Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Homage watches and the Swiss watch industry

Look I realise that the subject of homage watches are a taboo in certain circles. And that is perfectly fine. There is no need to read on. However homages come about because there is a certain market that it appeals to. The one that loves a certain style or type of watches but simply cannot afford, for one reason or another, the asking price of the branded version. Of course we can go on and on about r&d costs and design intellectual properties and what not. But the truth is there are only really so many ways to make a watch and sooner or later even branded products will more or less overlap each other in terms of styling. Let's not go into examples where established brands blatantly copy other more established brands' style and design.

Imagine a Venn diagram. Circle on the left are Panerai owners. Circle on the right are homage owners. (We're only using Panerai as an example because of the style of watches we're looking at.) The little bit intersecting in the middle consists of people who buy homages to gauge how Panerai sized watches will sit and wear everyday on their wrist. Or if they like multiple styles they buy and try them all out then deciding on one or two and then buys them from Panerai. Then there are Those who cannot justify paying mid 4 figures for something that runs a Unitas manual wind (although Panerai is addressing this concern by fitting in-house movements gradually through its product range. ) So ultimately these watches aren't really depriving anyone of any income. 

One thing that really stood out and impressed me was the quality of the straps. First impressions are really  good. Ok so we don't know what sort of mileage you'd get from these, but to be honest if you wear a Breitling leather strap everyday it'll only last you around 18 months anyway. So it's not really a concern if a $40-50 strap only lasts me say, 6 months. 

As with everything else you do get what you paid for. The cheapest of the trio here (with the california dial) definitely show signs of cost savings. Movement is rougher (but you still get blued screws!). The case back screw holes are not aligned. The screw-in crown feels coarse however the winding is amazingly smooth. Smoother than both of the other examples, at twice the price. But apart from a few small detail issues there isn't much else wrong with the watch and for the price, well, there's really no comparison. For someone whose wallet is empty most of the time this is quite possibly one of the very few ways to get into a pretty darn good quality stainless steel mechanical watch. 

The other two examples as I mentioned jumps up considerable in price. Everyone draws their line somewhere for how much they are willing to pay for a homage. For me the price for these two better examples are pretty close to where I would draw the line. But in terms of bang for your buck, these are still extremely photos value. Case quality rivals known brands costing ten times as much and the movement is nothing to sneeze at. Strap quality is top notch (per first impression) an they look the part. For the average joe on the street they'll pass the "glance" test and are dead ringers of their more expensive and authentic counterparts. 

And this is where the dilemma begins. If finances allows, of course the original branded version would be purchased. Without a doubt. However, given the quality of these watches are the original brands doing enough to justify their pricing? Sure Swiss made and marketing and other various higher costing labour are involved but are we, the consumer, getting what we're paying for? Oh but it's a luxury item. It's a want, not a need and if you have the cash to splash these are not the questions you'd ask. But coming from an enthusiast's point of view, the answer is not as clear cut. 

Mr Hayek's long term vision was spot on (although many will disagree) when he proposed to vastly reduce the supply of movements everyone and anyone who wants them. He wanted brands to make their own movements. To protect the Swiss-ness of the Swiss watch industry. To offer something that differentiates from all the other watch producing countries out there. To show that there is still a reason to pay a premium for. That had worked to a certain extent. You can no longer get homage watches with Swiss movements for a low price. And the ones that are fitted with a genuine Swiss movement are priced such that you can easily get a proper Swiss watch for. Asian movement clones aren't quite on the same level just yet. Then there are many brands which have taken this opportunity to create something of their own, offering something distinctively different and at the same time moving upmarket to protect their margins. 

It's a shame that Mr Hayek isn't around to see the fruits of his vision. Swiss watch industry had become complacent. Charging too much for too little. Back in the 70s it was the Japanese that stirred things up with new technology in time keeping. In the 21st century it's the Chinese who did what they do best. Copy and paste at a much lower price whilst keeping most of the quality. Let's really hope that the Swiss have reacted quickly enough this time 'round and will avoid the crisis that was known as 'quartz'. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Quick Look: Heuer Camaro

Recently I had the opportunity to have a close look at a rare gem- the Heuer Camaro. Up until now I've never seen one in person and having handled one now, it is much smaller than I thought. You can never tell the size from images on the Internet. This example even had what looks like the original strap fitted with the original buckle. Apparently it was never serviced either but it was still running. Seemingly relatively on time. 

