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Disruption - Conquest by Severance

Disruption Conquest by Severance

Breaking. Reinventing. Shaking things up. Being followed. Such are the four stages of disruption. There are those who create it, those who adopt it and those who endure it. Everything is a matter of timing

Disruption is a distinctive form of innovation that consists in overturning an established order. It is not merely about inventing, modifying or perfecting. Disruption is a strategy of winning by severance. It is then imitated and, to a certain extent, becomes a new standard. Watchmaking is not accustomed to this. It prefers incremental improvement and progress, yet it is all the more exposed to disruption in that it regards it as an entirely different state. This means it is obliged to change its modes of operation in a hurry. As a technical object resulting from a particular form of engineering, its technological foundations are difficult to challenge. On the other hand, the methods of production, communication and marketing have been directly impacted.

 La conquête par la rupture

Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami Sapphire Rainbow © Hublot

Shock Wave 

The most profound disruptive factor in today’s watch industry has been the sudden, massive irruption of powerful new players with a hyper-functional product: the smartwatch. To find oneself overnight with Apple, Google and Samsung as competitors shocked the industry. A connected, multi-functional, tiny wristworn computer focused on meeting everyday needs represented a profound disruption. In retrospect, these products initially attacked the most vulnerable watches, those least protected by their luxury status. The entry level of Swiss and Japanese watchmaking continues to suffer. As for the response, driven by TAG Heuer, Louis Vuitton and Hublot and Tissot’s T-Touch Connect, it represents extremely small cumulative volumes. Faced with disruption, the Swiss industry’s response has thus been a general move upmarket.

“Instagram proved to be a revolutionary instrument.”

 La conquête par la rupture

Connected Calibre E4- 42mm © TAG Heuer

Flash Sales 

The second disruptive factor was the rise of social media. Instagram proved to be a revolutionary instrument, although it still took years before its benefits were grasped by the watch industry. The latter has struggled to overcome its own limitations to finally access targeted mass distribution capable of turning a view into a sale. And even then, only a few brands have accomplished this last step. One has to be nimble and/or opportunistic and/or sense an existential threat in order to make the move. But for those who have done so on a major scale, sales modes have been turned upside down and limited series are snapped up a few days, or even hours. 


Activating these sales depends on unprecedented coordination between communication and products. It has meant giving up traditional sequences (small-group product presentations, press releases sent by email and picked up in the media) and shifting to guerrilla mode, including learning to work with micro-celebrities in multiple universes to broaden messages’ impact.

Disruptive marketing consists in moving from a single positioning to a multiplication of emotional affinities. The pioneer of this strategy was Hublot in the 2010s: one ad per day, dozens of limited series per year, as well as micro-partnerships achieving strong resonance. This is light years away from corporate communication and far closer to the constant product-drop approach such as adopted in the sneaker industry, as well as its corollary in the form of ‘collabs’. Double signatures take advantage of the intersection of identities, audiences and impacts. In this case, disruption involves ditching the dogma of the all-powerful brand reigning supreme over the marketing mix.


Disruptiveness only serves those who want to innovate, whereas in terms of products, the last four years have been concentrated on a single typology. The domination of the chic steel sports watch (preferably with an integrated bracelet) has served as a gamewinning formula for an industry that has no longer found room for – or interest in – the invention of new formats. This is a breeding ground for disruptiveness, which is seeing an expansion of its opportunities for expansion. Those liable to be lulled into a false sense of security should thus remain wary, as a new revolution can emerge at any moment…

As a WorldTempus reader, we are delighted to offer you the latest digital version of this GMT magazine that you can download here as well as the Geneva Watch Tour insert. Happy reading!

Spécial Salons Horlogers 2022

GMT Magazine n° 77 © GMT Magazine

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