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Editorial - Remembrance of Things Past (And Present)

Editorial Remembrance of Things Past (And Present)

Defining the horological icon

Memory is funny thing. You forget things that you thought would stay in your mind forever. You “remember” things that never happened. You spend far too long looking for the keys that were in your coat pocket all along. The biggest trends and cultural behemoths of today barely figure in your consciousness after a few months. Mnemosyne, as it turns out, is an unreliable friend, overly fond of playing unexpected tricks on you. What is it, then, that truly endures? How does something go from making a temporary impact to leaving a permanent impression? How are icons made?

My theory about it is that iconic status is granted by the ability to represent the essential spirit of an era. Furthermore, iconic status can be enhanced by the quality of cross-generational relevance. We see this even on the most basic semantic level, in the way we use and qualify the word “icon”. Duran Duran, for example, we describe as an icon of the 1980s. Madonna, on the other hand, is an icon, fullstop. We can apply the same principles in the world of watchmaking, albeit with some adjustments in timescale — appropriate to an industry that has been around for five centuries (give or take a couple of decades). 

Remembrance of Things Past (And Present)

Big Pilot's Watch 43 © IWC Schauffhausen

 

Let us take the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, for example, which appears in this year’s sextet of Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) finalists in the category of Iconic watches. The genre of aviation watches itself is certainly iconic. I won’t lay out the arguments for this; as far as I’m concerned, it’s an axiomatic statement, and if you don’t agree, you can take it up with the online watch forums. Now, not all interpretations of an iconic genre can be iconic themselves. The classic Western film may be an icon of American cinema, but that doesn’t mean all Western films are iconic (some are objectively awful). 

Remembrance of Things Past (And Present)

Big Pilot's Watch 43 © IWC Schauffhausen

The Big Pilot’s Watch competing for the Iconic trophy at the 2022 edition of the GPHG is the green-dialed 43mm model on a green strap, which is not exactly the standard interpretation of a traditional pilot’s watch. But this is exactly what I mean. You can build a watch that is a note-for-note direct homage to the Platonic ideal of the iconic pilot’s watch, but does that speak to its continued relevance? 

Dressing the Big Pilot’s Watch in different colours draws attention to how well the overall design works in terms of versatility and how it can be adapted to various environments and styles. Any consumer product — be it a watch, or a car, or a pair of shoes — that looks good only in black is limited in reach. A watch that looks good and fits every purpose has a broader field of application and a wider appeal, which translates directly to the probability that it will endure through the ages. And if you’re trying to create an icon, the best way to go about it is to build it so that it will always stay relevant, that it will never fall out of memory.

 

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