THE LUXURY OF COMMON SENSE
For all that I love this industry and its heady cocktail of luxury, technology and global influence, there are days when it drives me crazy. The luxury watch business is all about selling a dream. I get that. A luxury watch is a largely spontaneous purchase, as opposed to a necessary one, and therefore those of us behind the velvet curtain need to make sure we entertain on an emotional level as well as a cerebral level if we’re to succeed – after all, we’re not selling insulation here.
But when we lose perspective and that dream becomes an absurd fantasy, it bothers me. Sometimes the industry is guilty of preying on people’s gullibility, of encouraging a Veblen good, or conspicuous consumerism. Remember the I Am Rich iPhone app, which cost $999.99 to purchase, yet when launched simply showed a red glowing gem on the screen and a vapid message about how you the user deserved your wealth? That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.
And I’m increasingly convinced that right now luxury watch customers are starting to feel the same. Let me explain. As we emerge from the global financial crisis, bloodied but unbowed, there is a mood of conservative optimism in the air. The prevailing feeling is that recovery is on the way and that we’ll embrace strategies that stimulate growth. But for goodness sake, let’s not overinflate the balloon this time.
One of the products of that is an appreciation of value as well as quality, and a need for authenticity, even in our indulgences. We still want the best, but we also want to know that the best will last, rather than go bang with all the spectacular finality of the last firework at New Year.
This, for the record, has been the Oris mantra for 110 years, and is why I love working for the company. When our founding fathers set up their watchmaking business in the small Swiss town of Holstein in 1904, their intention was to make a great product that didn’t cost the Earth, a simple philosophy that has endured through the good times and the bad, and continues to inform our designs and our decisions today.
We like to say we offer ‘the luxury of common sense’. Yes, we know the product we make isn’t as accessible as a mass-produced quartz watch, but that’s not the point. I have no issue with anyone who prefers such a watch to an Oris watch, or to any other luxury Swiss timepiece. That’s the luxury of personal choice.
My point is that while an Oris watch is a luxury item that’s made to the exacting standards implied by the Swiss Made designation, it also offers tangible value to our customers. That’s not an easy claim to make, but we cling to it and strive to imbue our watches with it.
Take three innovations we’ve introduced in recent years by way of illustration. First, the Aquis Depth Gauge, launched last year. Its depth gauge function works by applying the basic principles of physics, allowing water to enter a channel cut into the sapphire crystal via a hole at 12 o’clock. It’s a blissfully simply solution to a technical challenge, and provides divers with a legitimate function. And it costs less than €2,900 – around a fifth of the price of the next most affordable mechanical Swiss watch that performs the same task.
Then there’s this year’s 110 Years Limited Edition. Inside that is the first movement developed in-house by Oris for 35 years. Its headline functions are a 10-day power reserve and a non-linear power reserve indicator, two complications that have never been combined before. In a steel case, it retails for under €5000.
And one more before I start banging the drum too loudly – our latest innovation, the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter, the world’s first automatic mechanical watch with a built-in mechanical altimeter. That comes in at touch over €2,900.
Each of these is an authentic product sold at a price that reflects their value honestly – we use the word ‘real’ in our advertising campaigns. We believe – and in fact our customers are very generous in reinforcing this view with us – that they are robust watches that serve a real purpose while simultaneously bringing an enormous amount of pleasure to their owners, over a long period of time. They enable people to live a dream without the need to invest unduly in the notion of ‘brand’ (and note I’m not saying perceptions of a brand aren’t important – they absolutely are), which ultimately offers very little real value.
That’s the luxury of common sense. That’s Oris. And that’s why this industry hasn’t driven me completely crazy – yet.