The Future Of Watchmaking: What Do We Hope To See At Geneva Watch Days 2021?
Geneva Watch Days will run from August 30th–September 3rd: It’s that time of year again. For the second year in a row, the world’s (or at least Europe’s) watch media will descend on Geneva for a week of boutique-and-suite-based showcases. All the major brands from last year’s inaugural run-through are returning, with expectations high of what another travel-lite year might have in store for us. Today, I’m going to share my hopes for Jaeger-LeCoultre, Bvlgari, De Bethune, Moser, and Urwerk. Let us know what you’d like to see from these brands in the comments below.
One year ago, we stepped into the unknown. The Geneva Watch Days event was, in short, a revolution. Being there at the opening ceremony, listening to Babin and Kern do what Babin and Kern do so well (that is to gargle endless hyperbolic synonyms without pausing for breath while remaining convinced enough of whatever they’re saying to come across as earnest and enthusing — it’s a skill that really sorts the good CEOs from the bad), I was struck by the fact that despite the hype this was all weirdly obvious.
It might well have been “obvious” but it would likely never have happened had it not been for the pandemic forcing Baselworld to cancel and giving MCH (the company behind the legendary fair’s organization) the perfect opportunity to make a very public tit of itself. But then, pointing out the obvious before anyone else is what trailblazers do. The Beatles wrote Love Me Do using only three chords (and one G7 if you want to be pedantic). Could someone else play G, D, and C? I’ll bet most people could. But did anyone else play them in that order and at that tempo before John and Paul? No. Cue Georges Kern looking very, very smug in your mind’s eye…NOW.
A time for change in the watch industry
In our industry nothing moves quickly. Things rarely change. When they do, the changes are often sudden and seismic. They range from the invention of an entirely new (and universally better) way of doing things to a shift in the world’s economic rhythms that seem a million miles from the sleepy valleys of the Jura Mountains where horological wizardry takes place.
Baselworld’s collapse sent ripples through the industry. There was, for the first time in more than a century, a gaping gap in the calendar. Brands suddenly had a lot of free time on their hands and perhaps a bit more budget to play with (assuming those invested in Baselworld eventually managed to get their investment back from the penny-pinching MCH). The notion of banding together without a fixed location and simply putting on a watch week seemed like the sort of thing brand’s could have done for years (in fact, many microbrands do exactly this and have proven how effective a way it is to get feet on the ground and face-to-face contact with buyers at minimal expense).
I guess it was scary to countenance leaving the warm cocoon of tradition Baselworld had wrapped around its prey. History ruled with an iron fist. How could any self-respecting watch brand turn its back on that kind of institution? Over time, brands convinced themselves that for all its ills, the power of Baselworld was worth it. In a kind of Stockholm syndrome situation, the fair trundled on. Then “disaster” struck and the new dawn broke.
An opportunity for creativity
Last year provided brands with an opportunity to get creative. Well, I say it was an opportunity, but it was really more a requirement. A lot of brands froze like a deer in the headlights, totally unable to do anything that hadn’t been done before. No one wanted to move first into what were uncharted waters with assumedly fierce undercurrents.
It was a funny thing to observe in an industry in which everyone talks about being “first”. When it comes to inventions or even new aesthetic directions, the results are tangible and so brands feel much more comfortable throwing money in that direction. When it comes to marketing and communication, however, brands are often either desirous of proof of performance before committing to a campaign (impossible to provide), guarantees (also impossible), everything for free (theoretically possible but not going to happen), and the right to interfere with every little decision made in a world they clearly have no understanding of but still feel qualified to intervene because it’s their trifling investment the professionals are working with.
That led to a few false starts and missed windows in the realms of digital advertising but those fears also motivated certain brands to focus on areas they felt more comfortable investing in. Product development was one of those areas. While we didn’t see a massive explosion of wildly creative pieces last year, we did see some meaningful developments and solid classics dropped with confidence. So how can Jaeger-LeCoultre, Bvlgari, De Bethune, Moser, and Urwerk build on those releases in 2021?
What’s that I hear? Calls from the stalls that JLC is not actually an official part of Geneva Watch Days? If you’ve been on the GWD site and taken in the rundown of brands and feel convinced Jaeger-LeCoultre was not part of it…you would be right. However, as we all know, letting a good crisis go to waste is unforgivable in love and war. The crisis that spawned Geneva Watch Days did something very fortunate for JLC: it landed a major watch event on its doorstep. Why play with the others when you can play by yourself? Rather than relocate from the brand’s headquarters and set up shop in a hotel suite, JLC conducted meetings from the comfort of its home base. And it was well worth the trip.
