Make no mistake. There is a war going on. Not a war fought in trenches with guns, knives or fists. But a war for the hearts and minds of the modern watch consumer. A war that, by and large, the Swiss watch industry, at least the part of the industry that is related to making new watches, is losing.
Sure, there are exceptions to this. Brands like Richard Mille, Hublot, Audemars Piguet, Rolex and Tudor are soaring to ever-greater heights. Because they have critically distinguished themselves by moving beyond the limiting confines of “watch connoisseur” brands and become global luxury lifestyle brands.
They have embedded themselves into the consciousness of the consumers so successfully that their watches are a symbol of access into an exclusive club that the people who wear them belong or aspire to belong to. And during a period where creativity has been largely stagnant, these brands have been more technically and aesthetically ambitious than ever.
But at the same time, the Swiss watch industry has also allowed itself to be blindsided and usurped by a brilliant consortium of media owners, opinion leaders, auctioneers, auction houses and watch dealers that have created a fervor around vintage watches the likes of which the world has never seen. And they’ve hyped it brilliantly, capitalizing on the tools that the Swiss watch industry feels most apprehensive about — websites and social media.
Why the apprehension about these game-changing channels of communications; channels that instantly connect millions of people all around the world? Because they can’t be regulated and that makes the typically unbending Swiss very nervous.
In the meantime, the vintage consortium seeks to essentially blitzkrieg and inundate these channels while it buys up, hypes up and sells off every kind of vintage watch imaginable, each with a cult of personality engineered around it, in one of the most brilliant acts of front-running the world has ever seen.