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In the years building up to the current economic crisis, watch design became as bullish as those calling the shots in big American financial institutions. However, with the onset of the crisis and its ramifications people have changed the way they live their lives, meaning they’ve changed the way they spend their money; as a result watchmakers have changed their designs to accommodate these new consumer attitudes. Gone [for now] are the days of ‘bling’ and monster statement watches, and in their place, more understated timepieces that assure the buyer of a quality item that is relatively affordable. There were notable trends at the year’s two biggest luxury watch exhibitions; Baselworld 2010 and the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, where watchmakers presented new, moderately priced models, along with models that were subtler in their appearance. It is known that the effects of the economy are far reaching, touching lives and businesses all around the world, but it is interesting to note that it also affected design by dictating how watchmakers created new models to suit the current state of the market and new consumer spending tendencies.
Before the watch market took a tumble, chunky watches made with combinations of kevlar, steel, rose gold and platinum were very much ‘in’. Brands like Audemar Piguet and Hublot were amongst the most popular watches in the market, Hublot CEO Matthieu Buttet even founded a sister company called BNB Concept which produced expensive, extra-large watches. BNB Concept rose to international recognition at breakneck speed and disappeared just as quickly, as it only catered to the ‘reckless consumer’ attitude of the pre-crisis years. Some of BNB Concept’s employees and sophisticated machinery were absorbed by Hublot, which was then swallowed up by the luxury brand group LVMH (Moet Hennesy Louis Vuitton). With impending financial troubles worldwide, watchmakers recognized the need to protect themselves, and they did so through their new designs. Watch experts and aficionados at Baselworld 2010 and the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie noticed a visible shift towards the more modest and low key, be it in the actual design of the watch or its price tag. An illustration of this is Breitling’s newly released Superocean, priced at a very reasonable $2,695, making it a welcome addition to the sport watch category. Similarly, luxury watch and jewellery manufacturer Chopard boasted the Luis Ulysse Chopard (L.U.C) 1937, priced at $13,000 which is an extremely reasonable price for a watch of this calibre. Most luxury brands tried to unite under the ‘value for money’ banner and convey it as best they could in order to pull in potential clients. However, there was another reason for a shift in design from bulky and bold to slim and subtle, and it was found further east of Switzerland and the crippled American economy.
Consumers in the Far East contributed to watchmakers’ decisions to produce simpler pieces as Asian, specifically Chinese, consumers kept the Swiss watch industry afloat when other consumers worldwide sank into recession-mode. Brands recognized that consumers in China favour slender dress watches and big brash watches were never really popular. Conveniently for watchmakers, the designs for tough economic times and those that cater to Asian consumers are similar and this helped brands produce watches that would appeal to a wide variety of consumers. When thinking about arenas affected by the downtrodden economy, design would not come to mind as quickly as businesses and industries perhaps, however it has been affected by the crisis and it is very interesting to see how brands have altered their pieces to mirror what is happening in the world. Ultimately, watchmakers want consumers to be able to keep with the times, whether they are economically easygoing, bold and brazen or quite the opposite.