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2013 Review (part 2) - A watchmaking year summed up in 24 hours

2013 Review (part 2) A watchmaking year summed up in 24 hours

It is definitely not easy to encapsulate time – especially after a record-breaking year. Here’s the second part of my attempt to wrap up an eventful 2013 in the watchmaking industry.

After the first half of the 2013 review (published yesterday), here’s the second part.
 

13 :00. Proclamation of Independence
Maverick watchmakers and indie brands stole a good deal of the show not only in several exhibitions (SalonQP is the best example) but also at the so-called ‘Oscars of Watchmaking’ – with Habring2, Romain Gauthier, Ressence and Voutilainen joining more established brands in the honor roll of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. To underline that proclamation of independence, three illustrious members of the AHCI (Association Horlogère des Créators Indépendants), Kari Voutilainen, Vianney Halter and Philippe Dufour, were hailed as heroes at the Grand Théâtre.
 

14:00 Smartwatches, Smart Move
The traditional watchmaking industry didn’t seem too fazed by the advent of smartwatches – and rightly so, as the several models issued failed to become an acclaimed success. Apple hasn’t come out with one of its own, yet… but there is one specific brand that shows potential: Hyetis launched the Crossbow, the self-proclaimed first premium smartwatch of the Swiss watch industry, boasting a Swiss made mechanical movement and basic software features (e-mail, SMS, social networking alerts, calendar, GPS positioning, MP3, remote control, climate data) plus gesture recognition device, infrared LED light emitter, optical zoom lens and more. High-end brands do not acknowledge any potential threat from such devices, dismissing smartwatches as mere gadgets and additional accessories. 
 

15:00. Power to the People
One way to finance a project is to gather a group of hopeful clients turned minor investors and ambassadors at the same time. The Hyetis smartwatch project gained momentum with pre-orders and one of several brands to emerge recently based on crowdfunding is Dubois & Fils, an old (founded in 1751) firm resurrected by Thomas Steinemann. Another example is A. Manzoni & Fils, with the launch of the Canopus moonphase calendar timepiece signed by Oliver Ike (creator of Ikepod) and designer Ilkka Suppanen. The Vicenterra GMT3, created by Vincent Plomb, had already shown the virtues of the process – crowdfunding definitely builds a powerful connection between a brand and its customers, and it’s bound to have a major impact on independent watchmaking.
 

 

16:00. Boutique Frenzy
Established watch brands are increasingly taking the boutique route. Following in the footsteps of Montblanc’s highly successful worldwide network, TAG Heuer now has 180 boutiques in 57 countries and is scheduled to open 20 more in 2014. Many other watch brands – from the bigger to the niche ones – are heading the same way, in a commercial/cultural move that brings them closer to both the general public and the specific aficionado. I can even point out a couple of examples geographically close to me: even though struck by crisis, Portugal has in recent months seen the opening of Cartier (an impressive flagship store), A. Lange & Söhne and Panerai boutiques in Lisbon!
 

17:00. Lyrical & Playful Mechanics
Van Cleef & Arpels patented the expression ‘Poetic Complications’ and left us all a bit short for words to define an ongoing contemporary trend in high-end watchmaking: additional leisure complications allowing the wearer to interact with his timepiece, creating the illusion of governing and playing with time. A couple of brands not necessarily known for big mechanical complications head this particular feminine stylistic movement – Van Cleef & Arpels and Hermès. Jean-Marc Wiederrecht embodies it, through his specialty movement atelier Agenhor. On the men’s side, Christophe Claret rules with its expensive big boys’ toys: the Blackjack, the X-TREM-1 Pinball and the recently unveiled Poker watch.
 

