Headline image, Rolex movement manufacture center, Bienne.
Just as in the larger world, 2021 in the watch world was a time of dramatic ups and downs, of breathtaking highs (often in prices), very low lows (it was, for better or worse, the Year Of The Hype Watch), and everything in between. The HODINKEE creative team was there every step of the way, and some of us have strong feelings about what we want and don’t want to see from the industry in 2022.
Danny Milton: Sustainability
If there’s one thing I would like to see in 2022 from the watch industry, it’s less, not more. Sustainability is a word that we throw around like a bowling ball and rarely do we use it correctly. You see, while many brands have put forth admirable campaigns centered around sustainability and environmental efforts, at the end of the day it comes across as the dreaded term “greenwashing.” Mechanical watches are sustainable products in the sense that they theoretically last forever and create minimal waste as standalone products. It’s not the watches that are the source of my issue, however – and that’s where I think many brands miss the point in their sustainability efforts.
I would like to see the luxury watch industry take a look at how it can truly lead large-scale industries in sustainable practices. To keep this idea focused, I want to see changes especially in packaging and shipping methods. Let’s look at how watches are delivered to authorized dealers: In plastic containers padded with styrofoam and sealed with plastic tape. In addition, we have the plastic stickers that cover the watch from head to toe, and fill every last nook and cranny. I know that watches with stickers are coveted items in terms of resale value, but I think it’s time we put sustainability first. As an obvious starting point, let’s do away with plastic stickers and unnecessary packaging that ultimately gets tossed in the trash. There are so many options out there for recyclable packing and sustainable shipping methods and materials. If the luxury watch industry can make this change, I think it could have an influence everywhere. We can be better. We have to be better.
Logan Baker: Haute Horlogerie Independents
Independent watchmaking is at an inflection point. A nearly unprecedented surge of interest has washed over the field and resulted in sky-high secondary market prices and order books from many of the most popular makers snapping shut. As a result, collectors – and worse, speculators – have begun looking for what they hope will be the next big thing. The fact that more and more watchmakers will be supported, encouraged to pursue their goals, and realize their dreams is an incredible thing. But I want to encourage the community to continue to be discerning in 2022 about where they place their interest and their money.
The current “rise of independents” can be directly compared with the mid-2000s, a period that saw a massive increase in the amount of new brands – and occasionally, unscrupulous actors – producing watches that no one was asking for. Sometimes discussed as “the era of the hyperwatch” today, the financial crisis in the late 2000s caused a massive correction that took years and years for the category to recover from. To be clear, I don’t think we’re due for something similar in the near future, but I hope we continue to study and learn from the recent past so that the watchmakers that deserve our attention feel consistent support rather than the whims of the crowd.
I also encourage all of us to continue learning about what makes each brand and maker special instead of lumping labels and expectations on the category as a whole. Some specialize in finissage, some specialize in working with new materials, and others in traditional manufacturing. Not every independent brand has to be everything to everyone, and I think we forget that sometimes.
Cole Pennington: The Return Of The Skin Diver
We lived through the great “Water Resistance Wars” of the early and mid-2000s when manufacturers were chasing ridiculous depth ratings, and I’m very thankful that’s over. I think consumers lost the plot when they started demanding more than 200m of water resistance from manufacturers. Dive watches got way too thick and chunky because of it, but now we’re going back in the other direction.
There’s a reason the Sinn U50 is so beloved. It’s wearable and well-proportioned. Sinn pulled it off nicely, but other manufacturers might not have the immediate know-how to trim down their models without sacrificing WR. But here’s what I propose – a slight drop in WR is worth it. Go ahead, downsize those divers and bring back the “skin diver” philosophy from the ’60s and ’70s. Most folks who wear dive watches these days don’t dive much anyway, and for those that do, your 200m models already in production suffice. Don’t be afraid to introduce some 38mm x 11mm watches that clock in at 120m WR. I’d buy a few of them!
And while we’re at it, please take back the power from ISO and design watches according to your own standards. I will admit, there is something slightly ridiculous about an organization setting up its own standardization process (Omega’s METAS is a good example) and certifying its own watches. It’s a lot like me certifying my own stories here on HODINKEE as the best articles ever, but if it means that Seiko doesn’t have to do these strange half-indices at 3 o’clock to accommodate a date without moving it to that awful 4:30 position, then I’m all for it. No one needs the International Organization for Standardization to instruct manufacturers how they have to design their watches. Imposing parameters on these companies only limits creativity.
The brands we love and respect have been making dive watches for a long time; I trust them to make a quality dive watch. Their reputation is on the line. The second my watch floods during a dive is the second I don’t consider buying another one. It’s as simple as that. Fewer regulations and less design limitation leads to more creativity. I’m OK with 150m WR, if it means the price and size are where they should be. For the few times a year that I do a truly deep dive, I’ll wear something congruent with the task. But for everyday wear, bring back the skin diver!
Jonathan McWhorter, Videographer And Photographer: May I Have One Watch That Is Actually Available, Please?
Just one. I’d love nothing more than to be able to take my hard-saved money into a boutique, point to the watch I’ve been waiting patiently to finally own, and that would be the end of the story. I understand it’s all a basic metric of supply and demand, and that the supply is informed by a willingness of manufacturers to either maintain or sacrifice quality standards (Rolex addresses shortage) to meet the demand. But surely something can be done to address this, right? I’m not a businessman (I’m a business, man), but when there is proven demand for a product (6.5m Nautilus), then almost certainly that is reason enough to increase supply, even by a little?!
