An interest in watches is not the only reason for attending SalonQP. Anyone who has a curiosity and likes to see an extraordinarily high quality of workmanship should make a beeline for this annual exhibition.
There is a wide spread range of watches from bizarrely priced pieces (Richard Mille’s promotional budget for a tiny number of exquisite watches belies belief until you check out the prices) to the more down to earth watches which are well-made and frequently from small firms and individuals. It is encouraging that more British outfits and individuals are entering the market with Roger Smith leading the way. Roger’s under-priced pieces (recently evidenced by an auction price way above the price paid not long ago) are proving to be amongst the few that are genuine investments. Far lower down in price terms, the new JR brand of Justin Richardson has watches in the £3,000 range, they are nevertheless exclusive and individual. We were a leading nation in timepiece terms some four hundred years ago; hopefully we can regenerate some of that kudos with the current initiatives and the millions from legacy of the George Daniels Educational Trust. Garrick and Loomes watches now have movements designed and made in Britain so things are changing. No problem; may others follow.
A rather significant element within the watch industry seems to be an apology that we live in the 21st century as so many designs are tired and are difficult to identify with any particular brand. We now generally accept that the mobile phone provides the exhaustive range of information anyone could wish for, that leaves the watch as a piece of mainly jewellery to reflect a personal statement of taste, style and, for some, a status symbol.
I have to admit to a love/hate relationship with the Rolex brand. Most models are so similar that they are very boring. That opinion is not to knock the fact that they are arguably the best made high volume watch, reportedly and staggeringly producing over a million units a year. Just try and count the noughts on their global advertising budget, then double it for their promotional budget supporting Formula One (around every track is green with their signage), add; tennis, golf, yachting, equestrianism, opera, music festivals and then the other arts. The clever part is that with this blanket coverage of the global market, they have been able to sustain the image of an exclusive brand and thus have rewritten the rules on marketing which I celebrate.
Most of the models are “look at me” with the owners presumably wanting to show that they can afford an expensive watch which says “I’ve arrived”, i.e. a status symbol to mark their perceived position amongst their peers. I would not expect the Rolex image to appeal to the ‘creatives’ (“we are not stereotypical, we are far more individual and interesting”). However, they too want to make a statement and probably settle on the Nomos or less expensive Skagen brands which exude a more refined taste of under-stated elegance, where less is more.
Thinking of elegance, it is a word I would not normally associate with the rather brutish Hublot brand watches which are beautifully packaged so you just know it is expensive. They have introduced a model MP-05 which truly reflects its objectives; to complement the LaFerrari Ferrari. The elegant and very distinctive design is based upon the car’s transparent engine cover under which is a highly complex engine. All is forgiven.
Quite why more and more brands are selling watches that look like the first watch you were given as a school boy decades ago, they certainly have spent little on a design which is not reflected in the prices they ask. Maybe it is not just lack of current design initiative, there is also a lack of imagination on connecting the watch case to the strap as so many have boring lugs that are very similar on so many models. They contribute nothing to the designs; de Bethune have made a small variation and that alone lifts the design out of the ordinary. However, you cannot put it down to what I would call the shortcomings of watch design to the watch industry; they are simply producing the models which sadly sell best in their respective markets. If the watch buying market would look beyond these ‘safe’ designs, surely some more excitement would be introduced in design terms. There should be a ‘wow’ factor in all things design as that would make a more interesting and stimulating world. I would not want to like them all as that would also be boring but at least one could have the encouraging thought that others might like the design.
The credibility of many brands is thin to say the least, many in the watch industry are very clever marketing men; as mentioned it is the buying public that lets down the industry. Think of a notable name from the watchmakers of the 1700’s and there is, some would argue, no better brand name in the 21st century despite no connection whatsoever. I have admired the successful development of the Christopher Ward brand, again in the £3,000 price area, real people in the modern era. However, I puzzle at the credibility of the association between Morgan Cars with their new watches, each will be ‘unique’ but only insofar as they will have the serial number of the car inscribed on the watch. Why not make it more real than just a commercial exploitation of the name of a highly regarded car marque? Perhaps have ash wood as the dial or the same specification of aluminium used in an endeavour to make a real link between the two respected brands.
Arguably the best quality production watch is the Patek Philippe which has earned and enjoyed widespread status. I was surprised at my own reaction when I noted that an architect, better regarded by me as a clever businessman, sold his firm’s services largely to leading investment banks. He made exactly the right choice of watch; a Patek Phillippe, his awareness of the expected uniform was spot on; he went up in my respect. However, the theme of Patek Phillippe’s advertising whereby you only own their watches for the next generation demeans their status. That particular approach must only appeal to the arrivistes who have no substance beyond money. The sad thing is that their advertising theme has worked too well for decades.
Obviously, there are lots of good things going on in the watch industry. Technology is being brought in from other spheres; Richard Hoptroff’s eponymous brand includes an atomic watch which started out with a model that was more than substantial in size but today’s model has been honed down to conform to the norm. The complications watches with their tourbillons and the increasing number of models with skeletonized movements are attractive as the finest of engineering is to the fore. Quinting have a collection of unique see-through watches, they use numerous layers of crystal cog wheels on which hands have been mounted on alternate layers.
Designs can be quite challenging with MB&F with their frog-eyed models and other smile inducing models; great fun but people need to have confidence in their taste to buy them. A very large but fascinating De Witt pre-production model at the show would not be out of place in Robot Wars or Dr. Who, whilst the price of both watches will doubtless be equally scary, but they have niche.
Its good that within the watch industry you can be canny and still have something desirable and unique. Find your great value for money watch; new, vintage or simply second hand ; Fellows auctioneers have many specialist sales where bargains at all levels of price can frequently be found. A watch strap can lift a rather ordinary watch into a different orbit. There does not seem to be any element that cannot be made to your very exacting specification by Sabel; from Cornish leather that takes 20 months to process through the lining material and colours, to the stitching. The cost is normally somewhat less than £200 and peaks around £500. Mia Sabel adds a lot of knowledge to your understanding and is very personable; an experience in its own right.
Lots of watches at the exhibition and elsewhere come to mind as being outstanding but at the SalonQP exhibition the ‘Cosmic Star’, a ladies watch by Van't Hoff is just so finely honed with that essential word of elegance – it is even better without the optional extra diamonds. There are so many desirable men’s watches; my choice is for a skeleton watch as the decoration is in the quality of the movements engineering.
The skills in creating watches goes beyond just the finest of engineering with some brands featuring exquisite artworks on the dials. These range from artistic depictions of exotic birds to classic geometric patterning by Jaquet Droz. The artists use a microscope to achieve the best detailing and at SalonQP, an artist used her fingernail as her palate. Her concentration and steady hand were remarkable. 3D modelling of creatures is particularly popular in Asia, Van't Hoff offers one of the finest collections.
I started out with the contention that our mobile phones serve all practical needs; a fine watch should then just be very emotive jewellery. Taking one step further, let the mobile tell you the time and go for a micro-sculpture on your wrist. They are made of parts of vintage watches; Quentin Carnaille is the maker of these “watches that do not tell the time”.