I was thrilled with Jaeger’s efforts over the past two years. The brand has really got itself into a nice groove of late and long may it continue. Recently, we’ve seen the release of the new Master Control series, which featured one of my “watches of the year” from 2020. The one I’m referring to is the annual calendar chronograph, which accidentally ended up on my wrist for a couple of joyous weeks. I’d like to see Jaeger-LeCoultre stay within this collection and bring us the same watches but with black dials and, maybe, a couple of tasty salmon options in steel cases. While I did grow to adore the silver dials of the current models, I feel that a little bit of color could transform an already classic collection into something truly era-defining.
And what of the Reverso? I actually don’t talk publicly about the Reverso too often so allow me to share my preferences: I like a closed case back over a second dial. I like the purity of that feature. That’s why the Reverso exists, after all. Give me a family crest or a company logo or a name or significant date on the back if you like, but keep it closed. I won’t make any exceptions to that rule. Ever. Unless…
There used to be a really cool Reverso in the JLC lineup that needs to come out of retirement. It’s the only model I like with any kind of function on the back. I’m talking about the Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso 8 Days watch in stainless steel (reference 240.8.14). When you flip the case over, you’re treated to an Arabic numeral viewed through a small window indicating how many days of power your watch has left. It’s cute. It’s awesome. And, in my opinion, it is sorely underrated.
For me, this is a simultaneously simple and complex question. The simple part? I want more of the Octo Finissimo series, please. The complex angle? What the heck should Bvlgari do with it? The ceramic experiments thus far have been interesting but where could that lead? Bright colors? Would that really be commercial at this price point? I could certainly imagine the marketing campaign promoting a full red, full yellow, and full blue ceramic Octo Finissimo (think Hublot of a few years ago or Bvlgari’s own Scuba campaign with white, yellow, and orange options), but you wouldn’t sell a ton of those pieces. No, I think the answer is closer to home.
I think we need to see more options in titanium because that original aesthetic is to die for. Throw in an aventurine glass dial (and possibly add yellow gold hands and markers for a really retro aesthetic) and I think we’d have a winner. Aventurine is an odd material that seems to be growing on a lot of us here at Fratello. Despite its arguably “feminine” appearance, I think it would work really well next to Bvlgari’s otherwise industrial aesthetic. You heard it here first!
De Bethune… AND URWERK
De Bethune doesn’t have to do much to impress me. I like the moon phases, the flexible lugs, and the blued titanium dials. Give me those and I’m there. What I loved most about De Bethune’s output recently, however, was the collaboration the brand did with URWERK for the Only Watch Auction of 2019. Remember those days? Those heady years of pre-pandemic optimism? We thought we could do anything and we often did. De Bethune and URWERK rode that Joie de Vie all the way to the promised land with that combined effort. And while the current Kari/Roth collaboration for Only Watch 2021 could top the 2019 effort, I think it will be so remarkably different from 2019’s effort that the two pieces won’t even be comparable.
So what should De Bethune and URWERK do? They should come together to make a co-branded range of unlimited “awesome machines” so the rest of us can at least dream. It doesn’t have to be complicated. They simply need to combine URWERK’s time-telling method with some De Bethune flourishes (the moon stays, of course).
URWERK’s recent collaboration with Collective, which we covered here and here, is a sign the brand is willing to work with select partners on creative projects. This is what brands should be doing more in these times: they should be telling stories that can be communicated digitally. With high-quality video and evermore professional (and evermore) watch-focused media outlets, it is possible to do it very well indeed. Few pairs of brands could do it as well as these two if they put their minds to it…
H. Moser & Cie.
Who doesn’t want to see more from Moser? We know that we want more of the Streamliner, but, in all honestly, within that collection, I actually want less. I want to see more time-only Streamliners using the dial colors Moser is famous for: the achingly beautiful teals, the vivid reds, Vantablack, for goodness’ sake! I mean could you imagine? Perhaps we can convince the brand to bring that one to life with Fratello one day. Wouldn’t that be something…
The H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner is a modern classic. I don’t believe there’s much argument against that stance now. That said, being a classic doesn’t mean it is either perfect or universally adored. I’d like to see that change with a few more colors that will get it on a few more wrists. Did I love the chronograph? Yes. Can I wait a long while for more dial variations of that? I sure can. Give me the simple stuff first, define the DNA, get more of these out of the building and into the wild. Fingers crossed.
What to expect from Fratello
We’ll be traveling to Geneva for the whole week. While we’re there, we’ll meet with every official Geneva Watch Days partner and a raft of other brands that are in and around the area. We’ll be taking photos and notes constantly, with a couple of the team members back home writing up the first impressions those of us on the front line haven’t got time to take care of in an attempt to bring you as much up-to-date coverage as we can.
But what would you like to see from our Geneva Watch Days coverage? Would you like more IG live sessions with immediate takeaways? Would you prefer one bigger round-up article or shorter, snappier updates as soon as we have the info ready to go? Let us know your preferences in the comments below. We can’t wait to share the novelties with you and hope you see something you like! Learn more about Geneva Watch Days here.