18:00. Comeback Kid, Departing Doyens 
In one of the most surprising comebacks of the year in the watchmaking industry, mercurial Jean-François Ruchonnet – who triggered TAG Heuer’s V4 saga a decade ago – became artistic director of the Franck Muller group after a couple of years spent in Monaco designing ultra-luxury yachts. It’s good to see someone as creative and iconoclast as ‘Jeff’ back on the scene. But a pair of industry veterans made their exit: Bernard Fleury left Vulcain, and Jack Heuer decided to retire definitively – although he will be making his last public appearance for the launch of his biography in a few days’ time.
 

19:00. Columbus Egg
‘Columbus Egg’ is an expression that means a solution to a problem that seems simple or obvious after the fact. I’ve always been mystified as to why more chronographs don’t use a central minutes chronograph hand (much easier to read), but I was happier in 2013 as the underused feature appeared in a growing list of timepieces – starting with the Panerai Luminor Regatta Flyback.
 

 

20:00. Oriental El Dorado
China has become the Swiss watch industry’s El Dorado in recent years, but there were worrying signs in the beginning of the year. The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève showed, in November, how the problem was solved: China was a guest of honor and was given several mentions during the ceremony, following the signing of free-trade agreements and the partnership between the cities of Geneva and Beijing. What a paradox in seeing a nation responsible for hundreds of millions in damage due to counterfeiting transformed into a pillar of the economy. In 1995, the most highly populated country on the planet consumed a mere 1 per cent of luxury products in the world; in 2015, estimates indicate that figure will reach a staggering 30 per cent!
 

21:00. Full Steam Ahead
The first menace came in 2002; in 2009, Nicolas Hayek finally decided his group should no longer be a supermarket for any watch brand wanting movements or parts – and that announcement really did shake the industry. In a good way. The positive effects were on full display in 2013 (year of the final COMCO verdict confirming the Swatch Group intentions), with a growing number of brands/groups announcing industrial investments and unveiling new manufacture calibers. At the highest level, Vacheron Constantin inaugurated a 9,000m2 facility hosting 40 crafts at Le Brassus. TAG Heuer went from 0 to 100,000 (chronograph calibers manufactured) in five years, opening new premises in Chevenez. The crucial hairspring, until now almost an exclusive of Nivarox-FAR, is now being produced at Precision Engineering (H. Moser & Cie), Atokalpa, Concepto, Technotime and a few high-end brands such as Patek Philippe or A. Lange & Söhne. Sellita and Soprod have thus become even more relevant base-movement suppliers.
 

22:00. Sweet Swissness
And the debate goes on. 2013 was also marked by stern discussions regarding the Swissness issue. Is 60 per cent of the total price of a regular timepiece (an estimate that includes costs with research and development) enough to be considered a Swiss Made watch in the eyes of the most demanding consumer, even though most parts are made and assembled in China? Studies indicate the Swiss Made label makes any product worth 10 per cent more; the debate will continue, even though high-end manufactures remain untouched by that kind of controversy.
 

23:00. Pros & Cons of Magnetism
Another significant area that starred in 2013: magnetism, with three brands worth mentioning. Breguet employed magnetism to keep balance staff pivots in place in the Classique Chronométrie 7727. TAG Heuer used it in the conceptualization of the first-ever double magnetic tourbillon and the commercialization of the first ever magnet-driven 1/100th of a second chronograph (the Carrera MikroPendulumS Concept Watch and the Carrera MikroPendulum Chronograph). Omega avoids it on the “world’s first completely anti-magnetic watch” – the  new Seamaster Aqua Terra – which, unlike the Rolex Milgauss or the IWC Ingenieur, doesn’t shield the movement but is instead powered by a movement using non-ferrous materials, thus being capable of withstanding magnetic fields in excess of 15,000 Gauss.  
 

24:00. Watches of the Year
Yes, I intended to display here a list of selected timepieces that, for one reason or another, really caught my attention in 2013. But, after ’23 hours’ recapping the main trends (oh, did I mention blue was the color of the year?), events and personalities I’m out of power reserve – my suggestion is you take your time and browse worldtempus.com to come up with your own conclusions. And then let us know via this link

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