When I first came in contact with the watchmaking world, 15 years ago, I knew nothing about it. I had to rethink a luxury magazine which had got off to a bad start. This was my dream – I thought I was very good at outlining the concept of a publication; I told myself this was the right time to prove it. I was soon to discover that, of all the areas covered by that magazine, watchmaking was the greatest hassle: the level of technicality and the wealth of the tradition were absolutely overwhelming.
And yet, sometimes I find it more difficult to write about watches today than I did 15 years ago. The trends are increasingly chaotic, while the patience of the main actors in the industry – from manufacturers to designers, to customers, to specialized journalists – is getting less and less. I think something of this noble craft, born of a cult for precision, meticulous work, research and even contemplation is starting to lose its edge. And this is precisely the measure.
Things are changing too quickly and leave no time for reflection: some old brands abandon their individuality overnight, they ”reinvent themselves” for no reason, while other, more recent ones take questionable shortcuts or venture towards predictable dead ends, making every effort not to miss a race with fewer and fewer rules, approaching sales with the hunger of a bulimic. What was it that made the market demands become so twisted, how did competitive values become so lax and contradictory?
Right before our eyes, the respect for the customer with great purchasing power yet little watchmaking culture (or culture in general, for that matter) is constantly growing, changing the aesthetic agenda of some prestigious brands, while others not only abandon themselves to irrelevance, but even feed it as much as they can. I would say that the watch industry seems overly eager to curry favor with social media exhibitionists, with people who associate luxury with excess and irreverence, with those who mistake surprise for stupefaction, with one-summer fad consumers.
Fifteen years ago (i.e., my baseline) people used to talk more about ethics, rules, refusing compromise, educating an audience meant to ensure not only the survival, but also the creative thriving of the watchmaking art. Today, the dials of exceedingly priced timepieces graphically glorify Mario Puzo’s fictional gangsters or Caligula, they praise voyeurism or celebrate eccentricity. Make no mistake about it, such products have always existed on the market; on the other hand, if shock becomes one of the creative triggers of the industry, I’m afraid the outcome will not be in favor of the brands: they will come across more and more apathetic, uneducated and eternally dissatisfied customers, with whom they will find it increasingly difficult (not to mention humiliating) to communicate.
When competition in a field that otherwise prides itself on its secular landmarks, on its passion for precision, on the preservation of rare crafts etc., turns into a vale tudo – a fight without any rules or standards whatsoever – we will be witnessing the dilution of the watchmaking message. Short-term success cannot be the key to a craft that takes pride in the subtle, well-controlled balance between tradition, inventiveness and aesthetic refinement. The sensationalism, the appetite for the violent deconstruction of values and the exhibition of the grey part of the soul do not belong here.
The technological advance has stripped watchmaking of its practical relevance. The watch is no longer an indispensable tool for our everyday life. Its symbolic and aesthetic value are still there, as is the free yet fascinating inventiveness of its elaborate mechanics. Let us preserve them, celebrate them and, above all, let us rediscover measure.