Monday, August 12, 2019

Who's Next?

Speaking with a brand owner the other day and the question he kept asking - who is next?

What did he mean by that? Well, up until the (if we're honest) late 90s / early oughts nobody really gave two tosses about who ran what watch brand. And designers were, by and large, only really recognized by a handful of people.

Now the funny part of all of this is that no single thing so dramatic happened to change the landscape inside of the industry. It was a lot of little things that all took place around the same time, and created a snow ball effect. More on this for a different post, but it's important to bear in mind that there was a time not so very long ago where we neither knew or cared about who designed our favorite watch, or who ran the brand.

Now back to the opening salvo - Who's next?

The watch industry is just that, an industry. But within every industry there are always glimmers of excitement, mavericks, people who chart their own course and in doing so offer something truly remarkable, that stands the test of time.

Names that were mentioned during this conversation included the obvious - Biver, Hayek and Schnyder. But some others came through - Silberstein, Genta and Richard Mille. And the question again was - "Who is next?" and the honest answer that I gave was pretty blunt - nobody.

Now before you beetle over to the comment button to leave your bon mots, allow me to elaborate. There are plenty of creative, talented people out there making some wonderful things -

Sarpaneva -

Shamelessly borrowed from the Sarpaneva Facebook page
Fiona Krüger -

Courtesy of Fiona Krüger

Patrik Sjögren -

Courtesy of GoS

But these folks have been at it for awhile, and in fairness, they are taking different approaches from the luminaries that preceded them. Because back in the day, you had to have a benefactor. The Royal Oak is a great watch, but (and I say this with all due respect), it would not have been anything more than an interesting idea without the weight of Audemars Piguet behind it. And even that, on it's own, was not enough, a certain amount of luck was involved and it is safe to say that it was lightning in a bottle. Think I'm full of it? Well let's see... there is the Nautilus. It was backed by a tiny, insignificant little Swiss firm... Patek Philippe.

And yet there were other really dope designs such as the Overseas and the Laureato. But neither one has really enjoyed the same level of "thingness" that the Royal Oak or the Nautilus have.

So who or what is next remains really hard to know, and here's
why - fear. I am a risk averse fellow myself, but fear is what drives the majority of decisions made in the larger brands. Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of looking bad. And now that Vacheron, GP, Blancpain and others are part of larger groups that are answerable to investors, etc.? That fear is on steroids.

What many of us are waiting for is to see brands develop and grow talent IN HOUSE. Talent that will be encouraged to take some risks, and make watches that are out of the norm and challenge the status quo. Now it would be easy to say that there is nothing new in watches. Well, I wouldn't necessarily buy that, but I would say that at the rate we are going we will never know if the big brands don't start letting the next generation take their turn at the wheel.

In this day and age, you don't necessarily need a benefactor, but more and more it becomes impossible for the independent creator to do more than merely create. It can be the most beautiful, technically advanced, cutting edge watch out there. But if nobody knows about it, nobody buys it.

We are ready to find out who's next. So big brands? The ball's in your court. And I hope that the independents maintain their independence. If the big dogs aren't willing or able to take some chances? Let them labor on in mediocrity.

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