The watch industry is changing. All of us involved in it one way or another can feel it, but putting it into words, actually being able to tell exactly what is happening, why it’s happening, and what it will lead to… Well, that’s no easy feat.
The Beating of a Butterfly’s Wings…
Sometimes the greatest revolutions start quietly. For the best part of two decades, the watch industry has been an evermore-ostentatious business. Watches have been getting bigger and bigger, diamonds have been set upon diamonds, diameters that look more at home on an architectural blueprint than on the wrist have been slipping into normalcy.
In the past decade, there was a real push towards normalising the use of unconventional materials, with focus shifting away from the movement and towards the very clay from which these new icons are fashioned.
Last year we saw some evidence of a soft return to the classical styles of old: Smaller cases, a preference for precious metals, a reduction in laboratory-born tricks designed to dazzle and distract from the things we always used to look for in a wristwatch. But that’s not all at all. There’s something very, very exciting brewing on the horizon, and we may see the first serious signs of it in Switzerland this spring.
Designs on the Throne
If I believe the word on the street, which in this case I’m inclined to, then the future is all about aesthetics. And I mean that in a very pure way. Not material aesthetics, rather the very basic angles used to construct new and interesting shapes. If I could point to a range released in the last couple of years that typifies this idea, it would be the Vacheron Constantin Harmony Collection.
For an example of how a fresh take on watch design can reap dividends we need to go back in time a few decades to the 1970s. During this decade Gerald Genta was responsible for two undisputed classics (as well as countless other watches that have achieved varying degrees of notoriety in watch lore).
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus were unlike anything that came before, and still stand out head and shoulders above the many subsequent imitations that followed. It’s been a long time since a watch hit the market that was instantly revered as a game-changer, though to be fair to all potential modern classics already under our noses, it tends to take a long time for the brilliance of trailblazers to be realised (the Royal Oak was, upon release, regarded as something of a death knell for AP).
It is in this area of fundamental design that I think we might find most interest at Baselworld 2017. I’m keeping everything crossed that this transpires, as there’s nothing quite as exciting as something totally new that has the potential to redefine its era and age gracefully to boot.
About the Author: Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.