Sunday, February 17, 2008

Horology is dead

Another year, another SIHH and Basel coming.  Debate of the relative merits and shortcomings of the new watches will rage on forums everywhere.  Watches have gained enough popularity fuelled by the internet that they are brought to people who would never otherwise have been interested.  That's great, that you'll awaken people to it and you'll also get the inevitable attention of the unknowledgable opinionated ignorami, but more irritatingly a slew of rubbish watches.  The upsurge of watch culture in just a few years has led to a flabby market exploited by companies, auctioneers and privateers big and small.  This slingshot of horology to the mainstream is for many the dark cloud of of doom. 

I've been part of this watches thing for a long time. I can honestly say I've been watching watches since before watches enjoyed any sort of popularity.  I enjoyed them and enjoyed their absence from the mainstream and being 'a part of something' obscure like ThePurists was. Before the market took over, horology inspired us, taught us new and old technical ideas and it will again.  Horology isn't dead though rather, it's the coolness, which has faded.

Horology, which has become reduced to a market serving platitude.  With popularity, watches have become predictable, and regrettable. Horology's fundamental ideals are compromised for the market, lost in plain sight, leaving only the impurities precipitated from it. Here's the bottom line for me: I still like watches and properly executed horology.  One generation ago the hobby didn't even have a name.  The internet and resultant communication between like minded enthusiasts did spur the market and lead to some great new things.  It's what came on the coattails I have a problem with. The saving grace is that the two edged sword of success gives some companies the ability to invest in true horological innovation; it's just harder to see the wood for the trees.  

"Horology is dead.  Long live horology."


jrmartin said...

Completely in agrement. Horology is dead.

JJS said...

Welcome back, Velociphile.

Silence on your blog was becoming defeaning, since you last posted a piece in early October 2007 ("Shill Hits The Fan"). Occasionally, I'd look up your site and wonder whatever had happened to you. In an obscure way, I imagined it was linked to the way the world of watch collectors was evolving, perhaps not to your taste.

You bring up some real issues: the enthusiasm begotten by true expertise (I remember your reports on some of the intricacies of Audemars Piguet or Jaeger LeCoultre movements) has been sadly superseded by blather from what you term "the ignorami" (for lack of proper knowledge of horology, I belong to this shameful category).

But then, surely you will recognize that, in this 21st century, the onslaught of low-quality products and the parallel proliferation of incontinent commentary is not special to horology. Think of writing, where too many authors on current affairs use bloated expressions, "proactive" instead of simply "in tune with", "paradigm" even for the most commonplace opportunistic change... Think of music, where a handful of reviewers (not all of them bad, nor unscrupulous) can make or break the reputation of fine up-and-coming performers. Think of the very personal act of tasting wine, which has come under the swaggering diktat of some (not incompetent) trend-setters. Should we, as a result of these developments, eschew our innocent interest in horology, abandon reading magazines or reviews, turn a deaf ear on the vibrant music of today, or give up the enjoyment of wine?

I owe you part of my interest in watchmaking, and even wrote in one of the better-known blogs on horology that I appreciated your "terse, expert and sober technical reviews". This gives me no right to preach, but it does prompt me to plead for your continued contribution. Think of it this way: your blog is a potent antidote to ignorance and vulgarity.

By the way, whatever happened to the "Lemon" award?

I wish you well.


Velociphile said...

Hi JJS, you are too kind, as ever. Yes, life in the noughties is oveloaded with information - the blessing and the curse of the web. And I agree, the style over substance problem is not just the ill of the watch industry...

As for the 'Lemon', I think Dario and I just got too busy with our new respective commitments to give it much time. Maybe we can squeeze it in this SIHHBasel season?

Reason for absence is simply I have been too busy with work and family and my first love (bikes and engines - remember it's 'Velociphile'....!)

Harry Bishop said...

