The week the watch world changed The week the watch world changed

The week the watch world changed

Andrew McUtchen

If you are the kind of person that thinks the watch media should “stay in [their] lane” when it comes to commenting on anything but the latest watch releases, then it’s best you scroll on to the next story. This one, like many recent posts by brands and individuals in the industry, is about this week in the world and not just this week in watches.

I respect that Time+Tide is a refuge from reality for some and I am not offended if you prefer to leave it that way. Ultimately though, this is a message of hope and optimism. And lastly, of pride, to be in the watch industry at this time when it is bravely pivoting to be a voice for change, regardless of the cost.

“Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Robert Kennedy

This week we are blacking out the Friday Wind Down as a symbol of our respect and sensitivity around events that occurred over recent days.

The black square is symbolic for another reason that is specific to the watch industry.

If you picture it in an Instagram feed, this colourless block interrupting many individuals and several brands’ usual flow of content, represents the week that the watch world changed. It represents the tipping point when the luxury watch industry, not so much ensconced as entrenched in privilege on the whole, ceased the illusion that it is not, simultaneously, part of the real world. That our bubble somehow floats outside of, or above, or in an alternate velvety realm to reality.

Not all causes are the same

Some may argue that the watch industry has acknowledged and contributed to important causes before this week. Environmental causes. Ethical procurement of precious materials, the list goes on. There is no denying that this is true. And I know it to be true, because I experienced it firsthand. In January this year, when we put our hands out to raise money for bushfire aid to help all that were ravaged by megafires in our country, my cup was quickly full. Nearly a quarter of a million dollars in little more than a month was raised from the watches donated. Absolutely mind-blowing! This also demonstrated the care, the compassion and the generosity that the buyers felt for Australians. So while we’re there, let me thank you again, buyers.

But choosing a black square and publishing it on your brand’s feed, is a very different commitment to choosing, for example, a recycled plastic strap for your next release. Because, while that is symbolically and materially positive for the world at large – and let’s pause here to make that point emphatically, it really is positive – they also have an inexorable commercial element. Especially when they then become part of larger marketing campaigns that are judged based on an uptick in sales and an increase in brand affinity.

By contrast, supporting Black Lives Matter is almost certainly not going to have a positive commercial outcome for brands that get behind it, even if you take into account the goodwill generated. You can only be accused of virtue signalling when you stand to gain from the alignment.

The bravery

I can picture the scene that took place in the boardrooms of two brands we’ve recently had a lot of contact with, IWC and Zenith. Both of these brands opted to stand up against racism by posting the black square. I can feel the tension that would have been in the room during that discussion. The trepidation. Do we take a stand? Ok, we’re going for it! Do we turn comments off? (Zenith did, but IWC did not.)

To remain focused on the decisions of Julien Tornare and Chris Grainger-Herr, as well as the long list of brands who did the same thing I’d like to refer back to the quote at the top, by Robert Kennedy. “Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [they] send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and…those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

When I saw black squares beginning to populate our Instagram news feed from not just individuals but brand after brand, each square did not strike me as a ripple. They were waves. And what these waves dismantled, in a surging sweep was the notion that the watch industry is indubitably, terminally neutral. Because, like Blaise Pascal says, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Side by side

I would like to close by acknowledging the role of the media in this epochal week. In an interview we published on YouTube, Wei Koh from Revolution recently – and I must say, generously – gave Time+Tide credit for “creating a model” of how a media entity could raise money and awareness for a good cause through the bushfire aid auction. Well, if there is such a chalice, Wei has taken it, and run with it. Not only is he on the brink of launching an auction to benefit sufferers of COVID-19 through The Rake and Revolution, he has also spent the week walking into, and staying in, the fire created by George Floyd’s murder with a series of blazing anti-racism posts. Since then, he’s been fighting the good fight in the comments section. I picture him with a smear of troll blood under each eye, bandanna tied tightly around his head, Apocalypse Now style. Those that initially called his actions ‘virtue signalling’ eventually ran out of gas when Wei kept it up for days. And days. And days. (He’s still going, by the way.)

Together, as an industry united against racism, we may not sweep down the “mightiest walls of oppression and resistance”, but we have created hope. And hope is what the world needs right now.

To the industry, to my compatriots in the media and to our audience, I am proud to stand beside you in this week the watch world changed.