About two months ago, I wrote about the state of wrist affairs in Watches of the Silicon Valley. In the article, we confirmed the unsurprising SV stereotypes with the array of Apple watches and Fitbits. Watch boutiques here are scarce and hard to chance upon, especially for someone so used to the dense concentration of watch retailers in Singapore.
Well turns out, there is a nifty boutique hidden right in my backyard. A 10 minutes drive from my workplace and just down the road from campus. But what drew my attention to this little boutique was even more surprising. Quite the contrary to the Apple watch crowd that I see everyday, Stephen Silver- the retailer, was hosting a round table on the State Of Independence within the art of Haute Horologerie. So there were some watch afficionados in the wild west after all.
As the round table title suggests, the discussion to be held was centered on Independent watches. Apart from its staple of jewelry, Stephen Silver retails a vast collection of independent watch brands. From Greubel Forsey to F.P Journe, they have a pretty substantial collection.
The guests were a learned bunch. And safe to say, amidst the crowd, there were some who were truly concerned about the state of affairs in the business. Now if only Kari Voutilainen’s Chinese mobile phone co-branding news was released before the event…
The panel consisted of industry experts with varying vantages. Coincidentally, I had a warm reunion with Christie’s Frederic Watrelot, which I interviewed in Singapore a month before heading to the US of A. Sophy Rindler of Redbar Miami served as moderator and did a great job steering the discussion.
The panel shared stories about their ‘firsts’ with watches, their first real watch and the fun they have in the trade. Topics discussed included questions on longevity of independent brands; in particular, who will service my Philippe Dufour if the guru passes on? Or, do we have enough watch makers that can be trained to take over? Will the younger generation, namely the millennials still like watches, and like them enough to buy these expensive Indies?
Spotted on the wrist of a former SF Giant, the MB&F LM 2.
James Malcomsom of Robb Report cited the work being done by Dufour to train younger watchmakers, and also Greubel Forsey’s role in promoting the longevity of the art. Frederic shared a story of his visit to the Patek Philippe museum with Max Büsser a decade ago. At the museum, Max singled out a particular antique timepiece and remarked that not one watchmaker in Switzerland can service/recreate something like that. Manuel supplemented the notion that skills die out with time, at times due to new technology and machinery that warrants old skills obsolete. At that point, Stephen who was in the audience remarked that technology has also advanced the trade, with improved movements, materials and even traditional artistry, like enamel dials.
A member of the audience asked about the relevance of luxury timepieces to the millennials and another about the sweet spot of veblen goods. In essence, the panel responded by saying that there was no fear that veblen goods would face diminishing demand. Historical provenance suggests that people will always desire something beautiful, a treasure or an art piece, and somehow they will always have the resources to do so.
On creating relevance and demand for timepieces for the younger generation, different opinions were aired. Some say that sentimentality keeps watches relevant, like a gift from one’s mother; others say that watch appreciation and interest comes naturally with the coming of age. For instance, when one gets a good paying job, wants to buy himself something nice and sees that his friends are buying watches…
My view however, is somewhat more idealistic. I think passion for watches comes from cultivated appreciation. Speaking from personal opinion, at the end of the day, knowing how a watch runs and being able to appreciate its intricacies is what cultivates this life-long hobby.