Hind Seddiqi Unpacks The Watch Industry’s Reaction To The Coronavirus

09 September 2020
Watches, Hind Seddiqi, Coronavirus, Pandemic, Pivot, Tudor
Illustration: Michael Hoeweler
How the watch world pivoted during the pandemic

Like every other industry on the planet, the watch sector has pivoted during the pandemic, with key brands and figures scrambling to find new ways to share, innovate and communicate. Not unlike the movements in fashion weeks, brands shifted towards digital reveals. The re-branded Watches & Wonders (previously SIHH) held an entirely online event – a first for the watch industry. These are brave new times indeed, and many brands who have sworn by discretion and old-school luxury have been forced into new, less controlled realms.

And really, that’s what stands out the most. Dozens of brands have broken their own rules by deciding to go online to showcase their novelties. For many of them, this brash digital push would have previously been unthinkable. And so, the question is: was this a necessary response to wild, truly unprecedented circumstances, or was it a stark, urgent signal that an entire industry had been underutilising a key channel?

This convention-breaking approach trickled down to the way new releases were presented to the media. Tudor, for example, decided to send press this year’s novelty – the Black Bay Fifty-Eight Navy Blue – directly to individual journalists for them to wear for a short time before returning. This was both an unprecedented move and a smart one. Physical interaction with a timepiece that has yet to hit the shelves is something that most people – whether it’s retailers or press – only experience for a few moments during the trade shows.

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It’s a better way, rather than just sending a picture or just taking people through a presentation. The look and feel of watches, touching them, wearing them and listening to the movement is far more powerful than scrolling through images on your phone. I mean, this is why I’m still sceptical about the online sale of luxury watches: many collectors want to be able to touch and judge before parting with their hard-earned cash. In allowing press to get hands on with the watch, the brand got more value from its coverage. Really, with less competition, the Fifty-Eight truly became one of the most talked-about hits of the summer. People had been able to try the watch first-hand, rather than just reading a press release or PDF – and yes, it showed.

If you pushed me for a clear answer now, I don’t think the brands will totally embrace the online future. There may be a heightened digital aspect to their launch plans, but these plays will never totally remove the physical need for events and launches. Touch and storytelling matter to brands and watch collectors alike.

Having said that, the success stories of this challenge were nimble, independent brands. Many of them were less affected by the change in the market – mostly because so many of them already have the digital presence that comes with being small and agile. For MB&F to launch two watches (the Bulldog and the Moser collaboration) during this pandemic was not only daring, but showed that, if you are already present in that digital space, there is no barrier for your audience and your customers. These watches sold out on the power of pictures alone. The appetite for independent brands and for limited edition collaborations is real.

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Change and adaption are the take-aways from this moment. Brands allowed their representatives to go on to social media to talk about what was being done, about models that were being produced – often in a live setting. We watched many IG Live sessions and participated in some. There was more connection, less PR spin – one of those rare flashes of vulnerability and honesty. It had a spirit that was refreshing and casual and candid. And in an industry that inspires so much passion, emotion and loyalty, maybe – just maybe – that’s a spirit that should continue.

Old Blue Gets New

TudorBlack Bay Fifty-Eight Navy Blue, $3700, Tudor

The great thing about this new release from Tudor? The case size – a sleek 39mm – can be worn by men or women. The Black Bay Fifty-Eight pays tribute to its marine heritage and vintage design by retaining chic ’50s proportions. This year’s new release created a stir over the summer, and features a ‘navy washing’ that I adore – it references the Submariners of times’ past. Dial, strap and bezel are all in the rich hue of blue that was adopted by the French navy in the 1970s. The range of fabric straps, and a metal bracelet option, make it an extremely versatile choice.