Replica watches: The great old companies with an unbroken history, such as Rolex, Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe, maintain their heritage with absolute consistency and jealously protect it. But not all watchmakers have the same luck, some have seen parts of their heritage disappear through successive sales and acquisitions. Others have shown little interest in it so far. Today, some brands are trying to make up for lost time.
The best sellers of 2018 are incredibly reminiscent of those of a few decades ago. The Royal Oak, the Daytona and the Nautilus, the magical trio, have not wrinkled. The more things change, the more they stay the same… Within the Swatch Group, the Omega Speedmaster is another excellent example of a model that has passed through the ages without aging. Led by Raynald Aeschlimann, this brand, incidentally, has done a remarkable job preserving its heritage, as illustrated by last year’s 1957 Trilogy, or the repeated success of its Speedy Tuesday operation. This exploitation of heritage, in a context that seems to give watchmaking icons an extra advantage, is arousing envy in certain quarters.
In fact, it is a response to an underlying phenomenon: far from consigning the mechanical watch to the rank of incongruous object of the past, the digital age has brought this noblest of the noblest products into the spotlight through millions of images. shared on social media, and the rapid advance of a globalized watch culture. More like the tools of the future are taking us back to the past. Everywhere, the insistence is on the need for authenticity.
Turning dust into gold
Not all of us are equal before this phenomenon. The neo-brands of contemporary 21st century watchmaking, for example, do not, of course, have any heritage with which they can claim longevity. Instead, they emphasize the idea of interruption. Such a stance works particularly well when the economy is booming and emerging markets are creating thousands of new millionaires with less conservative tastes than collectors on the Old Continent. A significant number of these brands were weakened by the watch industry crash of 2015. And the fundamental question for collectors and investors is often the same: will this brand still be around five or ten years from now?
While the first decade of the new millennium seemed almost entirely dedicated to a (necessary) dusting off of the industry in order to ground it in the modern era, break established codes and expand its horizons, today we are realizing that this watchmaking dust contained treasures of ingenuity and design.
Baume & Mercier: “I have locked myself in with 200 historic watches”
Consequently, several companies with genuine historical legitimacy have not exploited the full potential of this heritage, too busy as they were modernizing their image and conquering new markets after the renaissance of the mechanical watch market in the 1980s.
Providing evidence of the synergy between new social media and older creations, new Baume & Mercier CEO Geoffroy Lefebvre posts almost exclusively vintage models on his Instagram account.
Founded in 1830, Baume & Mercier replica seems to illustrate one of these cases. Its new CEO, Geoffroy Lefebvre, is now trying to remedy this: “We have looked very little into Baume & Mercier’s extraordinary history, especially in relation to watch exteriors. The first thing I did when I took over the brand was to lock myself up in Les Brenets one day with 200 of our vintage luxury replica watches. Very soon, you find incredible designer replica watches, like the complete chronographs from the 1950s or the Riviera.
As proof of the synergy between the new social networks and the older creations, the young CEO publishes practically nothing other than models vintage from Baume & Mercier on his Instagram account. “Putting this heritage back into the spotlight is absolutely a part of my strategy,” he explains. Having transitioned through two long-standing brands within the Richemont Group, Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger-LeCoultre, the new CEO certainly has a sense of history… and a timely one, for that matter.
Rado: the futuristic brand advances its past
Rado, part of the Swatch Group, has always been regarded as the watchmaking giant’s “futuristic” brand thanks to its exploration of materials such as ceramics. With this profile, and compared to brands such as Omega or Longines, the company is “lagging behind in terms of making the most of its heritage”, acknowledges its CEO Matthias Breschan. Upon his arrival in 2011, he focused on updating the brand, handicapped as it was in the Chinese market by its emphasis on shaped replica watches and quartz—features inherited from the past, indeed.
“Attitudes towards watchmaking have changed in recent years, with strong popular interest in the past: adhering to some kind of heritage is reassuring for our customers.”
The strategy implemented since then for more classic formats, and the integration of more mechanical calibers with the simultaneous search for new materials, has increased the popularity of Rado in Asia. But now the time has come to put the brand’s heritage to profitable use: “We are in the process of creating a set of information on the history of Rado,” explains Matthias Breschan.
“Within two years, our use of the archives should start to get interesting.”
