Why The International Chronometry Competition Needs To Change Format Or Sink Into Total Irrelevance
by Ian Skellern
I am both a fan and a proponent of the quest for ever-higher precision in mechanical watches because I think that the search for better accuracy has built, and is still building, the very foundation of horology.
A watch for me isn’t just a portable three-dimensional sculpture or piece of kinetic art, it is first − if not foremost − an instrument for telling the time . . . or to be more precise, a watch is an instrument for telling the correct time.
I’ve read opinions postulating that there is no point in competing for better precision in today’s mechanical watches because they will never achieve the accuracy of quartz watches or our mobile phones. But to me that’s like saying all competitive sport is a waste of time for anyone but potential world champions.
To give you an idea of how strongly I feel about the subject, the very first article I published on Quill & Pad − in fact, the very first article ever published on Quill & Pad − was called, Why Accuracy Matters To Me, And Why It Should Matter To You Too.
However, my attitude is evolving. And 18 months after that first article my thinking was encapsulated in 2015 International Chronometry Competition Now Underway, But Does Anyone Care?
Well, that last question now appears to have been answered because, like you, I’ve excitedly followed the animated discourse and heated debate after the results of the 2015 Chronometry Competition were announced.
Oh, you missed that? Me too.
Live competition and porn
There are only two things that people (okay, mainly men) are willing to pay for to watch or follow online in significant numbers: live (sports) competition and porn. And porn is struggling (because too many people are sharing for free).
We like watching and following sport and competition of all types. If live chess and poker games can attract millions of viewers, surely a biennial battle to see which watch claims the title of the “Most Accurate Watch in the World” should at least attract the attention of many with even just a passing interest in horology.
But it doesn’t. And it’s even worse than that because not only doesn’t the International Chronometry Competition (Concours International de Chronométrie) attract and hold the attention of those with only a passing interest in horology, it can’t even hold the interest of those, like me, that are keenly interested in the subject and happy to promote it.
Speed Ice-Skating 2002 versus Concours International de Chronométrie 2015
At the Salt Lake Winter Olympics in 2002, Australian ice skater Steven Bradbury won the gold medal in the 1,000-meter final despite being the oldest and slowest in the field.
That was Australia’s first-ever gold medal at winter Olympics so it was pretty big news. Pretty big news, but if that’s all you know . . . it’s really just a boring fact of history.
However, have a look at this video of the race here (Bradbury is last . . . until he isn’t).
Now, imagine the feelings and emotions of both the supporters of the unlucky losing favorites and the lucky winner while following this race live, and the months of debate afterwards.
Concours International de Chronométrie 2015
I was reminded of that Olympic skating race after seeing this image of the winning watch in the Tourbillon Category of the 2015 International Timing Competition, the Louis Moinet Vertalor tourbillon.
It isn’t that I’m equating the Louis Moinet Vertalor with Steven Bradbury (though, interestingly, the Vertalor was the least accurate of all placed watches). But I am intimating that those two empty podiums for silver and bronze medals on either side of the Vertalor – as well as the two empty podiums on either side of the winning Tissot chronograph – hint at an exciting competition with many competitors falling by the wayside.
But we wouldn’t know anything about that because, unlike watching sports, chess, poker or any other competition, we cannot follow the International Chronometry Competition during the weeks in which it takes place. We just learn the results afterwards.
It might be good for the competition organizers to remember that people are not willing to pay for learning the results (yawn), but rather for watching or following the games and competitions live as they take place.
It’s the shared following of the competition that unites us and generates interest, not the final score.
And that’s what’s wrong with the Concours International de Chronométrie in its present form. How many people would passionately follow soccer or Formula 1 if no games were shown on TV and nobody was allowed to watch at the stadiums? Instead, the teams would play behind closed doors and the weekend results are posted every Monday morning.
Riveting? I think not.
What has happened is that the organizers of the Concours International de Chronométrie bent over backwards to come up with a formula that the brands are happy with, which is basically good publicity if they win, but worse than zero publicity if they lose.
And that has resulted in practically no publicity at all, because the only way a competition like can work is if the focus in on the audience rather than the competitors. Because when you have built a large enough audience, the brands will come.
I congratulate Tissot for winning both the competition overall, as well as second and third place, and the chronograph category. Plus a tip of the hat to Louis Moinet for winning the tourbillon category for the second time.
And a big thank you to all brands for for supporting the competition by taking part.
And Louis Moinet and Tissot should be also congratulated for making watches reliable enough to withstand being tested for a few weeks under conditions simulating everyday use. It’s been a real eye-opener to understand how many watches cannot even get through the testing procedures while remaining within C.O.S.C.-prescribed chronometer tolerances of precision.
Unless the Concours International de Chronométrie radically shifts its attention to the audience instead of the brands I feel it is doomed to irrelevance (if it’s not already there). And there doesn’t appear to be much to lose because it’s not as if the present system has borne much fruit anyway.
To the organizers of the International Chronometry Competition I say thank you for all of your hard work and good intentions, but that’s not enough. Building an audience isn’t easy and it will entail a radical rethink, but it’s the only way to create a strong foundation for future growth.
“I am indeed disappointed at the small number of participants, and I hope that the causes can be found in the uncertain state of the watchmaking business since the beginning of the year. I dare not contemplate that the precision and reliability of the products might be merely brand advertising slogans, not based on actual measurable performances,” commented Philippe Fischer, chairman of the competition.
Well, Fisher might not dare to contemplate that many brands are marketing snake oil, but it’s difficult not to think that the evidence is pointing in that direction. Where are all of the high-precision silicon hairsprings, high-frequency balances, and new escapements in the timing competitions? The gap between unsubstantiated claims in press releases and hard data looks to be growing ever wider.
Pandering to brands doesn’t work for anybody, including the brands themselves (and they know that).
I wish the Concours International de Chronométrie all the best for the future and sincerely hope that its organizers manage to find a way to improve public interest in the competition . . . but I’m not holding my breath.
For more information, please visit www.concourschronometrie.org.
Also published on Medium.