KEEPING AN EYE ON THE TIME: POWERFUL PLAYERS IN THE WATCH WORLD
Forty years ago the party was over for the mechanical watch. A new electronic age was dawning and centuries of watchmaking tradition were to be abandoned in the face of an onslaught of battery-powered watches that did everything cheaper and better – pretty soon nobody with any self-respect was going to want a piece of ancient clockwork on his wrist.
Except things didn’t quite work out that way. There has always been plenty of demand for quartz watches, of course, but the mechanical watch continues to survive – and indeed thrive – as a thing that people want simply because they like the idea of it, of wearing a tiny precision-engineered machine that ticks away quietly on your wrist.
The current purported threat to our love affair with the mechanical watch comes from the smartwatch. Many are those that normally like to wear a bit of Switzerland’s finest, but who in the last few years have found themselves instead sporting a blank-faced little computer screen..
For anyone who fancies some smartwatch functions but prefers a more traditional look, there is the option of hybrid design like those made by the Swedish firm Kronaby. These 38mm and 43mm watches have a proper dial and hands and come in a range of styles, none of which hints at the smartness within.
While the styles vary, all Kronaby watches have the same functions. On the right-hand side of the case are three pushers that are set to control a range of different functions via a proprietary app on your smartphone. These can be used to take pictures from a distance, stop and start music and geo-tag a location without the need to look at your phone. You can also instruct the app to disturb you only when a certain person contacts you. That way you can shut yourself off from distractions, knowing that only the right people can interrupt you, via a discreet buzzing of the wrist. Perhaps most usefully, it also provides a solution to one of the developed world’s greatest problems – helping you locate your misplaced phone.
That a piece of cutting-edge technology wants to look like a traditional watch shows the depth of affection. This is no threat to the industry, but there are new players in town.
Piaget has a long history of making ingeniously slender watches, packing all the mechanics into watches that sit beautifully flat on the wrist. The Polo S is rather more substantial, but plays to another of Piaget’s strengths: watches that are elegant enough to wear anywhere but chunky enough to have a sporty feel. The range was launched last year and new for 2017 are three limited editions, both time-only and chronograph.
The Italians love a bit of tribal loyalty, as any fan of football or Formula 1 knows only too well. Florentine brand Panerai has its very own set of tifosi, the watch-crazy paneristi. The Panerai lovers are not just in Italy, though, with growing numbers of people all around the world following the brand since it re-emerged in the 1990s.
The first Mare Nostrum was made in 1943 for the Italian navy. The design was brought back in 1993 and the watch pictured here is a re-edition with a few 21st-century updates. The Mare Nostrum draws on the rich design heritage that has won Panerai so many fans. Word has it that the paneristi like what they see.