Editor’s note: I first wrote this story back in April 2017. And, in those more innocent days, I hoped I’d become a better person and not abuse those old favourites of the watch world. But you know what? Today I hang my head in shame. In the 18 months since this first published, I’ve written about innovation and icons a-plenty. I can be better. I will try to be better. This I pledge.
A large part of my job is sifting through press releases. After a while they all start reading the same, thanks to the seemingly limited vocabulary of most marketing departments. And you know what the greatest irony is? While these communications have been designed to make the watch they’re talking about stand out and sound unique, the constant, jargonistic repetition of these rote phrases has precisely the opposite effect.
Now, it’s only fair to point out that I’m far from guilt-free in this situation. I’m pretty sure I’ve abused all the below words at some point. But you know what they say – admitting you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery.
A quick Google suggests that, outside of specific religious meanings, an icon is something regarded as a representative symbol, or worthy of veneration. Now, if we’re all really honest with ourselves, I suspect that we can count the number of genuinely iconic watches on one hand. Easily. Things get a little trickier if we take a step back from the macro, looking at designs that – while they might not be iconic to the average Jane on the street – are nonetheless a pretty big deal in the watch world. Take Gérald Genta, for example. Massively important designer, but are his designs iconic? Also, can a brand have their own icons – significant, seminal models that might not fit the broader category, but are still quite important? I’m not sure about the answers, and there’s a lot of grey out there. But I am quite certain that using the ‘i’ word in every second press release dilutes its meaning.
I first learned about DNA in Jurassic Park. In that context it had a pretty specific mosquito-in-amber meaning. In the world of marketing and design it’s less about deoxyribonucleic acid, and more about something’s core, defining features or identity. This is all well and good, but the problem creeps in when we start throwing DNA about willy-nilly. Can your new product speak to your brand’s proud dive watch heritage (see below) and DNA if it’s rated to 30m? Or, if you’ve never produced a watch with complication XYZ before, is it still part of your brand DNA? Deep questions.
If we could chart the trend of keyword usage in marketing materials over time (surely someone has done this important task already), I’m willing to bet incidences of ‘in-house’ would have been virtually non-existent prior to the late ’90s. Now, there are good reasons why everyone has jumped on the in-house bandwagon (mostly to do with big movement suppliers clamping down on supply), and the word has some merit, but these days it’s so vague that it’s almost meaningless. Depending on who you ask, in-house means anything from *actually* made by you (and even then, most people don’t include fiddly bits like screws and rubies), all the way to ‘including some components made exclusively for us by third parties’.
Pushing the barriers of what’s possible is one of the most important and exciting elements of the watch industry, no doubt. And when some Swiss wizards do something genuinely and legitimately new I get pretty excited (until I see the inevitable astronomic price tag that accompanies this sort of intense R&D). But simply borrowing a material or technology from another industry (hello aerospace)? Not so innovative.
This is a biggie. Heritage is hot, and every brand and its dog now has a vintage collection. But some are better at it than others, and – no surprises here – it tends to be the brands with actual heritage under their belts. So, if you’ve been making watches for five generations, feel free to play the heritage card (not too much though). If you’ve been in the business five minutes, heritage-inspired is the best you can get away with.
Again, outside of specific religious definitions, passion refers to some pretty intense emotions. I don’t want to pigeonhole the Swiss watch industry, but on the whole they’re a pretty calm and collected bunch of gals and guys. This isn’t to say they don’t get plenty fired up about silicone balance springs after a few pints (trust me on this one), but filtering that sort of energy through multiple layers of bureaucracy is tricky at best.