Boring Watches Are Going To Save The World — The World Of Luxury Watches, That Is
Take your logo-maniacal tracksuit to the dry cleaners, and when you come back, have a coffee, relax, and read this article on Fratello. It will tell you that being exuberant and extravagant is so passé and that boring is back. Better still, boring watches are going to save the world. I’m not talking about dreadful, mundane watch creations that bore you with their lack of substance. No, I’m talking about classic timepieces with an understated appearance, ones that don’t overwhelm and overpower you with their size, odd shapes, and wild colors. I’m talking about luxury watches that take their time to woo you, working their way into your life and onto your wrist by implementing the five stages of courting — attraction, reality, commitment, intimacy, and engagement.
Revenge spending is a thing of the past. When the world opened up again after the pandemic, it seemed that people wanted to buy as much as they could, as quickly and extravagantly as possible. It was an expression of joy that was born out of frustration, boredom, and bottled-up energy. But since the cork popped, the champagne has lost its fizz. And the same happened to the luxury market. Recently, LVMH announced just 1% sales growth in Q3 2023. That sounds like growth will come to a full stop in Q1 2024 and possibly a negative number in the second quarter. It is, however, way too soon and too easy to write off the luxury industry or declare that luxury is dead.
Boring watches are going to save the world
Do you know why champagne loses its fizz? After you open a bottle of champagne, direct sunlight is one important factor that causes the drink to lose its lovely bubbly characteristics. And the same can be said about many luxury watches. After exposing your impulse buy — a funky-dialed, oversized creation in black DLC titanium, for instance — the more you see it in the full light of reality, the less it sparkles. The hype and the high of the moment are in the past, and reality proves to be lacking adrenaline. But joy and adrenaline are not an inseparable pair. Yes, adrenaline is chemically related to the pleasure hormone dopamine, but the pathway to pleasure is not only paved with adrenaline.
There are signs that meditation also triggers dopamine release in the brain. And looking at a simple, classy, and understated watch is, for many of us watch enthusiasts, a form of meditation. After going on a rollercoaster ride with your yellow sapphire Big Bang, looking at a Grand Seiko SBGW267 Asakage might make your brain think “boring” at first. But once it has calmed down, the clean lines, neat dial, and delicate touches will soothe your brain into a meditative state, and you will still be able to enjoy the release of a pleasure hormone.
It’s time to recalibrate
The overexcited and hyped-up hunt for pleasure in loud luxury products is over. Still, that doesn’t mean that luxury (watch) brands don’t have a bright future ahead of them. But the secret to success lies in quality, tradition, and details. Watch brands have soared to great heights because of the aforementioned revenge spending but also because of aspirational clients who needed a quick luxury fix. It made sense that clever brands played into that trend by being as flashy as possible online and in shopping areas. Unfortunately, a personal approach was lacking, which put more distance between the brand and client than before. And even more importantly, opportunistic behavior also clashes with consistent storytelling and a long tradition of conservative innovation and promotion.
Watch brands are perfect examples of long-term businesses. Short-term campaigns and products almost always hurt the brands’ core values immediately. And now that the market is cooling down, what are brands going to do? Shake off their glittery party dresses and change back into their gray three-piece suits as fast as possible? What if the glitter in their hair is still there and the serious client who’s looking for a timeless dress watch notices the remains of the party?
Hip to be square
The advantage watch brands have is that quality still counts. A small, glittery faux pas isn’t going to harm a well-made product; it will slide off like water from a duck. But the glitter should not be an irremovable element of the watch. The era of the excitingly boring watch is upon us. At Fratello, we’ve been rooting for boring watches for quite some time now. Now that the glitter has settled and normal is actually normal again, qualitative, timeless luxury is the sustainable, steady way to go forward.
The paradox that something very conservative can be avant-garde might be hard to comprehend. But Huey Lewis and the News already knew that it was hip to be square. And that means “boring” can be exciting too. What it means for (watch) brands is that their core values should remain at the heart of their products. But trusting their strengths while relying on traditional values and crafts doesn’t mean that doing new things and innovation are off the table. It’s just that innovation doesn’t have to happen at breakneck speed. Brands like Patek Philippe — but also Rolls-Royce and Chanel — have always been innovative. At the same time, they didn’t rush things, always stayed close to who they were, and, just as Public Enemy warned, didn’t believe the hype.
Understanding traditional watchmaking
That tradition doesn’t stand in the way of new design ideas becomes very clear when looking at the new 39mm gold TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph. The first Heuer Carrera debuted in 1963, and the 60th-anniversary model shares characteristics with the original while also bringing new elements. For example, the case shape is the same, just 3mm larger, and the uncluttered dial layout shows a link to its historical forebear. At the same time, the raised tachymeter scale and bowl-like effect are all new. Also, the way the new bulbous sapphire crystal flows into the case makes the Carrera more pebble-like than ever before. This watch is a great example of pushing tradition forward. The gold Carrera may not have the “wow factor” that a 44mm bright yellow ceramic chronograph would. However, it carries on the Carrera’s tradition and continues to tell its captivating story.
Keeping public attention through engaging and honest storytelling is key. It is if brands want to reach, engage, educate, and build a lasting relationship with, for instance, Gen Z. Let’s not forget that Gen Z is the most important and influential luxury-buying generation today. And much more than looking for an instant buzz, “zoomers” do appreciate values like authenticity, sustainability, and a personal connection with a brand. Gen Z is open and willing to understand what traditional, qualitative, luxury watchmaking is all about.
Engage Gen Z, or go extinct
If brands go after Gen Z by offering “boring” watches, that’s great news for longtime watch enthusiasts too. The fluff that clouded their vision will be replaced by more thoughtful products — innovative timepieces that have a deeper meaning and a more enduring allure than adrenaline-driven “wow” watches. That’s why, in this article, you will find watches like the Tudor Ranger, Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, a Chopard L.U.C 1860, and a Tissot Chemin des Tourelles. They are very different watches in all kinds of ways, including their price segments, but they’re also very alike in terms of traditional values. What may look boring at a glance has a compelling story to tell.
Now it’s up to the brands to tell the story exactly right. “Once upon a time…” is not the way to go, by the way. The narrative should not be focused on history, yes, but on how historical elements can be creatively and innovatively translated to engage both aspiring and seasoned watch buyers.
I really don’t want to scare watch brands, but according to the experts of Équité Research, by the end of the decade, 50% of existing luxury brands will have disappeared. That includes luxury watch brands. The idea made me think of a famous line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, both spoken by Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman). I altered the quote a bit, and it’s now a heads-up to all luxury watch brands: get busy being boring, or get busy dying.