I’m afraid that the culture around watches has become so self-obsessed with the latest, rarest, hardest-to-get, that supply never stood a chance against the internet-fueled hype machine: rapidly inflating demand and aftermarket prices way beyond the reach of the average enthusiast. For better and worse, the rising tide lifts all boats. However, by no means should anyone be so far underwater, or even “encouraged” to swim from boat to boat, just for the opportunity to climb into a pink dial Oyster Perpetual. I mean, I get it – watches are cool, and there’s a reason that they are luxury items. That’s why we’re here, and that isn’t taken lightly. But when they become impossible to even lay eyes on, let alone ever own one, it gets to be less fun very quickly.
Cole Pennington, Bonus Round: Democratization And Decentralization Of Watchmaking Know-How
All it would take is a passionate billionaire to put another watchmaking epicenter on the map. The know-how exists in Switzerland, and I’m sure there are enough disgruntled factory workers there who would happily move for a 10 percent raise. After all, Switzerland wasn’t always the epicenter of the watch world. According to horologist Dr. Rebecca Struthers, Switzerland became the center of the horological universe by producing industrial copies of English watches, which is where fine watchmaking actually began.
This is all to say that empires rise and fall. The Americans were at the top of their game in the mid-1800s, too, with the rise of American system of watch manufacturing keeping railroads on-time, but that industry went away after WWII. In 2022, I’d love to see the rise of other nations entering the world of industrialized watchmaking. Japan and Germany produce some fantastic watches, and they’ve contributed their own know-how to the field and left such a positive impact on the industry. Even more players would only yield more know-how and bring about ideas in both horological engineering and watch design that are both fresh and exciting.
James Stacey: Remember That It’s A Marathon, Not A Sprint
Look, things are hot, and for many watch brands – and watch writers – that’s a good thing, but I implore brands to consider the long forecast. One of my favorite companies in the whole world is Patagonia and their leadership has long had the philosophy of attempting to adopt a 100-year outlook when making decisions. That is, would you conceivably make the same decision today that you might in 100 years? I worry that a lot of the behavior we’re seeing these days, even from market-shaping brands, is based on short-term thinking, specifically when it comes to their customers.
Over the last decade or so, interest in watches has expanded so quickly that many brands have opted to react rather than respond, which is not exactly in line with the stoic thinking that has brought the Swiss watch through the quartz crisis and into the current era. I’m not saying that brands shouldn’t capitalize on opportunities, I just worry that many are focusing on the peak elements in the market and not the wider base that supports this entire world. Sure, huge auction results and big-dollar models are great, but what happens when the next generation slides in and all they know is inaccessible pricing, exclusivity, hype, secondary markets, and waitlists? Protect your neck and keep your eyes on the horizon, the big money days may change but enthusiasm will always be what fuels this space, and short-term thinking will only serve to undermine the ability to connect with future audiences.
Logan Baker, Bonus Round: Affordable Independents
Looking for a good way to feel broke in the new year? Find a group chat dedicated to collecting watches from independent makers. That’s what I did recently, joining a WhatsApp discussion forum that is dotted every few hours by “new watch alerts” and followed by wrist shots of said alerts. I’m not averse to high price tags by any means, but there is a certain degree of masochism to watching others celebrate purchase after purchase of incredible timepieces you’ll likely never be able to afford.
That’s why, in 2022, I’m keeping my fingers crossed we’ll see further development in the entry point to the independent category. Right now, this field is dominated by what a few years ago we called “microbrands.” I’ve always felt that this was a problematic term that only served to limit how and where a company can grow outside their initial niche. As the genre has matured, I think it’s time we revisit the high performers of the segment – the Oak & Oscars, UNIMATICS, Montas, Baltics, and Brews of the world – and rechristen them for what they really are: small-scale, independent makers operating in an approachable price bracket.
I would much rather support and cheer on these new faces that have a genuine fresh perspective to share rather than the recent trend of traditional independent watchmakers opening a secondary “sub-brand” that they’re connected with in name only.
Jack Forster: Embrace The Educated Consumer
2021 was indeed the Year Of The Hype Watch, and with a vengeance, but it was also a year when incredibly high worldwide demand for watches made it difficult, frustrating, and in some cases simply impossible, to get the watch you’re looking for. The high demand is great if you’re on the receiving end of supply-and-demand cashflow and pricing but it’s also meant that in addition to it being often out of the question to get the watch you actually want (at least in any reasonable time frame) we’re all so focused on pricing and availability that we seldom stop to wonder whether or not we’re actually getting what we think we’re getting, for the tens of thousands we’re spending on luxury timepieces.
Whose fault is that? There is certainly plenty of blame to go around, but honestly beyond a certain point, it’s simply the organic evolution of the market. I do think, however, that it is high time the industry as a whole reminded itself that beyond a certain point, if you’re in the steak business, you need to sell some steak, not just sizzle (and smoke, and mirrors). The industry fears the educated consumer in many ways – like any other luxury industry, it’s highly resistant to critique, and extremely risk-averse – but understanding that creating and nurturing real knowledge about what goes into actual watchmaking is creating security for the long-term future of fine watchmaking. When you make a bundle selling sizzle, it’s easy to forget that without the steak, you don’t have any sizzle at all – and without watchmaking, there’s no watch collecting. Let’s hope in 2022 we hear more from the watchmakers and (with all due respect) maybe a little less from the marketing department.