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Editorial - Time to make us dream

Editorial Time to make us dream

The scramble for social media buzz and virality intensified in the run-up to the opening of the SIHH, in some cases at the expense of the Swiss watch industry’s image.

Watchmakers, justifiably, love to draw parallels with the automotive industry. “La belle mécanique” as they like to say in French-speaking Switzerland, can apply just as much to the finest in “haute horlogerie” as it can to a supercar. Those parallels disappear, however, when you look at the biggest annual shindigs for both industries. In Geneva, these happen to be held in the same place – Palexpo, next to the airport. In January, one hall of the exhibition centre is filled with temporary façades for each of the exhibiting watch brands at the SIHH, with a few watches visible in show windows and the rest visible only to paying customers (retailers) and the press. In March, the world automotive industry occupies the entire exhibition centre, with its finest offerings there for all to see and, for the more mainstream models, touch, feel and sit in the driver’s seat for the automotive equivalent of the wristshot.

At the Motor Show, thousands of people young and old flock to see their dream cars every year. For the first time this year, watch fans have the chance to do the same at the SIHH. We eagerly await the results, the demographics and the decision on whether the SIHH will do the same next year (and if it does, whether the public will come back). 

For the watch industry, though, such events are inward looking affairs. Maybe this is why our correspondent David Chokron could not reconcile the fact that hypercars are quickly snapped up but hyperwatches have trouble finding customers. Charging a million for a sensual vehicle brimming with carbon fibre and laced with technology that comes straight from a Formula 1 car seems quite justified. But asking the same price for a watch whose unique selling point is that it is made of cheese? The news went viral for a day and some people found it funny. I was more concerned. Kids around the world tomorrow will wake up having dreamed about their comic book heroes and supercars, not about watches made of cheese. Yet it is these very children, who have probably already been to several motor shows, who, in twenty years time, will start looking to buy a car. They are not even encouraged to dream about choosing a mechanical watch later on in life, since the first time they open any quality newspaper or magazine they will discover that they will inherit their father’s anyway if they are lucky and they can concentrate on saving up for the BMW M3 they have had their eyes on since they were about thirteen years old. Yet just like the watch, nobody really needs 300 horsepower in their everyday lives. The difference is that they want it.

Time to make us dream

The logical response from the Swiss watch industry should be to make us dream about its products. This needs more than a hashtag, more than 140 characters and more than a viral video. Even Rolex, the brand that most people around the world spontaneously cite as the epitome of the luxury Swiss watch, merely informs us, rather unhelpfully, that its watches “tell history”. Where is the substance? When Jaguar launched its legendary E-Type in the United States, the print ad had a man standing next to one and the tagline said it all: “Finally”. But this was followed by a full six paragraphs of information about the car, its features and its price (“The 1968 XKE is more powerful than any imported car selling under $10,000”). In the same period, watch ads were also crammed with information. Nowadays, with the “less is more” approach we are simply left with less. Less information and less substance. The ads have a soul-shaped hole. Watch ads also still follow the adage “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” in an age of e-commerce where the reply is often “if I have to ask, I can’t be bothered”. The opening sentence of the body copy in the Jaguar ad was “The Jaguar XKE is the kind of car you dream about owning”. QED.

Time to make us dream

The SIHH traditionally starts with the opening of the Roger Dubuis stand, which is redesigned each year from scratch to fit with the theme of the brand’s new watches. Having been treated to a sneak preview of their stand, I was reassured to find hard facts, clear prices and a new virtual reality experience that takes you inside the brand’s complicated mechanical movements. Their big news is a partnership with Pirelli (see a first look at the stand in the cover photo above) that evokes the smell of burning rubber. It’s a chance for the brand’s customers to dream about a rubber strap made from the tyres of a Grand Prix winning Formula 1 car – a piece of history. Roger Dubuis also has a new slogan with a bold call to action: “Dare to be rare”. They are challenging us rather than lecturing us and I salute them for it. 

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