What’s In a name?
How do brands alight upon just the right name for their treasured creations? Plaza Watch investigates the science behind selecting the right name.
As with babies, so it is with watches. Parents deliberate long and hard on the name they will bestow on their newborn. A name that, deed poll aside, it will carry for the rest of its life.
So too do watch manufacturers. Sometimes they get it right: Rolex’s Oyster is perhaps the most successfully-named watch of all time, the word not only hinting at its special qualities of water and dust-resistance but, atypically, also reflecting the look of the watch with its neat, cushion-cased proportions.
And sometimes they don’t: Robert Lighton’s Growler, Oris’ Jazzmaster, Bulova’s Broker, certainly Certina’s Podium Furious and maybe even the Zenith El Primero are up for debate. And companies don’t have hit after hit either: Rolex’s Turn-O-Graph makes it sound like something a newborn might play with.
Small wonder some companies have attempted to pack everything into an overly descriptive name – Longine’s HydroConquest Column Wheel Chrono hardly trips off the tongue. Or that some brands, like certain car manufacturers, have opted out of the name game altogether in favour of a series number – Patek Philippe may be revered, but its new steel annual calendar chrono’s official designation, the Ref: 5960.1A, is easily forgotten.
“Naming a watch is very important,” says Sybille Kircher, director of Nomen, a German creative agency specialising in brand naming. Nomen has provided names to the likes of VW and Mercedes, but also Longines, Tudor and Cartier. “A name conveys a concept but allows you to build stories around a watch, making the shopper keep a specific model in mind. It’s all the more important with watches because they’re such personal items. Many people identify deeply with the watch they wear and want its name to say something. Or, at the very least, not to sound bad.”
Kircher herself wears a Nomos – for its Bauhaus aesthetic, and because its company name sounds not dissimilar to her own. But Nomos has had its share of arguably unappealing model names too: the Ahoi, the Lux and the Ludwig, for example, the latter of which might play well in its native Germany but less well abroad.
Indeed, Kircher notes how, since high-end watches in particular are sold to markets globally, a name must ideally work internationally too: Ford’s Probe car, for instance, was, she recalls, something of a flop in Germany because its name echoes the German for ‘to try or sample’, with all that might suggest of an unfinished product. And, as Nick
“Watches we named 10 years ago are still used today and become brands in their own right. It would be very difficult to change a name once released.”
English, co-founder of Bremont stresses, once a name is out there, there is no going back.
“In fact, naming a watch is actually more important than one first thinks,” he says. “Watches we named 10 years ago are still used today and become brands in their own right. It would be very difficult to change a name once released. Take the Daytona, for example – that’s a very powerful brand in itself, and conjures up everything the name was designed to do.
And when we came to name our first diving watch we couldn’t help but go for Supermarine, because it tied aviation – with its nod to the Spitfire designer R. J. Mitchell – and diving, beautifully together. But then there are loads of dodgy watch model names around too...”
How about Breitling’s Avenger II Seawolf, for instance, a superhero watch given too much of a superhero name? Gavin Murphy, Managing Director of Breitling UK, chuckles at its excess. “There are so many brands and each brand has so many watches that a distinctive name is essential for some differentiation and helps give a watch personality or explain what it’s about. The Chronomat, with its slide rule, was a blend of ‘chronograph’ and ‘mathematics’” he explains. “But sometimes a name just creates the right mood – and a name like Avenger Seawolf clearly says ‘masculine’, ‘strong’ – that it’s definitely a watch for guys. It perhaps suggests that the watch is a serious bit of kit.”
A theory: might it be impossible for a watch to attain iconic status without a revealing, striking and memorable name? Certainly it seems that there are few exceptions to the rule that those watches widely deemed stone-cold classics carry a name and are, as cult 60s TV series ‘The Prisoner’ reminded us, more than just a number. Maybe, indeed, the differentiation a name brings, in people as in timepieces – from Navitimer to Nautilus, Submariner to Speedmaster, Monaco to Santos, Royal Oak to Reverso – is as central to the iconography of a watch as the physical item itself.
Well, maybe. The name game – a blend of psychology, suggestion, status, language and visual appeal – is rarely simple. Kircher argues that Patek Philippe, for example, has in fact successfully echoed the approach more often used in the automotive sector in often ditching monikers – into which can be read so much – for numerals, thus fitting with the Teutonic efficiency, highly technical nature and insider knowledge that they suggest.
“A brand that uses just a letter/number combination tends to have done so throughout its history, so it becomes part of what it’s about,” she says. “But it also makes the actual brand name stand out. When you have a very strong brand name, there is an argument for using weak product names, if any. It throws the spotlight on the brand as a whole. It’s one reason why people don’t want a Patek this or a Patek that. First and foremost, they just want a Patek.”