The Rado Original from the 1970s remains one of the Lengnau-based brand’s best sellers. Matthias Breschan gives us his analysis of why: “Attitudes towards watchmaking have changed in recent years, with strong popular interest in the past: adhering to some kind of heritage is reassuring for our customers. You can see everywhere a return to simpler values, to nature, to sustainability. Today, Rado is able to build on its historically strong designs while continuing to introduce innovative materials. It’s a formula that works for us.”
This archival work could also be useful in China, stresses the CEO, brandishing an advertisement published in the late 1970s in a newspaper in the People’s Republic: “At that time there was also a spot on Chinese television entitled Rado Quiz. We still have good growth potential in China. We were also pioneers in India, and we are still dominant when it comes to Swiss watch sales.”
Heritage – not a matter of age
Even such a young brand, industrially speaking, like Frédérique Constant, which has just celebrated its 30th anniversary, already intends to capitalize on its heritage. “For a watch brand, it is much easier to work on the proven successes of the past. Without revealing more, I can already tell you that I am working on our heritage in preparation for a new future collection”, announces Niels Eggerding, the new CEO of Frédérique Constant.
An even younger brand (it was founded in 1994), Bell & Ross went vintage early on, at a time when the trend was more for bold colors. “With our round military replica watches with white numerals on black dials, we were really going against the grain,” recalls its co-founder Carlos Rosillo. “Some well-established brands no longer had such a model! It was not a vintage style, nor a military style watch.”
Greubel Forsey, despite being only 14 years old, has taken the lead in saving traditional knowledge with the “Birth of a Watch” project, run by the Time Aeon Foundation, of which he is a co-founder. This is an ambition dear to the hearts of Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey. His protégé, Michel Boulanger, who began single-handedly building a series of replica watches under the patronage of Philippe Dufour, is now touring the world to share his expertise. In 2016, his “Montre Ecole,” or school clock, sold at Christie’s in Hong Kong for the price of $1.46 million.
Ulysse Nardin: a “moral obligation”
Patrick Pruniaux has made enhancing the brand’s heritage a priority of his tenure, which began just after last year’s introduction of the Marine Torpilleur model, a “revamped” version of one of the company’s storied lines. The Marine Torpilleur Military US Navy limited series released this fall is one result of this heritage work. “We rediscovered that Ulysse Nardin was the sole supplier to the US Navy for several decades beginning in 1905,” explains Patrick Pruniaux. “That provides obvious legitimacy to our collaboration. The military never forgets its origins!
“For a long time we were the sole supplier to the US Navy, which provides legitimacy. The military never forgets its origins!” Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin
Under the influence of Rolf Schnyder, the brand’s former owner who held the reins for the last 30 years, Ulysse Nardin took a highly futuristic turn, as illustrated by the Freak with its crazy dial and movement, as well as pioneering use of silicon. on the exhaust “I was incredibly focused on the future, which is what established the brand on the two foundations it stands on today, one traditional and one highly innovative. Now, we have to dig deeper into this heritage. Nowadays, there is a very strong recognition of crafts, of artisan work. That is the current definition of luxury, which is based on historical knowledge.”
For Patrick Pruniaux, this work is virtually a moral obligation. The brand is using the services of a historian to reconstruct its heritage dating back to 1846. The problem is that, on the one hand, acquiring historical models is an expensive mission, and on the other, Ulysse Nardin does not have all its archives at its disposal. . A large proportion is at the Château des Monts in Le Locle.
Girard-Perregaux: three archive boxes on which to build the future
The goals have been set and the other brand headed by Patrick Pruniaux, Girard-Perregaux, is also busy exploring its heritage. But it has run into several obstacles, as explained by the historian and the “living memory” of the company in the literal sense of the term, Willy Schweizer. “Today, our entire archive fits into three archive boxes. That’s because of our company’s tumultuous history.”
Founded in 1791 by Geneva-based visionary watchmaker Jean-François Bautte, the company’s ambition from the outset was to bring the “factory”, skilled craftsmen and previously home-based workers together under one roof. Passed down from generation to generation, bought and sold, manufacturing oscillated between growth and commercial woes for a century. The 1906 merger of the Maison Bautte with the Girard-Perregaux cooperative gave the company its current name.
