DNA Approved: How Swiss Watch Brands Are Getting Back On Track
by Martin Green
What is the most precious element of any watch brand? Its manufacture? Its skilled employees? Its brand ambassadors? Its boutiques?
None of this, actually, because while they all contribute to the success of the brand, its most precious and most important asset is its so-called DNA.
Watch brands might not have deoxyribonucleic acids, but they do have similar “building blocks” that allowed them to become successful.
After initial success, it becomes far more complicated. Then you are essentially talking about “breeding”: creating products that are still very recognizable with tangible links to the original creations, while at the same time being in touch with the present. To do so successfully over decades, and possibly centuries, is an incredible accomplishment, but occasionally a brand gets lost.
Especially now, at a time in which trends follow each other at an increasingly rapid pace and most brands are part of conglomerates with shareholders demanding profits, this can sometimes be seen as mission impossible.
Occasionally a brand gets lost, like Zenith under former CEO Thierry Nataf, who took the brand from its original DNA space for a fling with the Russian market that didn’t last (see What Would You Do If you Were The New CEO Of Zenith? This Is What We Would Do . . .).
The following CEO, Jean-Frédéric Dufour, put the brand back on track and was in return rewarded with a turn at the helm of one of the brands that knows its own DNA like no other: Rolex. After initial revolutions that put that brand on the map at the beginning of its century-long history, Rolex found its sweet spot and has been in a mode of slow evolution ever since.
The same can be said for Patek Philippe, who has adopted a similar strategy. While this is a very difficult position to maintain in the market, it comes with great rewards: becoming a gold standard! Even when the market is down and fewer watches are being sold, the ones that most likely will be sold are from these brands.
This is also when the DNA of a watch brand is really put to the test: when the markets are down, the watch enthusiasts that still buy watches tend to be far more critical. The difficulty is that when the market is up, brands tend to want to capitalize on this and often do so by creating products that might be perfectly aligned with ruling trends, yet move away from original DNA.
When the market takes a turn for the worse, these brands often take the heaviest hits.
God of boundaries
It was therefore very pleasing to see at the 2018 SIHH that a lot of brands were very in touch with the things that made them so unique in the marketplace. One that is, in my opinion, a very consistent performer in this matter is Hermès, yet it is a brand that always operates at the edge of its DNA, keeping things in line, yet interesting.
This should, of course, be so as in Greek mythology Hermes was the god of boundaries and the transgression of boundaries among a great many other duties.
It was Hermès’s very first time exhibiting at the SIHH, as until 2017 Baselworld was this brand’s home away from home.
And at SIHH 2018 the brand introduced new versions of its Carré H (see Hermès Carré H: The Perfect Square To Round Out A Hip Homme).
The Carré H was originally introduced in 2010 as a limited edition, yet I always thought that its design was a bit too Bauhaus and lacking the Parisian flair for which Hermès is so well known.
The new versions have set this record straight for me. While it remains a modern-looking watch, the guilloche pattern in the center of the dial links it more firmly to other Hermès watch designs, as do its lugs. As is traditional with Hermès, wearing comfort is also a clear design principle, and with the Carré H you see this in the curved case back.
While the square case measuring 38 x 38 mm is not even large enough to make this mandatory, its wrist-hugging capability is very seductive.
Knowing where they come from
If there is anything that should be a festival celebrating a brand’s original DNA, it is an anniversary (see Give Me Five! 5 Watches That Have Stood The Test Of Time Starring Rolex, Patek Philippe, Omega, And Cartier).
Especially when it marks the 150th, as it did this year with IWC. The 14 different models that the brand created to celebrate this are a beautiful representation of its main lines and show how well the brand knows itself.
The celebratory line highlights not only the brand’s ability to create highly complicated pieces such as the Portugieser Constant Force Tourbillon Edition 150 Years, it also doesn’t neglect the far less complicated watches to which the brand owes much of its success. This aspect is represented by the Portofino Automatic Edition 150 Years.
With the Tribute to Pallweber Edition 150 Years, IWC also knows how to cleverly infuse its original DNA into the next generation of watches.
Visually the watch is remarkably similar to the pocket watch from which it got its name, yet its movement couldn’t be further removed from it: it is based on the 94000 caliber family, which is also found in the Portugieser Constant Force Tourbillon and the Sidérale Scafusia.
The result is a watch that was one of the most talked about watches at the 2018 SIHH, and one that was capable of even keeping very impressive watches like the Portugieser Constant Force Tourbillon Edition 150 years out of the limelight.
DNA as a gateway to the future
It seems that in the last couple of years many brands have begun to better understand the true value of their “DNA” and how important it is to protect the bloodlines of their collections.
While they will always need to adapt to current times and trends, the extent to which they do so must be measured as the DNA of the brand will ultimately represent staying power.
Quick Facts Hermès Carré H
Case: 38 x 38 mm, stainless steel
Dial: black or grey with a stamped guilloche pattern
Movement: automatic Hermès Caliber L1912, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, power reserve 50 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Quick Facts IWC Tribute to Pallweber Edition 150 Years
Case: 45 x 12 mm, platinum, red gold, or stainless steel
Dial: white lacquer (platinum or red gold case) or blue lacquer (stainless steel case)
Movement: manual winding manufacture Caliber 94200, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, power reserve 60 hours
Functions: mechanical digital hours and minutes, hacking subsidiary seconds
Limitation: 250 pieces
Price: $57,800 (platinum), $36,600 (red gold), $23,100 (stainless steel)
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Hermès Carré H: The Perfect Square To Round Out A Hip Homme
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