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Editorial  - Meaning and Beauty

Editorial Meaning and Beauty

Discovering the underlying values of fine luxury

If there’s anything that sums up what we remember of the week just past, it’s these two words. Meaning and beauty. It’s so easy to lose sight of these two things, even as we inhabit the world of luxury. But meaning without beauty is not luxury; it is moralism. And beauty without meaning is not luxury; it is ostentation. I was reminded of this when in conversation with Alberto Cavalli, the executive director of the Michelangelo Foundation. He was speaking on a panel that I moderated at ReLuxury, the topic being the preservation of artisanal skills for a sustainable future in luxury. 

He described one of the primary goals of the Michelangelo Foundation as helping to turn the beautiful into the meaningful, which is one of the most astute summations I’ve ever heard of what we do in the luxury industry. Acknowledgement of cultural value and preservation of know-how have always been important in watchmaking, but they’ve become the leading leitmotifs of the watch industry narrative over the last couple of months.

From last month’s Luxury Innovation Summit, which featured startups who emphasised the importance of bringing traditional crafts into the modern age, to last weekend’s ReLuxury, the watch world’s first event dedicated to pre-owned and sustainable luxury — the message came through loud and clear. Beauty itself can no longer sustain the desirability and relevance of luxury goods. More is needed to resonate with the values of the new generation of consumers — luxury needs to be meaningful too.

Meaning and Beauty

Arceau Le Temps Voyageur © Hermès

The continuous streak of exceptional auction results also points in the same direction, that buyers are seeking things with durability and long-term value, and they’re willing to pay the price that it takes. Speaking of recognition, the biggest celebration of 2022 in watchmaking took place just four days ago. The 21st edition of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.

Meaning and Beauty

Nuit Fantastique Dune Edition © Trilobe

The award ceremony opened with the Challenge category and wrapped up with the grand prize Aiguille d'Or, both coincidentally won by the same brand — the latter by MB&F with their Legacy Machine Sequential EVO and the former by MB&F's side-project-turned-collector-phenomenon MAD Editions. Brand founder Maximilian Büsser has always been open about how his creations derive inspiration (which is to say, meaning) from his life experiences, and MAD Editions was his way of expressing gratitude to the MB&F community. In other words, they bring both beauty and meaning to the lives of those who possess them. And that makes them special in a multitude of ways.

Meaning and Beauty

Legacy Machine Sequential Evo © MB&F

The theme continued throughout the evening, from Gautier Massonneau and Volcy Bloch's lovely speech of thanks that illuminated us with Trilobe's story behind the scenes, to Laurent Dordet's (Hermès) bold observation onstage that the Men's and Women's category labels no longer held the meaning that they used to, and that the world was moving towards a more inclusive point of view. Towards the end of the ceremony, as Rexhep Rexhepi delivered his acceptance speech for his Chronomètre Contemporain II winning the Men's Watch prize, it reminded me (as I'm sure it reminded so many others in the audience) of how I was there to witness his journey as a young watchmaker. And it reminded me why I started in this industry in the first place; it was because I began to see why these impossibly beautiful objects carried such incredible importance in the eyes of those who loved them.

Meaning and Beauty

M.A.D. 1 Red © M.A.D Editions

People often ask me (as I have asked myself in the past) why I didn't choose something else for my career, something that would put my writing and communication skills at the service of the greater good of mankind. "I mean, you're not exactly saving lives here in the world of fine watchmaking." But maybe we are, in a certain sense. We are bringing value and validation to the work of others. I'm lucky enough that I have never experienced what it's like to have my work unseen and unrecognised by the world around me, but I suspect it would be a very dreary and depressing affair; not a life that anyone would choose to live. We may not be saving lives in the luxury industry, but we are saving livelihoods. Here in the world of haute horlogerie, we make things that are beautiful and meaningful. And while it's not the most noble profession out there, it is certainly not the least.


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