I recently attended a client event hosted by a luxury carmaker. Among the cars we tested was an electric car. Let me pause here and point out that I have loved cars since I was a toddler. I have been nuts about Ferrari V12’s and Formula 1 and noise and excitement. That doesn’t quite fit with electric cars, does it?
Well, let me tell you that the most impressive vehicle that day was, by far, the electric car. And all of the guests agreed. It was just awesome with its performance. Sure, it was a surprise. But I could not deny what I had experienced. This, like most things, gets me thinking about watches.
My dad and I argued about electric cars recently. A lifelong gear-head, my dad is dead set against electric cars, especially at premium prices. They don’t make a nice sound! They don’t rev! There’s no passion or excitement! And while those statements are true, there IS something exciting about the sheer performance of these new electric cars. The technology is getting so advanced and is already capable of such incredible performance that it provokes its own kind of excitement. I was a gas-powered V12 guy, all the way until I tasted the performance of electric cars. And now I have been almost fully converted… almost.
We can draw a parallel here to the Longines Conquest V.H.P. quartz watches. To be fair, there is nothing new with quartz watches or even with high accuracy quartz (HAQ). But it is quite new and fresh for a big luxury watch brand to launch new and awesome quartz watches while everyone is scrambling to make their own mechanical calibres. And compared to mechanical, quartz is still “newish.” I am not “converted” in the sense that I now wear only quartz. But I own a V.H.P. and I absolutely love it. The high tech features are ultra useful and it comes from a famous brand with a rich heritage. I think every collector must have a V.H.P… or some other great HAQ.
The question then becomes, “Should we ditch all mechanical movements completely and focus on HAQ?” Not so fast. First of all, there is a certain magic or charm about a mechanical watch movement with its own autonomous power source. And second, even if you love modern science and technology, there is a lot going on in the world of mechanical timekeeping.
The Zenith Defy Lab is one fine example of throwing modern science at an old craft. I don’t have enough technical knowledge to explain this new movement, but it uses high tech materials and design to reduce the number of components and deliver shocking performance. The Panerai Lab-ID is another example of using some advanced technology in a mechanical watch movement. Panerai used high tech silicon and carbon to eliminate the need for lubricants in the movement, and therefore reduce the need for maintenance. Bvlgari, another favourite watchmaker of mine, has been hard at work with their record-breaking new watches. Their new masterpieces have become the thinnest and slimmest mechanical watches on Earth. All of these examples show that there is a lot of room left for innovation within the world of traditional watchmaking.
The real question for me is, “How does this affect my enjoyment of my own watches?” Do new technologies and revolutionary new watch movements somehow devalue my own watches?” Aside from my new V.H.P., my watches are all powered by movements whose designs are older than I am! Does this conflict with my love of new and shiny toys and modern innovation?
These are quite existential questions for a watch enthusiast. I certainly like new and modern stuff, but watches are an old-world craft – almost by definition. I can live with my ETA 7750 watch and enjoy it as a classic – an example of old-world craft at its best. Given that the whole point of wrist watches, in many ways, is to celebrate old-world know-how, I can continue to enjoy watches powered by older, mature designs. To use the car analogy, it would be like enjoying a modern sports car powered by a classic Ford V engine. That is still pretty cool and desirable. The watches I have are contemporary designs with classic engines. I can live with that.
I think that mechanical timekeeping is still relevant and innovative. I love the Longines V.H.P. and what it offers and I am excited by this blend of tech and analogue timekeeping. But my passion is still for mechanical movements- just like Formula 1 engines. Fortunately, there is still a lot come from the world of “traditional” watchmaking and there will be lots to blog about…