What a ride 2019 has taken us. And we shall be saying the same thing a year later for 2020 if the planet hasn’t been smashed to smithereens by a wandering asteroid. Such is the breakneck pace at which events unfold in an interconnected world where the furthest points are within mere microseconds of a data handshake. Everything that happens “here”, sounds an echo “there” and in time marked by mouse-clicks, a torrent of text, images, voices and sentiment washes back and forth like dishwater being sloshed, for better and for worse. Never a dull moment. And if, two weeks into the new year, you’re still pounding the pavement or pumping away at the gym, well done! For now, it behooves us to take stock of 2019, to cast the first of many nervous glances back as we fly from a slingshot into an already rocky 2020.
The World Around Us
A pinch of the top world news stories paints a pretty depressing picture. There’s just been a lot of bloodletting: terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, mass shootings in the USA and NZ; compounded on this were disasters aplenty, not least Boeing 737s falling out of the sky (as I write this, another 737 has gone down, blown out of the sky, admittedly by mistake, by the Iranians). On the cultural front, the Notre Dame went up in flames. It is the last we shall ever see of it in the flesh, since the promised rebuilding will be along the lines of something modern, colourless, and “inclusive”.
Closer home in Asia, running parallel to the sabre-rattling and catcalling on the South China Sea, the images on our newsfeed of young HK couples holding hands, dramatically framed by swirling teargas, bricks in the air, smashed barricades and furious street battles all around them – is as much Bastille-storming as a weepy romantic can bear.
One is thankful then, for punctuated episodes of levity: a bunch of Avengers died (but their action figures will live on), and that flash-mob raid on Area 51: “If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets.” Optimism is the light of the world. And spandex reflects it.
Still on the topic of astronomy, a company of 200 international astronomers scanned 500 million trillion kilometers to snap a picture of a black hole. Everyone’s got one. Admittedly, none close to 40 billion kilometers across. Meanwhile, the Chinese are growing (weaponised??) cotton and potatoes on the far side of the moon. Apollo’s rested enough, don’t you think?
Watchmaking: Calmer Waters, But Not Unstirred
Watchmaking needs to happen in the stillness of a womb, as it were. In the valleys, nestled between tall mountains and lush woods, in quiet, unassuming towns where neighbours can hear a pin drop, if one (neighbour) could be found. An anachronism that is the mechanical watch just needs to be fashioned apart from the world at large. At the same time, it needs to be connected to the world at the lower-decibel level of spirit and emotion at the very least, to stay relevant. One supposes that’s where celebrity endorsements come in, as bridges spanning two plates. Leaving out these blockbuster couplings, (and much else, sorry!) here are some watchmaking news that stirred the murky bottom for us.
Vintage Big Daddy
The watch world is not above fads, and one of our favourites (compared to large cases, then small cases, blackened cases, brown dials… mercy!) is the vintage craze. Considering the gradual decline of car design from the 1960s to the present day, from fab to fat, we’re pretty grateful that watch brands are bringing back past-hits icons from their model archives, even if it means catching a break from ‘true’ innovation. For sure, there have been misses in this vintage revival. Not every bit of old is gold, and we never want to see guys in pants hiked up to their armpits. But in general, a watch with improved modern-day performance and quality yet inflected with nostalgia and artistic genius from a golden age of design, warms the cockles of our heart. Many brands have made a success of this – Longines, Seiko, Oris, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Hamilton. But the granddaddy of efforts in this vein surely goes to Omega, for re-creating the cal. 321 that powered the legendary Moon-bound Speedmasters, from scratch. It’s a vintage revival beyond cosmetics, to the very nut and bolt of an icon’s mechanical soul. Omega, make plenty of it (but it can’t! At present, every cal. 321 watch is assembled and regulated by a single watchmaker instead of pushing it through an assembly line), many will want one.
Many things that seem immutable in their time, don’t last after all. We know love is impermanent and enslaved to capricious fancies, but faith takes a kick in the nuts when blue chips fall: the sinking of the Titanic, the reincarnation of Nokia as a bit player, Encyclopedia Britannica as an online subscription. In the watch world, something similar could be in the works with the steady trickle of brands leaving BaselWorld to set up mini expos and events of their own. The need for a show that brings together a big chunk of the industry is both helpful and useful; so much modern watch history has been made around BaselWorld. But sometimes, enough is enough, and another show will emerge to replace Basel if the latter fails to deliver, even with so much history and incumbent advantage on its side.
Read more: Baselworld 2019: After the Storm
Love You Long Time
For a while, the right label sold enough watches to keep shareholders happy that manufacturers seemed happy to broaden the profit margin at a twitch without offering anything more. Thankfully, that giddy state appears past and brands are working so much harder these days, to actively make a better proposition of their watches. It’s nice not being taken for granted. A tip of the hat then, to JLC and Panerai, for offering eight-year warranties. Others will follow. Much appreciated.
Even in an industry where the companies and competitors, do so much business with each other, new ties forged still make the news, if for no better reason than one rightfully expecting new and better things from the union. Early into 2019, Chanel announced that it had taken a stake in Kenissi, a Swiss manufacturer of automatic movements, which Le Temps reported is the industrial arm of Tudor. Chanel and Rolex, in-laws. We know the union was consummated because a couple of months later in March, Chanel showed of J12 watches at BaselWorld 2019, driven by Kenissi movements. In other news, LVMH bought Tiffany.
Read more: Shopping: LVMH Adds Tiffany to its Fold
Beyond marketing tactic, marking anniversaries is the most natural way for the watchmaking industry to keep the world at large engaged and interested. 2019 is the golden anniversary of arguably the all-round favourite complication the industry has to offer – the mechanical self-winding chronograph. It is also the 50th year after man set foot furthest from home, on the moon! Can 2019 be considered the mother of all anniversary years? Certainly in the running. Notably, A. Lange & Sohne also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Lange 1 with a series of Lange 1 anniversary models, while Singapore-origin retailer The Hour Glass marked its 40th year with a spectacular series of special editions from a broad selection of brands it represents: it’s no less than a kid walking into a toy store, pointing out all he fancies and walking out with his hands full. We should all be as lucky. All the best for 2020.
Read more: Zenith El Primero’s Golden Moment
Read more: TAG Heuer’s Year Of The Monaco
Read more: The Hour Glass 40th Anniversary
Read more: Celebrating 25 years of Lange 1