The haute horlogerie universe has enjoyed a record few years of growth since the pandemic started, and it is expected to expand even more in the coming months. This is an industry hard to make predictions for since planning happens so many years in advance but, sometimes, we get a glimpse of things to come. Here are some of the trends we believe will dominate fine watchmaking in 2023.
A genderless approach to design
Historically, mechanical watches have been predominantly masculine, with quartz movements often chosen to power watches designed for women. Time and tide may wait for no man, but they did change for many women because, eventually, complex complications in watches sprayed with precious stones started to become more common — Jaeger-LeCoultre and Patek Philippe plied this market quite well. Simultaneously, women who preferred diamonds on their ears instead of their watches made a beeline for mechanical watches that were designed for men, embracing trends such as oversized dials and robust straps.
A few recent launches have indicated a new trend of offering consumers a superbly designed watch — rather than a women’s and men’s version of the same model — letting consumers decide whether it speaks to them, which we think is something that will be more prevalent. After all, the fashion industry has embraced gender fluidity for a while now, and translating this trend into watches should not be too difficult a feat. There will always be a place for delicately decorated diamond-studded timepieces, of course, but it will be interesting to see how far designers can push the gender-fluid agenda in watchmaking. That lozenge-coloured Hublot released at the recent LVMH Watch Week, or even Tag Heuer’s multi-hued Monza, could be seen on either masculine and feminine wrists, we think.
Sing me the blues
We have to admit that green dials really had their time in the sun in the last few years, but the dominant colour in watchmaking this year is going to be blue. Arguably the world’s most popular colour, it has been seen on everything from Tissots to Audemars Piguets, and our prediction is that no watchmaker is going to remove a blue dial from its line-up this year. Far be it for us to pick favourites, but if we must, for a blue dial with a difference, Grand Seiko’s new addition to its Evolution 9 collection features a timepiece with a textured blue dial inspired by the gently lapping waters of Lake Suwa just before dawn.
Although many watchmakers have done their part in supporting conservation efforts, actually incorporating planet-friendly materials into their watches has taken a bit more work. Panerai set new standards for circular watch manufacturing with its e-steel in 2021, while Breitling recently unveiled its first fully traceable gold and diamond timepiece, the gold hailing from Colombia’s artisanal Touchstone mine, while the diamonds around the bezel are lab grown by a certified New York City-based supplier.
Ulysse Nardin is underscoring its support of ocean conservation with its Arctic Night diver, which features carbonium, a special material taken from offcuts of airplane parts, straps made from recycled fishing nets and steel from recycled automotive materials. Meanwhile, Maurice Lacroix’s Aikon #tide watch boasts hard-to-beat planet-friendly credentials: It is made from a special composite material that combines upcycled plastic with glass fibre in a super robust finish twice as hard as standard plastic and five times as resistant, not to mention a carbon footprint six times lower than PET.
Things are only going to get better from here.
The rise of the second-hand market
In the same way artists have no control of their artworks after they are sold and can only watch helplessly as prices soar or fall, watchmakers have in the past only been able to witness, from a respectable distance, the way their products fare in the secondary market. Rolex’s recently unveiled certified pre-owned programme (CPO) is a major game-change in this regard. Watches will be given a two-year international warranty and dedicated accessories, with Bucherer named as the first official Rolex CPO retailer. Rolex is not the first to do this — Vacheron Constantin’s Les Collectionneurs is not new and Richard Mille’s dedicated boutiques for its pre-owned pieces have been around since 2015 — but it has certainly legitimised the secondary market in a big way. Education, transparency and legitimacy are driving the pre-loved market, which will continue to hit its stride in 2023.
Beyond the wrist
At last year’s Watches and Wonders, social media was set ablaze with Van Cleef & Arpels’ automaton, which brought to life a forest scene featuring two birds performing a courtship ritual, sitting by a body of water as a dragonfly flutters past. It so happened to tell the time as well, although it is hardly the reason one would acquire such a thing of beauty. Combining on-demand animation and a retrograde time display, the Fontaine aux Oiseaux won the Mechanical Clock prize at last year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
Watchmaking beyond the wristwatch is something we are sure to see more of, as consumers are ready for more than the usual from their favourite manufactures. Independent player MB&F has done this for years, dedicating an entire collection to non-watch timekeepers, while for more conventional table clocks, Cartier has never disappointed. Through this year, we expect to see more beyond the Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Atmos Clock as well — a good start is Fast Car, a collaboration between Bucherer and historic clock maker L’Epée.
Many of us bought watches online during the pandemic-mandated lockdowns, as evinced by the stellar sales that watch companies recorded over the last few years, but that is all over now. Consumers want an immersive experience as part of making their big purchase — they want to step into a thoughtfully considered space, spend time indulging in some history (along with possibly some chit-chat and a glass of champagne) and truly enjoy the entire process of acquiring a new timepiece. One would imagine this would apply especially to first-time buyers, whom we can expect a lot of in the coming year, and the best way to gain repeat customers is to ensure that their first visit is nothing short of stellar.
This article first appeared on Feb 6, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.