. We in the traditional watch industry have too many values and can boast too much design and technological know-how to let ourselves be upstaged by the “non-watches”.
We were first:
Some say: “Designed in California”.
We say: “Designed ….. and manufactured ….. and assembled in Barcelona”.
“Do your work with your whole heart, and you will succeed – there’s so little competition” – Elbert Hubbard