“Of all those years, not much remains in the archives,”
says Willy Schweizer. “A large number of documents were scattered, some destroyed or discarded. We might search a few finds or retrieve a couple of items as we search, but not much.” Having worked in marketing and advertising, with responsibility for the Swiss and Middle Eastern markets, this local history buff fell in love with the Girard-Perregaux heritage the day he was entrusted with a suitcase full of vintage replica watches. He patiently analyzed the contents, which eventually restored them.
In 1991, Willy Schweizer opened a small museum in the attic of the main Girard-Perregaux building for public display. Encouraged by the former owner, Gino Macaluso, who fully understood the value of this historical research,
he opened a museum in the Villa Marguerite, which belonged to the group. But in 2007, the villa was the subject of a serious robbery. A new museum is under construction.
History may contain surprises
In any case, this collection of historic replica watches remains crucial to the brand: not a single retailer
or private client visits the company without an introduction. Above all, it is the promotion of this heritage that led to the ‘rebirth’ of the Three Gold Bridges which, in various ways,
has become iconic for the brand. “It is a unique case: it is the only watch immediately recognizable by its movement.”
Another example is that of the recently relaunched Laureato,
a watch that symbolizes the profound changes that took place in the 1970s.
“History is an aid to creation today,” emphasizes Willy Schweizer. “It provides consistency. There is a very clear interest in vintage and antique watches. “The number of searches is constantly growing, even for quartz models, which Girard-Perregaux pioneered.”
The brand continues to buy vintage replica watches; today, it has around 400. “The problem with this research is that we don’t always know what we’ve done. And sometimes, we’re surprised.” As with the currently popular DNA tests that often yield astonishing results,
watchmakers also sometimes discover unsuspected genetic heritage.
Montblanc: buying a past
Finally, some companies gain a glorious watchmaking past through a smart acquisition. Such is the case with Montblanc, which for the past two years has been heavily promoting the historic Minerva manufacture,
a chronograph specialist acquired in 2006 by the Richemont Group and simply handed over to the brand without further ado.
“The 1970s was the last period in which we still thought optimistically about the future. This trust in technology was strongly expressed in the design. Today we have a more catastrophic vision of the future. A new vision of tomorrow has not yet emerged.”
“This is an extraordinary heritage: we are fortunate that Minerva
has never been the victim of a fire or flood despite her 160-year history. The weather in Villeret seems to be particularly clement!” Says Davide Cerrato, who heads Montblanc’s watchmaking division. “Everything is extraordinarily well preserved, from the thousand historical best fake watches,
movements, components and old cases, to the paper archives. We still have all the company account records.” When he worked for Tudor,
before the vintage watch craze we are now experiencing,
Davide Cerrato revamped the brand’s legacy models,
most notably the 2010 relaunch of the Heritage Chrono and then the Black Bay.
At Montblanc he found fertile ground with Minerva;
When we met him, this history-loving aesthete had a vintage dial from the 1950s in his pocket! We still haven’t exhumed everything from this real Tutankhamun tomb, he enthuses. “I make new discoveries every week. We are just beginning to draw up a rational catalog of all this heritage. We are also beginning digitization, which could result in interactive experiences through Minerva’s past
thanks to the possibilities offered by digital technology.”
This heritage is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Cerrato, who is also a designer. The new Montblanc collection, both classic and vintage, which will be presented at SIHH next January,
is in fact the direct result of his historical discoveries. But why didn’t they keep the Minerva manufacture as such? “It is highly unusual, certainly”, answers Davide Cerrato.
“Montblanc has only two decades of watchmaking history. We are in the process of merging it with Minerva’s to extract the best of both worlds.”
You only have to look at the catalog of Montblanc products from the last two years,
including the 1858 Geosphere, to understand the work in progress on heritage in a brand
that is simultaneously exploring the world of connected replica watches,
with the Summit and the greats. complications. The spectrum is wide…
Vintage is not a vague trend, but a “great underlying cycle,” Davide Cerrato believes. “The 1970s was the last period in which we still thought optimistically about the future. We imagined carefree mornings and flying cars. This reliance on technology was strongly expressed in the design, which explains the current interest in that period. Today we have a more catastrophic vision of the future. Many people prefer to look back in history, as a new vision of the future has not yet emerged. The debate is just beginning.” In this regard,
we can expect an explosion of research into watchmaking heritage in the coming years.