We have reached the end of a decade in the watch industry and quite some decade it has been. As we enter a new decade of watches, in lieu of producing a list of wishes for the new year, I present a retrospective of some of the most influential watches of this period. Naturally, the sum of this article is merely opinion, yet much can be learnt from perhaps the most carefully considered decade of watches.
If one style of watch were to win the award for most popular and discussed, it would undoubtedly be the dive watch. Speaking of dive watches requires the discussion of the most iconic of dive watches if not watches altogether: the Rolex Submariner. Ironically, the most recent Submariner generation, the 11661X & 114060, has existed for 10 years with the first steel variant appearing in 2010. Although introduced several years prior on the GMT-Master II, the Submariner truly popularised such a creation. In subsequent years, Omega’s Seamaster line has entirely adopted such a technology and variants such as Liquidmetal have sparked an arms race of new materials and versions.
It would also be no understatement to say that the dive watch has become the apple of the watch industry’s eye. The creation of a dive watch appears to have become a rite of passage for almost any brand expecting widespread appreciation. The result is the hard truth that such environmental resistance is no longer a technical tour de force but an expected convenience. In these watches we also see the ever-developing image around watches. Just as seen in adverts featuring Jacques-Yves Cousteau or a Concorde pilot in the ‘70s, watches are bought for the image which we all love to believe. Whilst precious few of us will ever venture to the depths of the seas or control 152,000 lbs of thrust, it is delightful to know that your watch could. With this thought in mind, watches with extreme capabilities have thrived in the dive watch segment with the Rolex Deep-Sea selling very well and Sinn’s dive watches changing from affordable tools to expensive timepieces.
Luxury Steel Watch Mania
Another trend which appears to be founded in a similar realm of practicality mixed with luxury is that of the steel sports watch. From the Rolex Daytona to the Patek Philippe Nautilus, certain luxury steel sports watches command prices between twice and three times their RRP. Whilst the phenomenon is simply a case of artificially controlled supply in relation to demand, more is at play. Where previous demand was caused by functionality, quality, prestige or genuine low supply, the power of social media has presented itself. Through exposure online, certain models have become increasingly sought-after with resultant speculation and artificial restriction of production numbers. However, all things change in an industry as fickle as that of watches. It will certainly be fascinating to see these markets progress.
In-House or Nothing?
Another trend which has emerged over the last few years is the desire for in-house movements. This is to say movements engineered, designed or exclusive to a brand. In this time, companies known for using reliable, albeit generic movements, such as Tudor have felt a need to provide their own movements. The appeal here appears to originally have been enhanced specifications (longer power reserve, greater accuracy). However, the ‘in-house’ title has morphed into a form of tokenism for brands aiming to outdo each other. In the case of Tudor, this has been largely successful with the MT56xx & MT54xx movements yet smaller brands continue to struggle due to the immense funds needed for such development.
Here, nuances of ‘in-house’ have appeared with some brands simply renaming existing calibres and others, often without any declaration, sharing a calibre. This is, for example, the case with Christopher Ward and Meistersinger. Often, entirely bespoke movements prove too expensive to make reliable but do serve as food for thought about the future of watchmaking. Considering the finances, it seems likely that the future of movements is not found in-house, but rather in new movement suppliers with movements to meet modern demands. In this way, the desire for improved specifications is met whilst movements are made by those prepared to do so.
In any case, the development of these movements appears symptomatic of a restored interest in the mechanisms of watchmaking over the decade. This has become apparent as Timex has started to offer mechanical watches beginning with the rather lovely Marlin.
Old is the new New
With Timex’s choice to reissue the Marlin, we also encounter what I would put forward as the most important development of the decade: vintage design.
Vintage watches are as troublesome as they are delightful. Often unreliable and poorly maintained, they rarely perform as effectively as a modern watch. However, they hail from periods which we celebrate far more readily than the present day. Whether it’s nostalgia for the glamour of the 1950s or the bravery of the astronauts of the 1960s, most of us use watches to take us to an idealised image or aesthetic. Having seen this nostalgic phenomenon, the watch industry has taken note.
From Oris’s Divers Sixty-Five to Longines’ Conquest Heritage, brands have produced virtually unchanged designs from the mid-20th century to scratch this particular itch. However, other brands have recognised that older watches, whilst loved by collectors, are not necessarily suited to modern life. With this outlook, some of the most successful watches of the decade have been those inspired by the watches of the past, those which now have such a story to tell, yet provide a more manageable package. Perhaps the best examples of this are Tudor’s Black Bay or Omega’s Seamaster 300. It would be almost inconceivable that such watches could be made prior to 2010.
Curiously, this does make one question where watch design will go next. Whilst creative at its time of conception, the principle of remaking past watches does deter brands from making radical moves forward. As such, original design has often played second fiddle to vintage throwbacks yet, as brand popularity varies, the next decade may move to a more harmonious integration of classic elements and overall modernity.
Over the last decade it is clear that the appeal of social media has only increased. Since 2010, Instragram has grown from 1,000,000 users to 111,000,000 and brought an entirely new perspective to watches. Whereas we previously experienced watches either in person, through advertising or in an article, we are now more likely to see them on Instagram. Whilst this online trend has created the market for sites such as ours, it has also entirely changed our interaction with watches.
Firstly, the very concept of trends derived from hashtags and a culture of sharing photos has created sensationalism. In this way, crazes for watches such as the Rolex Daytona or Patek Philippe Nautilus have veritably exploded. Formerly, the main form of interaction between enthusiasts was the online forum: a less visual scene for discussion and debate. Inevitably, both have the possibility to be breeding grounds for misinformation, yet a sense of community has been fostered more clearly on media such as Instragram. This marks a change of tack from in-depth technical discussion to more simple photography, a change which seems to have rendered the hobby much more approachable. By extension, groups have developed and the social scene around watches is bigger than ever — a much-appreciated development.
Speaking entirely selfishly as someone more excited by reference numbers than camera filters, the most interesting development over the past decade has been the growth in opportunities be educate oneself about watches. Across the online world, from blogs to YouTube videos, we are inundated with information both right and wrong. However, for those sufficiently committed to this hobby, it’s all the more rewarding to glean the best of this information. The result, from my perspective, is editorial content far less rooted in the the intangible but instead in fact. In many ways, Watch Chronicler is the product of just this change and is founded upon offering interesting and, above all, factual content about watches. Naturally, the emphasis of different publications varies, yet this tendency manifests itself across the board. For just this reason, we owe it to the last decade that we can enjoy watches in much greater depth.
The Vintage Watch Market
Finally, in the wake of Phillips’ sale of Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona, we cannot ignore the impact of the last decade on vintage watches. Whilst one can quite correctly point out that many watches have depreciated rather than appreciated during this time, a previously nonexistent mystique has developed around older watches. Certainly, one wouldn’t have seen twenty year olds searching for ref. 1016 Rolex Explorers or 1960s Omega Seamasters a decade ago. Unsurprisingly, the motivation for this is largely financial as it’s infinitely easier to mark-up a vintage watch than one still in production.
However, just as the most noteworthy vintage watches have risen in value, the value and fun available amongst the more mainstream vintage pieces has become far more noteworthy. The increase in easily accessible information on the subject has also taken a great deal of sting out of vintage watch collecting by avoiding the pitfalls previously learned by trial and error. This, I think we can all agree, is a marvellous thing.
Ultimately, the watch industry is ever-changing and the changes of the last ten years will likely be ephemeral. With that being said, these last year’s have created an appreciation for watches which few could have predicted in a time of ever-growing digital functionality. Considering how surprising this decade has been, we are left with one question: what do you expect for the next ten years?