Der Neue Klasse
In the last post we discussed our origin story, it was a brief blast from the past and gave our reasons for choosing our manufacturing partner. In this week's episode we'll share our methodology and how Bellwether came about.
LAY OF THE LAND
If you're reading this you're well aware of the exponential growth of the hobby led segment of boutique watchmaking, known colloquially as 'Microbrands'. They vary in range, scale and manufacture from artisanal to tool oriented offerings.
The majority of these businesses enjoyed spare capacity of sub-contracting manufacturers that didn't get vertically integrated through Mergers and Acquisitions by major watch brands. Apart from getting access to manufacturing knowledge (that would otherwise take years to acquire) their pricing also centred around ex-factory MSRP plus minimal margins. However this environment was not to last: The tit-for-tat trade war between China and USA coupled with ballooning shipping freight costs meant the cost of doing business went up.
As prices have risen so have customer expectations: Better finishing, tighter tolerance construction and higher quality control to name a few. With smartwatches dominating boardroom agendas across legacy brands, microbrands were able to quietly slip into the vacuum left by blue chip companies almost unnoticed, well, almost unnoticed but not quite: When the pandemic went into overdrive it levelled the playing field, with bricks and mortar shut everyone was selling online to a largely captive audience.
THE BURNING PLATFORM
Generating sustainable margins to meet demand and keep afloat during this period has naturally led to repositioning. For microbrands the most noticeable knock on effects are colour selection being slimmed down and production runs switching to drop based instead of serialised. Still the prevailing trends of 316L Stainless Steel, 200m water-resistance and Ceramic bezels dominate publications and YouTube reviewers playlists and it's easy to see why: These specifications lend themselves to versatile products that form the backbone of many blue chip sports watch collections.
If the formula is so successful why not simply follow the trend? In short, it breeds complacency. Paradoxically playing it safe puts you at risk, not only of making an uncompetitive product but also making something that's difficult to distinguish from its peers, contributing to the uniformity of apparent consumer choice. The gestation period for products can be anything from 18 months to 5 years, in that timeframe the landscape can change drastically meaning your project might not meet the ‘new normal’ and debut dead on arrival
BREAKING AWAY FROM THE PACK
As the 60’s tool watch aesthetic dominates the market we chose a different pathway for product development. Where many brands dived (no pun intended) into the Rolex backcatlogue for inspiration, we searched more broadly and picked what has become known as the Neo-Vintage period. Neo Vintage has no 'set' timeframe but is widely accepted as the last 30 years, Craft and Tailored put it this way:
“The exact definition of what “Neo-Vintage” are watches that transition from vintage references into modern contemporary watches. These watches preceded the more recent offerings yet follow the landmark references that have come to define the pillars of vintage watch collecting.”
Defining & Understanding “Neo-Vintage” Watches – Craft + Tailored (craftandtailored.com)
The phrase ‘cult classic not bestseller’ further refines our design heroes, these are the pieces that were intended for the most serious of collectors and to this day remain elusive to track down. They weren’t chosen for their impact on our segment, instead their primary objective of making the best product they could instead of mindlessly chasing the market leader.
Our Holy Trinity consists of:
Roger Dubuis Easy Diver RDDB0256
This particular reference is worthy of note for its legibility and it's use of contrasting colour. The Cotes de Geneve movement holds equal status with the dial for decoration.
Girard Perregaux Seahawk 49960-11-131-fk6
Arguably the most divisive of our triptych, we chose this reference for its strikingly patterned dial. The asymmetric case and bold lines make for an unapologetic design language.
Chopard LUC Pro One Cadence 168959-3002
In striking white it's hard to see what makes the Pro One special. For us it's a masterclass in finishing and legibility: With a sunburst emanating from the LUC logo, contrasting indices encircled by the luminescent bezel.
Drawing elements and ideas from these pillars in our development we further differentiated ourselves by focussing on the silhouette, by making something recognisable but not so much that alienates people (without our frame of reference). The result was Bellwether, with compact lug to lug and oversized elements protecting the functional elements capped by pops of colour throughout the dial and bezel.
We hope this gives you insight into our development ideology and where we're headed next, till next time, stay safe.