Asia Monday, September 21st 2009
Classique Grande Complication 5347 - Double tourbillon © Breguet
No self-respecting collector would ever put their "grandes complications" at risk. Instead, they will wear their "second" watch: a sturdy, inexpensive timepiece for all occasions. And with only a few models fitting the bill, second watches could well be a new market for brands.
Alexey Tarkhanov, Kommersant, Moscow.
If you only ever drink Romanée-Conti, never drive anything but a Lamborghini and refuse to dine anywhere other than a Michelin three-star establishment, you very probably have some serious psychological problems. Possibly you are suffering from a feeling of inadequacy. If, however, you only wear "grandes complications" watches, this is quite understandable as you are almost certainly a collector.
Breguet or Swatch
But even collectors need something more casual for occasions unsuited to their treasured timepieces. I remember the last time I met Nicolas G. Hayek, in Basel. The big boss of Breguet spoke like a prophet before his disciples. Writing my article was no more complicated than listening to the recording of the conversation. But what was that knocking I could hear every two minutes? A sound that punctuated Nicolas G. Hayek’s words as he struck the table, his wrists adorned as always with half a dozen watches. My heart leapt into my mouth with each knock, for this was the sound of the Double Tourbillon Breguet slamming against the table.
Scaling the ramparts of luxury
The white-bearded, charismatic chap hadn’t adjusted the watch’s strap, leaving it loose enough to twist around his wrist. And yet the founder and chairman of the Swatch Group seemed unconcerned. Possibly he has unswerving faith in the divine quality of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s parachute? Maybe his cupboards are crammed full of Double Tourbillons at €300,000 a shot? Who knows. One sure thing is that one of the other watches he wore on the same wrist could be flung around without a second thought. This was his old plastic Swatch, specifically designed as a Second Watch at the knockdown price of CHF 50.
A quarter of a century has gone by since the Swatch appeared in 1983. It’s a curious thought that this inexpensive, quality timepiece remains virtually unchallenged in its role as second watch. Its price has barely changed whereas those of "first" watches have continued to increase, as high-end brands began encrusting their watches with diamonds, replacing too-modest gold with platinum, and fitting tourbillons into every available space. Mid-range brands then began their assault on the ramparts of luxury. Suddenly, customers in search of their "second" timepiece were forced to look in price ranges that would once have bought them a "first" watch.
A paradox, to say the least! Leaving the question of money aside, one can easily imagine a representative collection of "first" watches, but when it comes to naming a second watch, the well soon runs dry. It’s my belief that the brands that will emerge as winners in these trying times are the ones that can provide a prestigious second watch with the credentials to take what is still Swatch’s place. Imagining such a model - a hybrid with the qualities of different watches by leading brands - is no easy task.
Pressed to answer, I would suggest an ergonomic case with a classic form and an instantly legible dial, such as the IWC Portugaise; a hypoallergenic, oxidation-proof case that is hard as diamond and light as balsa wood, like the ceramic whose technology Jaeger-LeCoultre uses for its Reverso Squadra Polo Fields; a shockproof movement, as simple and reliable as a Kalashnikov, that will give years of service with minimum maintenance; a quartz movement could do the trick but a self-winding mechanical calibre, made to Rolex standards, would be preferable, with useful "petites complications" such as a second time zone or a large date function; water-resistance to 50-100 metres; a hard-wearing synthetic strap that feels comfortable and resists perspiration and salt water, as on Chanel’s J12, or in treated leather à la Baume & Mercier. In a word, an archetypal timepiece with a price tag under CHF 2,000.
Maybe this isn’t a project for a single company but for a group with substantial technological and financial means? Because a hypothetical model such as this must be from a good family, not some upstart. There remains, however, a serious psychological problem. Is it advisable for a reputable brand to propose a watch in a much lower price range than its basic collections? Automakers have solved the problem by producing the luxurious small cars that currently top demand. The only risk is that this second watch, given its qualities, might take the place of the first! ■