In­de­struc­tible… For Gen­er­a­tions to Come

The new Inox from Vic­tori­nox is an as­ton­ish­ing break­through piece in more than one way. Not only is it prob­a­bly the most durably tough wrist­watch on the mar­ket, it also has youth ap­peal. Not only will it phys­i­cally last for gen­er­a­tions to come, it will ap

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Given the some­times bare, lab-like en­vi­ron­ment of many watch man­u­fac­to­ries, this is some­thing out of the or­di­nary. A man is let­ting a large up­ended metal ham­mer swing round through 180 de­grees straight into a watch. It goes fly­ing across the fire sta­tion fore­court – for what bet­ter place to ex­press the sheer strength and machismo of a new time­piece than to have it bashed about by Swiss fire­men?

When it is re­trieved, amaz­ingly still in­tact, the same watch is put into the sta­tion’s own wash­ing ma­chine, on a quick wash and spin cy­cle. It comes out, scratched and bat­tered, but still tick­ing away.

Fi­nally, the fire en­gine is driven over it, in an echo of a pre­vi­ous feat that saw the watch sur­vive the close at­ten­tion of the tracks of a 64-tonne Swiss Army tank. Watch test­ing has never been more fun.

Th­ese tests are just two of the 130 or so that Vic­tori­nox’s new Inox watch has been through. Test­ing that saw some 400 pro­to­types over three years fall foul of too many Gs of ac­cel­er­a­tion, or sim­ply not cope well with be­ing drowned in sol­vents… as you might ex­pect.

Yet the fi­nal model was held in a 2200 de­grees F flame for over a minute, and still told the time. It was en­cased in an ice block for 168 hours, and still told the time. It un­der­went and sur­vived a vi­bra­tion test new to the Swiss in­dus­try, and so on. The re­sult, Vic­tori­nox is sug­gest­ing, makes it the tough­est watch ever cre­ated – one in the eye for the G-Shock boys at Ca­sio.

It is, the company hopes, not only mim­ick­ing the quin­tes­sen­tial func­tion­al­ity of its Swiss Army penknives – Inox comes from the French for stain­less steel – but could be­come sim­i­larly iconic, es­pe­cially for the cus­tomer less con­cerned with her­itage and move­ment, and more con­cerned with, if not im­press­ing fire­men, then at least hav­ing a watch that just does what it should de­pend­ably do in almost any con­di­tions. Just 25 years into mak­ing watches, it is cer­tainly a state­ment of in­tent by Vic­tori­nox to claim a niche of the mar­ket.

“Twenty-five years is pretty young for a watch brand but we saw the de­vel­op­ment of this watch as a real op­por­tu­nity. To look to the fu­ture of watches rather than just turn to the ar­chives, as many watch com­pa­nies are do­ing,” ex­plains Fran­cois Nunez, Prod­uct Di­rec­tor for Vic­tori­nox watches. “We want the Inox to be­come the company’s fu­ture clas­sic. Con­sump­tion pat­terns are chang­ing – more con­sumers ex­pect what they buy to re­ally last, like a Swiss Army knife. Peo­ple are get­ting very tired with planned ob­so­les­cence. And so we wanted the watch to be tested for re­al­ity. For the oc­ca­sion when you ac­tu­ally do for­get your watch in your trouser pocket and put it in the wash­ing ma­chine. Ac­tu­ally we’ve had com­plaints from cus­tomers re­gard­ing older watch mod­els that they’ve done this to – “‘but you said it was wa­ter­proof!’” Nunez jokes.

“I think now to make a dif­fer­ence as a watch company you have to have a dif­fer­ent point of view. You can’t just keep do­ing the same thing over and over,” he adds, “and tough­ness seemed to us to be a very un­der-ex­plored ter­ri­tory. The Swiss in­dus­try just seems to have left it to the Ja­panese.”

Vic­tori­nox’s em­pha­sis on func­tion­al­ity has re­sulted in more than a few de­sign im­prove­ments of the kind that makes one won­der why they have not long ago be­come stan­dard through the watch in­dus­try. The likes of a one-piece case con­struc­tion that spreads the stresses, rather than fo­cus­ing them around the four lugs; the in­dices be­ing stamped into the dial, rather than glued on; and a re­cessed crys­tal that al­lows the bezel to of­fer it some pro­tec­tion. The Inox’s 43mm size, fur­ther­more, was a re­sult not of mar­ket­ing’s un­der­stand­ing of the most prof­itable sales trends, but of the fact that this was the small­est Vic­tori­nox could make the watch while pro­tect­ing its parts and quartz move­ment to the level it does. In fact, pro­tect­ing the move­ment was the big­gest ob­sta­cle to cre­at­ing the mar­ket-lead­ing tough­ness stan­dards Vic­tori­nox was aim­ing for.

“Our tough­est chal­lenge by far was the 10-me­tre drop onto con­crete test, be­cause we can’t con­trol the im­pact re­sis­tance of the quartz com­po­nents. We have to buy those in. And they are, in fact, very frag­ile,” ex­plains Nunez. “We had to find some other al­ter­na­tive to mak­ing our own quartz move­ments, which we couldn’t do – so we came up with a sil­i­con cush­ion that sits un­der the move­ment, and a bezel that drops slightly on im­pact to dis­si­pate the en­ergy. I’d have loved to have used a me­chan­i­cal move­ment but the fact is there isn’t one that would have sur­vived all the tests. I’m a watch guy and sad that this one comes with a bat­tery – but it’s what it needs.”

