When Audemars Piguet first launched the Royal Oak in 1972, it was termed a very bold move. Nobody in the industry had such an audacity to come up with such an unconventional design, let alone the idea of having a watch that is made from stainless steel and costing more than a Patek Philippe in gold. Four decades on, the Royal Oak became an icon; its popularity is a testament to its success. It has also paved way for designers and watchmakers to get crazy with their ideas as well.
This year’s SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie) was no exception; we have seen many unconventional pieces that were being showcased to the visitors there. Whimsical, unique and intriguing were some of the words that came to mind when I saw the pictures of those watches (I did not have the chance to attend SIHH in person this year…). Some of the pieces really stood out, in a good way though.
At the first glance, the DeBethune Dream Watch 5 looks like something that came out from a Sci-Fi film. With its avant-garde design and polished titanium case, it looks like one of those spacecraft from the movie “Star Trek”, albeit less complicated. While it looks futuristic, there is something that I love about this watch: simplicity. I personally dislike how certain watchmakers like to complicate the design of their watches, which makes it really messy and confusing. No doubt DeBethune tried to transgress from the norm, they did not overdo it. It has just got the right balance, in terms of its design. Not really sure about its size though…
On the other hand, there are watches that have tipped the other point of the scale. Richard Mille and Roger Dubuis are watchmakers that are known to designing novelty watches; a look at their offerings at SIHH 2014 will tell you that. Bright coloring schemes, complex dial designs and newly-created composite materials are some of the usual things that make both their watches stand out. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it does appeal to certain collectors.
Looking at those two offerings from SIHH 2014, a thought came into my mind. Are we ready for watches that are controversial?
In the recent times, there has been a proliferation of watches with fresh designs. Devon, SevenFriday, MB&F are some of the more well-known watchmakers that have deviated from the path of traditional watch design. That is just the tip of the iceberg, and many of them saw great successes. Take the SevenFriday, for example. Mechanically, it is a relatively simple piece. Its selling point is its unique “industrial design”, because it is so unconventional. It may look a little complicated, but it seems like people are fine with it. In fact, they love it very much, as it makes the watch a conversational piece. People do not want a traditional looking watch; they want something special and eye-catching. They want to be recognized.
Watch collecting is no longer something that is confined to older folks. The age of watch collectors are reducing; I have seen many teenagers getting interested in collecting watches. These folks from the younger generation do not want watches that look old-fashioned. They want something new and fresh. They want something that looks cool. This is the direction where many watchmakers are heading towards. There is a need to appeal to this new generation of collectors.
I have a confession to make. I cannot help but to feel that I am getting comfortable with controversial watch designs. I used to be only attracted to watches that are conservatively designed, like the Lange 1 and the Reverso. It took me years to appreciate the MB&F HM3. But things are slightly different now. While I still love watches that are classical in design, I do appreciate unconventional pieces such as Vianney Halter’s Deep Space, Ulysse Nardin’s Freak and Harry Winston’s Opus 12. I think it might be due to the fact that I am constantly exposed to such atypical pieces that I am actually conformed to it.
No doubt that we can’t please all the watch collectors out there, but I do feel that we are ready for more unconventional watch designs. Some collectors just need more time. As for me, I will gladly appreciate those watches that are well-designed. I still cannot appreciate certain pieces though; perhaps I still need more time…