They say that life is simple – we just complicate it ourselves. But, sometimes, a little bit of complication adds to one’s quality of life and, when it comes to watchmaking, we’ve found that a little complication goes a long, long way writes Simon Balsom.
The fundamentals of watch design and manufacture have remained (basically) the same since Nuremburg’s Peter Henlein invented the watch in the early years of the 16th century. Of course as decades, and now centuries, have passed, every aspect of the watch’s creation has been refined to the nth degree.
There remain simple movements inside many outwardly beautiful watches. But, for us, the true beauty of a fine timepiece lays elsewhere – often inside the case, sometimes in the heart of the maker, and frequently in the passion of the collector.
Today, watchmaking is about more than merely making watches, it’s about creating lifestyles and about generating big business.
The Swiss are renowned for jealously protecting and enhancing their perceived ownership of the global watch trade. They’re not the only people making watches, but a Swiss watch remains the archetypal timepiece – aspirational to new collectors in perhaps the same way as a red Ferrari is to every young boy.
This small nation currently exports watches to the value of around US$20 billion every year. That’s some considerable scale, so it makes the Swiss – and the watch business – an attractive target for global companies and thrusting nations.
An interesting and current ‘game changer’ is the advent of smartwatches. As a society we’re keen to turn every product in to a connected product. A wristwatch makes the perfect vehicle.
Centuries of the creation of artisanal knowledge – the DNA of every fine watchmaker – have been swept aside by the need for tech knowledge and geek culture. Not all traditional houses reacted well (none reacted quickly), but we’re seeing a process of catch-up underway where, finally, watchmakers with a heritage are creating smartwatches that are desirable and luxurious products.
The successful future of the luxury watch sector is regularly written off. Time and again the same arguments are trotted out – most common these days the smartwatch is cited, as are our ubiquitous cellphones. “You don’t need a watch to know what the time is”.
But what continues to grow in strength is the knowledge – amongst men and women of culture and substance – that there exists no better way of making a statement than through the selection and wearing of a superbly imagined and finely executed timepiece.
In a world where we are expected to conform more to societies ideals year by year, a watch marks out its owner as an individualist. It is to the individualists amongst us, and to others who seek to be inspired, that this month’s edition of our print magazine Men’s Passion is dedicated, along with much of the month’s best stories here on Passions Arabia.
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