Dear Hero, Dear Rebel…

Low rider mo­tor­bikes, cam­ou­flage pat­terns and mas­sive elab­o­rate tat­toos are now bank­able in the high-end watch in­dus­try. Some wealthy in­di­vid­u­als from the al­ter­na­tive scene ac­tu­ally don’t like the codes of global lux­ury and are look­ing for some­thing diffe

Plaza Watch International - - Dear Hero, Dear Rebel... - WORDS Louis Nardin

The sec­ond half of the 40s was a spe­cial time in the USA. As the Hells An­gels motorcycle club emerged in Fon­tana, Cal­i­for­nia, World War II US sol­diers were back from the bat­tle­fields and try­ing to start a new life at home. Th­ese young vet­er­ans had still in mind the pin-ups that air fight­ers used to paint on the noses of their planes. Their curves might have made tak­ing off less scary. Cruis­ing around the Bay, the bik­ers were un­pre­dictable out­casts. Some of them were deeply in­volved in il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties. Hell’s An­gels still em­body in­de­pen­dence, re­bel­lion and a way of life, out­side the law.

The Hell’s An­gels were gang­sters, the vet­er­ans were he­roes, and both have be­come trendy enough to in­spire to­day’s high-end watch brands. In­deed, it has been a few years now since dif­fer­ent sub­cul­tures in­fil­trated the world of lux­ury watches, with tat­toos be­ing the lat­est hip thing.

In 2011, MB&F in­tro­duced the HM4 Raz­zle Daz­zle and its sis­ter watch, the Dou­ble Trou­ble, in ref­er­ence to the “nose art paint” prac­ticed on war­planes. At Baselworld 2014 you could also find neo-rebels, like a sparkling vi­o­let cus­tomised mo­tor­bike chopper in a hid­den room of Ro­main Jerome’s booth. Next to it stood the H9CDNA HardNine Chop­pers – a watch that goes with the bike. And they are not the only ones. Artya, one of the most un­pre­dictable brands of the plateau, also co-re­alised a mas­sive mo­tor­bike. The brand pro­motes an iden­tity built on provo­ca­tion and gaso­line. Re­cently, Haut­lence founded its Gen­tle­men rebels’ club with Eric Can­tona to em­body it, and what about Re­bel­lion? That brand name speaks for it­self. Pin-ups, hos­tile ve­hi­cles and rough guys – they all re­fer to so­cial groups who used to live another way than most, and for whom dan­ger and adren­a­line were a part of life. Why is that?

He­roes don’t Fear

“The Dou­ble Trou­ble and Raz­zle Daz­zle HM4 watches cel­e­brate the myth of the hero,” ex­plains Max­i­m­il­ian Büsser, founder of MB&F. “I have been al­ways fas­ci­nated by the World War II era be­cause sol­diers had to sur­pass them­selves to go and fight. 90 per cent of fighter pi­lots could die each time they left the base. You can read this in Pierre Closter­mann’s story about the Bat­tle of Eng­land. To­day, we have fewer he­roes as tech­nol­ogy de­hu­man­ised fights. Just think about the drones con­trolled from thou­sands of miles away. No­body risks his life, as old For­mula 1 pi­lots used to also for in­stance. I re­mem­ber I was fas­ci­nated by th­ese fig­ures as a child. In­deed chil­dren need to project them­selves as he­roes and hero­ism is in­ti­mately linked to dan­ger. They can then grow into

“The Hell’s An­gels were gang­sters, the vet­er­ans were he­roes, and both have be­come trendy enough to in­spire to­day’s high- end watch brands.”

adults and be­come, for ex­am­ple, a fire­fighter to save peo­ple. To­day he­roes have other faces. They are peo­ple who try to rebel against the con­for­mity our so­ci­eties softly want to im­pose on us. For that, they use sym­bols of re­bel­lion, and tat­toos for ex­am­ple be­long to them. They rep­re­sent a way to es­cape George Or­well’s 1984 syn­drome. This said, tat­toos could also be seen as a re­cent re­ac­tion to the per­fect man that used to be de­scribed as a met­ro­sex­ual. It is some­how the re­turn of the vir­ile man.”

