It's back! The watch world has again its very own fair, a live event to celebrate all the new releases. Most of the horological elite steps onto the center-stage to shine a spotlight on their hard work. After one week of Watches and Wonders and wonderful watches we have seen umpteen new releases. 38 brands were officially exhibiting at the fair but many more took the chance to reveal their newest visions.
April 05, 2022
Vintage Vibes at Watches And Wonders 2022
Marcus Siems @siemswatches
Collector, Author, Data Analyst
It's back! The watch world has again its very own fair, a live event to celebrate all the new releases. Most of the horological elite steps onto the center-stage to shine a spotlight on their hard work. After one week of Watches and Wonders and wonderful watches we have seen umpteen new releases[2-3]. 38 brands were officially exhibiting at the fair but many more took the chance to reveal their newest visions.
Looking at all those pieces it is not news that we are living through a time of heritage appreciation. With every release-event there comes at least one anniversary piece. And of course on top of that new releases inevitably follow in the footsteps of a brands heritage. Let's not forget many of the maisons we are talking about are not decades but centuries old.
Hands down my personal highlight of last week's show definitely has been the revival of Vacheron Constantin's 222 Historique. A watch introduced for the 45th anniversary of the original 222. But no one knows what might be the next "iconic" watch. What might be a cool and head turning it-piece today might be forgotten the next. Photo Courtesy of Vacheron Constantin
So then let's have a closer look at these new watches from a quantitative heritage standpoint. What's the Zeitgeist these pieces represent? If this is all representing times past can we maybe even find a common denominator, a trend for a particular era? We can compare the design of all these novelties with what has been introduced to the market throughout the 20th Century. Let's answer questions like: Does maybe this new Rolex have a 70s vibe and is that chic Vacheron Constantin a time capsule to the 1940s?
Here, I took about 20 key design features of all major releases from last weeks Watches & Wonders - a total of 83 models from 17 brands. These elements encompass the watch-type, dial color, case-shape and dimensions, hand style and amount, hour markers, numerals, bezel, bracelet, and applied materials. The vintage vibe, or Heritage Score, is computed as the most likely year (between 1940 to 2000) such a watch might have been envisioned given all these details.
Figure 1. Visualizing the Vintage Vibe of all major releases from Watches & Wonders 2022 - 83 models from 17 different brands. The "Vibe" is generated via an algorithm combining 20 key design features - from hand-style, over case shape and dimensions to applied materials and watch-type.
So what can make out of all this? First, there are clear vibe differences between several of the brands. Cartier, IWC and Patek Philippe for example releasing pieces close to mid-Century designs, whereas Rolex, Grand Seiko and Tag Heuer are much more incorporating modern elements.
Second, there also are three types of vintage focus a brand might have. There is 1) the "single era" focus - as we see for example with Hublot that peaks in the 1970s or IWC that peaks in the 1940s - 2) the "multiple era" focus - for example as with Chopard (1950s & 1970s) and Vacheron Constantin (1940s & 1970s) - and 3) brands without a very clear focus on an era - as we see for example with Oris or H. Moser & Cie.
At Watches & Wonders we have seen an IWC lineup that has been highly oriented in their mid-Century roots. However, their TopGun collection does not follow the classic dress watches of the 1940s but rather the military-style similar to the depicted Omega Souveran - Full numerals, black dial, steel case. Photo right: Courtesy of IWC Schaffhausen; Photo left: @goldammer.me
Most of the time the explanations for these scores are obvious: Tudor for example managed to launch the most 80s watches you can imagine - driven mainly by the the snowflake hand-set and the uber-80s bicolored materials. Brands like Breitling, Zenith and Hublot peak around 1970, which can largely be explained by their classic racing-type chronograph designs. IWC's early 1940s design-language is particularly driven by the inspiration the TopGun line draws for classic military/field watch archetypes. And Cartier, well Cartier is mostly as Cartier as it was all over the last Century.
(TAG) Heuer has been reiterating the DNA of their classic Carrera chronograph but with a modern twist. The racing chronograph seems to be as highly sought after as it was 50 years ago. So keep your eyes on TAG Heuer, they might surprise you... If not there's always vintage. Photo left: Courtesy of TAG Heuer; Photo right: @goldammer.me
So we can learn a lot about many of the major watch brands and how they tackle the heritage-infused market we see today. This is all extremely relevant to understand contemporary style. But I'd argue there might be more to it than simply organizing the brands. Maybe we can further learn about the customers taste? If we look at the Zeitgeist of the new releases of each brand and put that into perspective of how well these brands have performed in 2021 sales we might be able to see emerging design trends.
Figure 2. Performance of the watch brands as measured with increase in sales from 2020 to 2021 plotted against the vibe of their newly released pieces. The dashed line indicates the estimated sales-performance given all released watches and respective watch-brand sales history.
So which vintage style gained the most momentum in sales in the last years? How does your favorite brand perform? Before you lynch me, yes there is a lot more to take into account here than just the gross numbers of growth - I heard there was a pandemic and these measures are vastly influenced by e-commerce availability, affected markets etc. and the newest releases do not necessarily correspond to previous collections - BUT for entertainments sake let's assume for a second that this is at least an approximate measure for the vintage trendsetting.
Interestingly, it seems the 1970s are at a premium right now. If you have some serious Seventies atmosphere going on in your boutique, now might be your time. However, we might not overlook that also the very modern pieces can get you places. Some brands might be able to benefit from this doubled odds. Here, for example TAG Heuer is a player that is highly invested in both 1970s and 1990s vibe and hasn't been performing all too well in 2021. So potentially we might see them climbing the rankings this year.
Ultimately, the question about heritage inspired pieces, re-issues and re-interpretations boils down to your own definition of tradition and how strongly you think one should stick to it. Photo left: Courtesy of Vacheron Constantin; Photo right @goldammer.me
But one of the most interesting points might be about the late 1980s and early 1990s. Overall, it doesn't seem that the 90s are high in demand right now at all but a certain horological ivory tower called Rolex sits exactly in that niche. A peculiar situation to explain, however as it seems the 1990s are so Rolex, and vice versa, that no other watch brand does even compete for that era. In the end, staying away from the brightest star out there might be your best chance to shine visibly yourself.
Rolex and the 1990s ... the 1990s and Rolex... But honestly, who needs a new Airking? Photo @goldammer.me
Overall, this years Watches & Wonders has been a cornucopia of different designs, styles and heritage inspired timepieces. Pessimists might say that the race for more and more re-issues is a seal of un-creativity in the modern watch market. Designers are hand-cuffed to the mass-market appeal and how instagramable their timepieces are... but I don't think so, or at least I don't think it's a bug but a feature.
In fashion trends come and go, whereas certain brand identities stay stable over decades. Ultimately, hypes and seasonal tastes are the expression of (pop-)cultural conflicts and movements, which come and go as well. Sometimes a great movie is a reinterpretation of Hemingway, Jane Austin or Shakespeare. So why not in watchmaking? It is a design driven industry that has to fulfill some standards for the mass market. And we also got so many Independents that strive from this "stalemate"... simply because they are less bound to conventions. I think with so many new releases from this one week alone there will be at least one highlight for everyone.
 Watches & Wonders 2022; Geneva, Switzerland;
 Watches & Wonders - Novelties;
 Watches & Wonders 2022 - Hodinkee;
 Watches from Chrono24, extracted starting 2020 Nov. 29th; Karlsruhe, Germany;
 2021 Watch Industry Results; Vittorino Loreto, Italian Watch Spotter;
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