I'll echo JJS, welcome back, it's been good to see you posting again recently ... sorry but bikes take a far second place to watches for me personally :-)

I'm still positive on horology myself, at least most aspects of it. The interest in mechanical movements (even Fossil is offering reasonably decent mechanical chronos at mall stores now!), classic looking 3 hand watches with no complications, and interesting new movements and interpretations continues to increase.

Also, even since I've started collecting again just 2 years ago, I've see quite an increased interest in watch brands outside the normal Swiss over-sold norms. This includes everything from Grand Seikos (the Lexus of the higher-end watch world), to independent small firms( Roger Smith, Voutilainen, etc), to US made movements again (RGM). Yes, some of this is certainly one-upmanship, as higher-end spenders search for the next "conspicuous consumption item", but a lot is also a genuine rekindled interest in true fine watchmaking.

I certainly agree about one downside, which is the increased presence of "just riding the wave" psuedo-brands. AP and Hublot come to mind - ever increasing numbers of cosmetic variations being touted as wonderful new watches. I find it unfortunate to now add Bell & Ross to that list also.

One specific trend that has saddened me, is the continued dearth of technical schooling in watch repair, watch making, and horology. Here in Canada, we lost our last certification program just a few years ago.

My real hope at this time, with the upsurge in interest in mechanical watches, is that this will change - we need a next generation of such people.

Cheers, and hope to see you continuing to post, at least every once in a while.

Harry Bishop

Anonymous said...

It's just going mainstream.
More people can enjoy it now...simple as that. I think you are just being pompous...go collect stamps.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Article my Friend, I really enjoyed it :-), hope all else is well with you.


Velociphile said...

Hi Salman, Everyone. You are too kind.

Pompous? Moi? Bien sur.... but seriously, the grain of hope here is exemplified by our own AP. On the one hand the are producing 'ho-watches like the movement for the Ch*nel, but on the other that they invest some profit in their new escapement and that it is a superb innovation with real technical merit rather than just 'another-different-way-of-doing-it' is a great thing. I look forward to a sports watch with that baby in ASAP.


Harry SK Tan said...

While it can be considered extreme to describe horology being dead, I am in agreement that if the Swiss industry does not wake up to the trend of profiteering by brands by any means possible to cash in on the current craze, they will be irreparably damaged - much more than the quartz blight.

My analysis of the current situation is that the money men are not able to resist being attracted by the current high liquidity in many of the developing countries and the apparent trend towards the acquisition of luxury items and in particular status symbols.

The historical fact is that over the past 5-10 years of growth in new materials and releases, the vintage watch market is the one element in the industry that is near death.

But in my opinion, the vintage market will return in time when the smart money realise that there is no more quick gains to be made in the watch industry and it moves on to the next thing. When investment dollars dry up and brands have to go back to basics instead of doing all kinds of funky design, research and marketing to garner market share.

The only real factor that accelerate or affect this coming change is the China/Russia Factor. The growth of the nouveau riche in these countries will result in a lot of development and production to meet demands there.

Until demand there is satiated, true honest horology will need to wait patiently before it can return. Right now its all about looking right, fashionable, brand name, bling, price and status.

In the meantime, I support the honest independent watchmakers as well as brands who are honest about its plans to cater to the more discerning class of collectors.


Anonymous said...

Hi Velociphile,

Great article and good to have you back!

I will elaborate some more on this subject in an blog posting, but to me, the web 2.0 did two nasty things for horology.. it created 'rubbish' in the higher segment like totally useless complications on a divers watch for example, limited editions of limited editions etc.

The other thing is, cheap 'scores' like U-Boat, TW Steel etc. In my opinion, this chaos is created by the masses that communicate through forums and perhaps.. blogs.


Velociphile said...

100% RJ!

Nice to see you here.


Robert-Jan said...

Hi V,

I always read your blog, and wondered what happened when it got quiet around here.

Great article as always. And btw, perhaps you would like to participate in this new 'thing' going on: