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.

Plaza Watch International - - What's In A Name? - WORDS JOSH SIMS

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.”

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