Nunez, whose work back­ground in­cludes spells at Calvin Klein Watches, Ge­org Jensen and Rado (in­ven­tors of scratch re­sis­tance) con­tends that watch de­sign­ers don’t think enough like prod­uct or in­dus­trial de­sign­ers. “There is no magic in this Inox watch,” he says, “any more than there is in a sus­pen­sion bridge – it’s about physics and en­gi­neer­ing and, in the case of this watch, de­vel­op­ing the prod­uct very care­fully, mi­cron by mi­cron. It’s one thing to know what the prob­lem is with a watch and the way it works, but another to know how to get the so­lu­tion – which is why a lot of the test­ing and de­vel­op­ment in­volved cre­at­ing new meth­ods.”

Nunez con­tin­ues, “The ob­jec­tive wasn’t to trans­late a Swiss Army knife into a watch and have blades com­ing out of the back, but cer­tainly to ap­ply the same phi­los­o­phy. The fact is that watches get dam­aged and this one is made of steel, not some hi-tech ma­te­rial, so it will get bashed about. The prom­ise is that its func­tion­al­ity will con­tinue re­gard­less.”

But nor has the company – 130 years old this year – been naive enough to con­clude that good looks are not also im­por­tant. To this end the Inox is rather a classy model, clas­sic enough to not date, mod­ern enough to not look like a her­itage piece, and, Nunez ap­pre­ci­ates, with some­thing of a nod to­wards Aude­mars Piguet’s Royal Oak and a 1970s aes­thetic in gen­eral.

“And,” he adds, “of course the watch had to ac­tu­ally look tough too – the kind of watch that looks so­phis­ti­cated from a dis­tance, de­tailed up close, but isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the kind of watch you fall in love with at first sight, more one you start a long re­la­tion­ship with.”

Yet to this end the de­sign has also taken a much more un­con­ven­tional mea­sure – one that in a few years will ei­ther be dis­missed as a gim­mick or as a stroke of ge­nius. It is called the bumper, and it amounts to a ny­lon/sil­i­cone ring that clips on over the Inox’s bezel to cre­ate some­thing of a pro­tec­tive shell – one that can be clipped on when your ac­tiv­ity is gen­uinely likely to put your watch’s mod­el­ling ca­reer in jeop­ardy, and taken off when you’re at­tend­ing that red car­pet gala event.

Ad­mit­tedly, the bumper doesn’t do much for the visual ap­peal of the watch – at least not to any­one over 30. But in that Vic­tori­nox may also have hit on some­thing cru­cial to the long-term fu­ture of the watch in­dus­try: how to make watches ap­peal to a gen­er­a­tion or two of con­sumers ad­dicted to their smart­phones and, frankly, with lit­tle or no in­ter­est in wear­ing a watch. The in­dus­try claims that the watch ap­peals to a con­sumers’ sense of her­itage, con­ti­nu­ity, craft, a love of the me­chan­i­cal and a chance to show off a lit­tle – but all th­ese rea­sons look less than per­sua­sive to some­one who has never worn one and sees lit­tle point in do­ing so, or as­pir­ing to do so.

The bumper, how­ever, as odd as it can at first seem, of­fers those younger gen­er­a­tions the chance to cus­tomise and in­di­vid­u­alise – much as they do (well, most of us do in fact) with our choice of smart­phone case. In time the company plans to of­fer many dif­fer­ent styles of bumper, coloured and pat­terned.

“The bumper came from the no­tion of adding lay­ers, like a new blade to a knife,” says Nunez, “and we’ve got ideas about in­cor­po­rat­ing ad­di­tional func­tions to the bumper too, so you can use them as and when you need them. But, of course, there’s a strong dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ment to the bumper that will ap­peal to younger peo­ple too. When I first started wear­ing a pro­to­type a lot of peo­ple my age thought it was just crazy – ‘who wants to wear that?’ they’d say. And I un­der­stood. I had the same feel­ing when I got my first iPhone – I didn’t want to spoil the beau­ti­ful lines by wrap­ping them in a bit of rub­ber. Of course now I have a case on my phone – a Vic­tori­nox one – and I kind of like the per­sonal ex­pres­sion in it.

“But, you know what, show the bumper to a 20-year-old and they get it im­me­di­ately. Be­cause they’re used to cus­tomis­ing what they wear,” Nunez states. “I look at young peo­ple and worry how they’re not in­ter­ested in wear­ing watches – and the in­dus­try at large should be wor­ried about that too. But I think some­thing like this could per­suade them to put a watch on their wrist when they’ve never worn one be­fore.”

“The ob­jec­tive wasn’t to trans­late a Swiss Army knife into a watch and have blades com­ing out of the back, but cer­tainly to ap­ply the same phi­los­o­phy.”

The I n o x e m b o dies t o u g h s o p h is­tic l a stin a ti o n . g,

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