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Selling by numbers… and words
Trend Forecaster

Selling by numbers… and words

Friday, 31 May 2019
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Mathilde Binetruy
Freelance journalist

“And yet, it moves.”


From the 1998 World Cup, her first big event, to SIHH and Baselworld today, she reports from where the action is.

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5 min read

Brands imagine their watches as objects of desire, intended to appeal to our emotions. When adding method to these emotions, they have two means at their disposal: the addition of complications and words that sell.

Best not sit in on a product development session for a new watch if you’re allergic to maths. “How do we fit a round movement in a square case?” How big must a barrel (or two series-mounted barrels) be to guarantee ten days of power reserve? Knowing that the synodic revolution period of the Moon is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.8 seconds and that the mechanism makes one revolution in 29 days, 12 hours and 45 minutes, how long before the calibre gains one day?”

GMT Quadruple Tourbillon © Greubel Forsey
GMT Quadruple Tourbillon © Greubel Forsey

Yes, R&D departments, movement designers and watchmakers scratch out page after page of calculations… painlessly. Problem is, these reams of numbers are a huge turn-off for customers who think the Pythagorean theorem is about as sexy as a moustache wax. Fortunately, brands have found a way to strip algebra and geometry of the complicated, tedious part to keep only the “wow” at the end. Numbers mean business. Focusing on one (or more) numbers is how brands introduce us to their most complex watches.

Counting the challenges

Take 15, for example, the number of complications zeroed in on by Vacheron Constantin in its Cabinotiers Grande Complication Phoenix. Deep breath… in addition to hours, minutes and small seconds, this double-sided watch includes a tourbillon, perpetual calendar (day, date, month and leap year), power-reserve indication, equation of time, sunrise and sunset, sky chart, age and phases of the Moon, sidereal hours and minutes, seasons, signs of the zodiac and a torque indication for the striking mechanism. A quick calculation underscores how prestigious it is: “If I make a watch with 15 complications, how many must I sell to make it highly desirable?” Answer: 1!

Les Cabinotiers Grande Complication Phoenix © Vacheron Constantin
Les Cabinotiers Grande Complication Phoenix © Vacheron Constantin

Behind a number there is the dogged determination to reach a goal, to rise to the challenge. Every number is a step on the road that leads to excellence. Or in some cases enchantment. Greubel Forsey boasts one rotating globe, three time zones and four tourbillons (two at the front, two at the back) in its GMT Quadruple Tourbillon, which adds up to eight good reasons to settle back and watch it spin. Fans have been in raptures ever since Jaeger-LeCoultre brought out season 5 of the Gyrotourbillon, namely the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel: one spherical tourbillon rotating on three axes and one new perpetual calendar. And a minute repeater with Westminster chimes thrown in.

How many months/years/centuries must I work before I can buy that Patek Philippe?

Careers have been made on numbers. Jean-Claude Biver, the long-time president of the LVMH Watch Division, jumps out of bed every morning at 4am. Nicolas Hayek, the late president of Swatch Group, always wore three or four watches on the same wrist. Alternatively, it’s the absence of hard numbers that helps fuel the legend. How many watches does Rolex sell per year? How much revenue does Audemars Piguet make? If I want to buy a Patek Philippe, how many months/years/centuries (delete according to the model) must I work?

Carbonium, eco-titanium, ceratanium.... geranium?

Numbers aren’t everything. Brands like to play with words, too. If, as Orsino claimed, music be the food of love, English is the language of business – even for Swiss watchmaking which otherwise tends to parler français. Watches acquire their future moniker at une séance de naming. And is it “le” or “la” brand equity, well you tell me!

Pilot's Watch Double Chronograph TOP GUN Ceratanium © IWC
Pilot's Watch Double Chronograph TOP GUN Ceratanium © IWC

The materials used to make the watch are another telling example of the power of words. Often borrowed from avant-garde industries such as aeronautics, automotive or aerospace, they emphasise the product’s innovative nature. Words ending in “ium” are a popular choice. This suffix is used to derive temporary names for chemical elements (Wikipedia says so). Put carbon and ium together and what have you got? The case of the Ulysse Nardin X collection in Carbonium®. Or you can fuse ceramic and titanium (with a pinch of ium) to give IWC’s Top Gun range in Ceratanium®. What name has Panerai given to the recycled titanium used for the case of the Submersible? Clue: my first is a metal, my second is a twenty-first century movement, by whole is a case made out of… Eco-TitaniumTM. For added impact, the strap is in recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate, a hard plastic). You’ll need three bottles to fasten your watch to your wrist. Also worth a mention is Girard-Perregaux’s Carbon Glass, a linguistic short-cut for the carbon pigmented with glass fibre of the Laureato Absolute Chronograph.

Laureato Absolute Carbon Glass © Girard-Perregaux
Laureato Absolute Carbon Glass © Girard-Perregaux

These portmanteaus are incorporated, in the same semantic register, into packaging and advertising, where their impact shouldn’t be underestimated. They carry in them the latest societal obsessions, advances in science and technology, or cultural and artistic trends – a fact not lost on H Moser & Cie. when it called its “living watch” the Nature Watch. It coincided with the brand’s pledge to achieve a zero carbon footprint in its manufacturing process, fulfil Responsible Jewellery Council certification criteria by the end of the year, and make all its gold watches from Fair Trade gold. As well as a dial in natural stone and Swiss lichen, and a strap made from grass, the Nature Watch is laden with moss, mini Echeveria, cress, spiderwort and onion sets…. we like to think of it as Green-Time-ium®…

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