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Neo Vintage vs. Neo Retro
Neo-Vintage has become a widespread term within the independent scene and watch collecting vocabulary, gradually morphing into the go-to phrase for a watch which has throwback classic design elements while benefiting from modern material science and manufacturing: Exemplified by the offerings of brands such as Baltic, Furlan Maari and Lorier. However the phrase isn't particularly robust when describing continuation pieces or pre-quartz crisis pieces; We can roughly nail this period down as the early 1970s through late 1990s. For this in-between period the Non-Vintage moniker doesn't reflect the upheaval, consolidation and subsequent rebirth of brands. Nor does it adequately describe the sea-change in the design that occurred every half decade throughout the roughly 20 year period, exemplified no better by the Omega Seamaster. For this reason we propose a modification to the term: Neo-Retro. While this may feel like an unnecessary distinction, it does a better job of describing design (and manufacturing methodology) from the recent past while putting a clear demarcation between influences from Post-War or remnants of Art Deco. Neo-Retro also creates an Alternate Reality scenario by establishing a subgenre of watches that propose the question: What if the mid-size brands actually managed to go upmarket and avoid the race to the bottom? In this sandbox we can only speculate which brands would have been successfully able to punch above their weight, Oris and Rolex being perfect examples of brands that became household names by taking drastically different paths (that have somewhat converged recently). Whereas Neo-Vintage is where we've come from, Neo-Retro is where we're headed as more brands adopt design cues from recent living memory (instead of the annals of history) bringing the whole hobby full circle as we head into the next decade.
The Never Ending Story
In our last newsletter we spoke about our manufacturing partner and how we chose them, in this months instalment we want to tell you the story of the Rune link bracelet and why it matters so much to us.
Before we can begin to tell our tale we have to first understand why so much time and effort has been poured into its creation. For our first watch we wanted something special, the amount of off-the-shelf solutions that already exist are mind boggling. However, its not really fair to call something a launch exclusive if you're merely cherry picking from a catalogue potentially escalating to calls for refunds. Hence we chose the difficult path of creating our own from scratch, with a little help and consultation from Brogioli SA ( the same people that make the bracelet for the A.Lange &Sohne Odysseus) and our final partner Dexel SA.
If you believe everything you read, there are few truly virgin territories for improvement within watchmaking: Chronometry, robustness and toxicity were all conquered in the previous century, however the true prize territory has and always been wearability. The obsession over dimensions that fit the 36mm paradigm came about as a way to gauge how comfortable something was, however in the early 2000's things began to change with dimension creep increasing the overall size of watches. In what felt like an overnight shift cases that had been 36mm for decades became 40mm and up, yet in scaling the cases manufacturers neglected the way their creations sat on wrist.
Part of the problem was the overall dimensions were increased evenly, this is particularly pronounced on the lug to lug distance which can make the difference between a case sitting flush or rocking on the wrist. There are a couple of ways to mitigate the rocking effect: One method is to make endlinks that sit below the caseback, alternatively have a recessed/ female endlink to achieve a similar result to make the bracelet fit flush.
Given our short lug to lug and lack of material to play with our options were limited but we experimented nonetheless. In the first iteration our bracelet was a traditional H link pattern, the smaller links scalloped to reduce visual weight and prevent damage to the surface. When prototyped in 3D, we found the links weren't as visually dramatic and made the case look oversized in proportion to the bracelet. In its next iteration we combined every alternate link to form plus shape, extending the scalloped top surface to all links to reduce contact with surfaces. This was met with challenging reviews... With better feedback we were able to reinvent the bracelet by making the links smaller and stacking them side by side, this simplified version was nearly the final iteration but needed one last tweak. The first link was somewhat problematic, to maintain the integrated aesthetic we started the bracelet after the endlink with our flying H, the problem was when it articulated the the pointed ends faced directly upwards. This would inevitably catch on surfaces and had the potential to cause damage leading to catastrophic failure of the bracelet, a nightmare scenario if you're using it underwater especially at sea. We chose to eliminate the flying H as the first link, instead moving the trifurcated H to that duty and changing where it articulated from: The end result was a bracelet which had far greater flexibility across different wrist shapes and sizes.
While work continues on in the background to hone the product before prototypes are made, we want to thank you for keeping up with our (mis)adventures into this thing we call watchmaking. Till next time, stay safe and hit us on social media to tell us what you though of this latest thrilling installment!
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.
How We Met Our Manufacturer
Welcome to what we hope will be the first in a long line of monthly blogs giving you behind the scenes scoops on what we're up to. We hope you've read the about us section, however there is a gap in the story which we intended to share but couldn't find the right medium till now: This is how we found our manufacturer. Rewind to September 2019 Having missed EPHJ we scheduled the Hong Kong Watch and Clock Fair, meeting with nearly 2 dozen manufacturers of varying capacity and competency and (with a single exception [shout out to Calvert at KENTEX]) came across the same phrase every time: “ We can build anything, you name it we can make it...” ...Ugh. Coming from a manufacturing background where suppliers promise 'the world is your oyster' and regularly return with a grain of sand, our (sardonic) counter was simple: “ ...Alright: Build me a space station” THEM: Its a fools errand to spend excess of 12 hours on a plane to come back with empty promises and a cricked neck. As the project matured over the 9 days a couple of things became apparent: Firstly, manufacturers were wary of startups as they'd been burned by near impossible deadlines and budgets so tight they destroyed their margins.
Secondly, as a consequence launching would require the ability to command premiums that could only be achieved by either making the product in Japan or Switzerland. Given we weren't moving halfway around the world any time soon, we chose the second option and were put into contact with a Swiss manufacturer (through a fellow Hong Kong based one). January 2020 was the date given to meet as it was a quiet period. Wanting to maximize the our options we contacted other Swiss based private label manufacturers. Our appointments were set with Walca, Montrelux, Sordi Swiss SA and ( SPOILER ALERT ) our future partner La Division Du Temps better known as the private label arm of Schwarz Etienne. Why La Division du Temps/ Schwarz Etienne? In short, they had the perfect blend of spare capacity, engineering chops and location: The facilities are in the heart of La Chaux de Fonds, otherwise known as the watchmakers valley and are stones throw away from our movement supplier Sellita. The ability to customize movements in addition to making their own (absolutely cracking) caliber xSE, future-proofs our movement selection if modules become the norm when supply fluctuates. Schwarz Etienne's own in-house calibers Although there have been changes post pandemic in worldwide demand for watches, the team at Schwarz Etienne were by far and away the most accommodating to the numerous edits that had taken place between Hong Kong and January of 2020: In stark contrast, another unnamed manufacturer (that makes a similarly unconventional watch) went as far to say if we're too much hassle they'll simply refuse to work with us and drop the project. Part of the selection process also hinged on the ability to showcase our partners and how they add value to our releases, we believe firmly that there should be a face to 'Swiss Made'. We hope you enjoyed this brief look at our journey, till next time. Bally.