Catch the Essence

Ro­main Jerome’s DNA is to cre­ate orig­i­nal watches that evoke dif­fer­ent con­tem­po­rary uni­verses. Led by Em­manuel Emch, the brand works on catch­ing the essence of a trend, an artis­tic style, a his­tor­i­cal fact or the cul­ture of a mod­ern day tribe be­fore in­still­ing it into a watch. An art ob- server for years, Emch works on cre­at­ing th­ese spe­cific links. “New con­sumers have dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions and live dif­fer­ently than the older gen­er­a­tions,” he says. “Some have been suc­cess­ful in new busi­nesses and don’t recog­nise them­selves in the codes ex­posed by the tra­di­tional lux­ury brands. They have been in­no­va­tive, have taken risks, of­ten have strong and ex­tro­vert per­son­al­i­ties, some like be­ing provoca­tive. For them, be­ing ag­gres­sive is not a taboo. Clas­si­cal watches are clearly sym­bols of the old ways of mak­ing business, of­ten with long decision pro­cesses and no place for cre­ativ­ity. They think th­ese days are over. My role con­sists in of­fer­ing spe­cific pre­cious watches that meet their needs. In ad­di­tion to that, the X gen­er­a­tion buy­ing habits are dif­fer­ent. Ear­lier, cus­tomers used to be­long to a de­fined so­cio-eco­nom­i­cal class that shared the same tastes and points of in­ter­est. X gen­er­a­tion peo­ple go freely from one so­cial group, or tribe, to the other. They don’t want to follow mod­els and don’t trust any­more the old mar­ket­ing strate­gies based on am­bas­sadors that jump from one brand to another. Th­ese new cus­tomers are also very sen­si­tive to trends. They have dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests such as video games or con­tem­po­rary art. Or they like cam­ou­flage pat­terns as well as steam punk. As a watch brand, we have to adapt our­selves and gain this flex­i­bil­ity. More­over, nowa­days, peo­ple want to be able to cus­tomise them­selves. Tat­toos fit per­fectly this need as they al­low the per­son­al­i­sa­tion of bod­ies. They are ob­vi­ous signs of self-ex­pres­sion. Tat­toos are sym­bols that show you be­long to a cer­tain so­cial group too. And this no­tion is cru­cial. In­deed, trust be­came an im­por­tant so­cial value. And it grows among peo­ple that share sim­i­lar vi­sions. This cre­ates strong and co­her­ent groups. Th­ese groups al­ways have a leader,

or an in­flu­encer. And the goal for a brand is to un­der­stand this leader per­fectly in or­der to ac­cess his com­mu­nity. This is the key to cre­ate the right prod­uct. The process takes time, hard labour and is dan­ger­ous too. In­deed, the worst thing is to be re­jected by the mem­bers. Be­ing hum­ble is key, as well as be­ing pa­tient, sen­si­tive, and very in­tu­itive. Per­son­ally, I think it is also im­por­tant to let peo­ple get in­volved in the process. They want to be part of it, feel­ing like artists. In the end, the chal­lenge con­sists in tak­ing the good risks while stay­ing fash­ion­able.”

Pro­voke and Pester

Yvan Arpa, who runs the brands Artya, Black Belt and Spero Lucem, con­sid­ers re­bel­lion the fact of not be­ing afraid of dan­ger and liv­ing in­ten­sively one’s pas­sions. “Re­bel­lion can’t be a con­cept but a way of liv­ing,” he says. “In my case it means be­ing able to start cre­ative projects when­ever I want with ab­so­lutely no lim­its or taboos. I look for in­ten­sity and free­dom and I fight for this, what­ever the con­se­quences. Rebels are also there to pro­voke and pester peo­ple be­cause they make no deal, no ar­range­ments. I don’t find that in most of the watches pre­tend­ing to be re­bel­lious.” Ac­tu­ally, for Yvan Arpa, watches are fas­ci­nat­ing ob­jects. He loves the ef­forts and skills nec­es­sary to cre­ate one and their philo­soph­i­cal di­men­sion, which is cap­tur­ing time. But for Arpa, they first serve his own needs to re­sist an im­age of lux­ury. One he finds cal­cu­lat­ing, op­por­tunist or hyp­ocrite. “This vi­sion has an echo. My cus­tomers un­der­stand this rad­i­cal ap­proach of liv­ing out of se­cu­rity zones and that some peo­ple are look­ing for that. Like Voltaire, who I es­teem a lot, I am ready to loose ev­ery­thing to re­main free.”

The Breeze of Free­dom

Even if they are an­tag­o­nists, he­roes and rebels are the in­spir­ing fig­ures of the mo­ment. To para­phrase the fa­mous mythol­o­gist Joseph Camp­bell, they all put their own life in sec­ond place to achieve what makes the most sense for them. The watches work then as tal­is­mans, which carry a bit of the courage of th­ese in­di­vid­u­als. It just went one step fur­ther with tat­toos. In­deed, watch­mak- ers had never cel­e­brated ink in the skin. Thanks to some se­lect pro­gres­sive brands, the new codes of con­tem­po­rary war­riors are ap­par­ent.

Watch­mak­ing has been known to cel­e­brate al­ter­na­tive kinds of beauty and art; it is nor­mal then that, heroic or rebel, tat­toos would come to them. But this doesn’t an­swer the ques­tion of who are the real rebels of to­day? Their pas­sion to live with­out lim­its re­mains dis­tant from the de­sires of the majority… they cre­ate a breeze of free­dom through their choice of ob­jects.

“Re­bel­lion can’t be a con­cept but a way of liv­ing. In my case it means be­ing able to start cre­ative projects when­ever I want with ab­so­lutely no lim­its or taboos.”

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