Best de­signs, trends and pre­dic­tions for 2019

Business Traveller - - CONTENTS - WORDS CHRIS HALL

Fifty years ago, a me­chan­i­cal watch was a ne­ces­sity and the in­dus­try was boom­ing – thanks in part to as­so­ci­a­tions with mo­tor­sport, ad­ven­ture, avi­a­tion and space flight that cap­tured the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion. But dis­as­ter lay around the cor­ner, in the form of the bat­tery-pow­ered quartz watch. Launched in 1969, it would drive down prices and force hun­dreds of Swiss com­pa­nies to close. These days, we take the ex­is­tence of me­chan­i­cal watches – im­por­tantly, now “lux­ury watches” – for granted once more, but it is some­times sur­pris­ing that they are here at all.

Seen in that light, the state of the in­dus­try to­day is cause for cel­e­bra­tion. Re­cent years have been tur­bu­lent, but it feels like watch fans have never had it so good. This year, there have been signs that the in­dus­try is grow­ing once more, and when it comes to the watches them­selves, 2018’s of­fer­ing has been more di­verse than pre­vi­ous years.

As the world around us has seemed to get a lit­tle darker, the lux­u­ries with which we dis­tract our­selves have got a lit­tle brighter. Watch­mak­ers con­tinue to glee­fully plun­der the rich­ness of the 1970s, bring­ing us de­signs that sing with blues, oranges and greens. There is also a hint that the 1980s are ripe for re­vival, with the suc­cess of mod­els like the Cartier San­tos, and the gen­eral will­ing­ness to em­brace “two-tone” watches of steel and gold once more.

As met­als go, how­ever, third place is the new first, with bronze watches emerg­ing as one of the must-have trends. And, thank­fully, for those of us cov­er­ing this fas­ci­nat­ing in­dus­try, there have also been more signs of life from the ar­ti­san watch­mak­ers, whose cre­ations we can only dream of own­ing – although it has to be said, it re­mains a tough time to be a small, in­de­pen­dent high-end brand.

Al­most as vi­brant as the watches them­selves is the bat­tle to mar­ket them, a con­test which is in­creas­ingly be­ing fought on­line. Cracks be­gan to ap­pear in the Swiss brands’ re­sis­tance to the in­ter­net a cou­ple of years ago, but 2018 looks like the year that the sta­tus quo might start to crum­ble.

Dis­rup­tive mi­cro-brands can un­der­cut tra­di­tional play­ers and are bet­ter at us­ing so­cial me­dia (see Farer, page 88), but the real threats to the lux­ury maisons are the sites deal­ing in “pre-owned” – of­ten grey mar­ket – watches that lop hun­dreds of pounds off the price of as-new watches. Lux­ury Swiss brand Richemont buy­ing up the UK’s Watchfinder is a sign the in­dus­try is at­tempt­ing to get its house in or­der, and there are re­ports of other brands em­brac­ing sites like Chronext and Chrono24, but who will win and who will lose un­der this “if you can’t beat them, join them” strat­egy re­mains to be seen.

FROM TOP: Mont­blanc 1858 Bronze; Cartier San­tos; and H Moser Pi­o­neer

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