Watch predictions 2017: design and sports style gets set to take over

Piaget Polo S

2016 has been something of year to forget in watch land, export numbers having fallen through the floor, a collapse in demand from China being exacerbated by the rise in the value of the Swiss Franc after the government abandoned attempts to intervene.

But 2016 hasn’t been all doom and gloom; there’s also been good news in terms of the direction the industry is moving in. Tougher times mean that brands have to work harder, particularly as they’ll be relying on more mature markets that are harder to persuade and more sensitive to perceptions of authenticity.

Vacheron Constantin's Overseas watch

One of the more pleasing trends has been the return of “sports-luxe”, the category that first came to light with Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus in the 1970’s. This year saw the idea given fresh impetus through Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas, Piaget’s Polo S and Girard-Perregaux’s Laureato, all of which derive from 70’s originals. These are watches that somehow seem in tune with the times: sporty, well made, even luxurious, but also a little cool and understated – a sharp contrast with the flashiness that’s prevailed over the last decade.

Bulgari's Octo Finissimo designed by Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani

Both the Royal Oak and the Nautilus were designed by Gerald Genta, one of the first designers to win a reputation beyond the maisons that he worked for, a phenomenon that’s starting to emerge in the watch world once again as design becomes the story. Already, we’ve become much more familiar with the likes of Davide Cerrato (previously of Tudor, now at Montblanc), Fabrizio Bounamassa Stigliani (Bulgari), Christian Selmoni (Vacheron Constantin), while we seen creative partnerships formed by Hublot (Italia Independent, Sang Bleu et al), Richard Mille (Cyril Kongo) and Rado (Konstantin Grcic).

The Richard Mille RM 68-01, designed in collaboration with Cyril Kongo

This about more than just the surface aesthetics as watch brands are looking to establish a place within the wider art and design world, hence all those number of collaborations with designers and artists and engagement with events such Art Basel and the Design Weeks in London and Milan. Expect to hear more from the design ateliers and a little less from the watchmakers.

Don’t imagine that the pure horology and the metiers d’art expertise that the industry has spent so long acquiring is about to be junked though, as there’s enough long-sighted thinkers in the business to preserve that human capital. In any event we’ll still be after haute horlogerie, the move to design is a tendency not a revolution.

The SIHH, Geneva’s watch fair opens its doors on the 16th and I expect to see developments on the design and materials front: more ceramic, more sapphire as a construction material, more of the sports-luxe theme, but, as always, amazing creativity and craftsmanship.

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