Best designs, trends and predictions for 2019
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