The Camaro is powered by the venerable Valjoux manual wind chronograph movements and it's quite refreshing to know that these older movements were built tough if not pretty and designed to last. Of course the owner of the watch hasn't worn it in years which may have contributed to the great condition of the watch. It's unfortunate that the Camaro had a very short production run, phased out in 1971/72, having been introduced in 1968.

In the beginning they were fitted with Valjoux 72, but later on various 'newer' version s were fitted, including 92, 7730, 7733 and 7734. This latter movement is the same as the one fitted to the "poor man's Heuer, the LeJour chrono, seen here and here. The valjoux handwind movements were all very robust and reliable albeit not very pretty to look at, but this was before the modern see-through case back craze, so I guess that didn't really matter. The movements will all have signed "Heuer" on the bridge. 

Jack Heuer was the driving force behind the design and production of the Camaro, and the name was an excellent fit for a chronograph back then, as it was around the mid 60s that a new trend of "Muscle cars" hit the US car industry. The idea behind these Muscle cars were to fit massive engines into smallish cars, and to say the Ford Mustang was successful would be to say that the moon landing was no big deal. Chevrolet reacted very quickly, came up with the Camaro, and this model was also extremely popular. Wonder why Heuer didn't name the chronograph Mustang?

As Tag Heuer focuses on advancements in high accuracy mechanical timekeeping, it would be so great if they can divert a little attention to their history and the vast range of brilliant chronographs they have in the vault and offer re-editions. They've done it in the past with models such as the silverstone and the autavia. The Monaco and Carrera seems to be the only historically based model in continued production. You COULD argue that the Monza is a modern day tribute to the Camaro, given the similar cushion case shapes, but it's not really the same, is it? The Camaro is a beauty that deserves to be more widely recognized and that it is just one of many Heuers which, for the time being, regretfully consigned to the archives...


Case size: 37mm x 37mm
Cushion shape with brushed finish and bevelled polished edges.
3 subdials for running seconds, 30min and 12 hour counters. Steel hour and minute hands with lum inserts, red centre chronograph seconds hand.
Movement: 17-Jewel Valjoux 72 manual wind movement. (I'm guess here, since I didn't open the case up)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Interview with Jordy Cobelens, CEO of TW Steel

TW Steel opened its first Australian boutique in the Strand Arcade, Sydney in late October and we caught up with Jordy Cobelens, CEO of TW Watches at the launch.

The first TW Steel boutique in Australia- inside the Strand Arcade, Sydney

The Sydney Tarts: Is this your first trip down under?

Jordy Cobelens:  “No, I’ve visited Australia many times.  I’m usually here on business at least a couple of times a year.  We have a regional HQ in Sydney as we manage the territory directly so we put a lot of focus into the region which means regular visits!”

TST: TW Steel has had extraordinary growth and recognition in such a short time. We all know it is extremely difficult to build a brand from scratch. What would you say are some of the contributing key factors?

JC:  “Key factors in our success can easily be attributed to offering an affordable, yet extremely stylish and appealing timepiece. There’s no doubt we stood out when we first launched but we’ve stood the test of time also and evolved our collections and continued to grow our brand. The biggest challenge in starting a brand from scratch is that you really have no history, no credibility. You have to go out and sell your product and that takes a lot of hard work. We started off selling a product but the happy by-product of that is that we then created the TW Steel brand – and that’s something that consumers can really relate to now as they know we’re about making bold statements and being ‘Big in Oversized Watches.”

The CEO Tech World Centennial- a piece unique created to celebrate TW Steel's presence in 100 countries. Featuring over 400 diamonds and powered by Valjoux 7750 movement. It's yours for the lowest possible 6 figures.

TST: This is a tough question but it must be asked – some TW Steel watches can be said to mimic the style of other brands with a longer history. What are your thoughts on this?

JC:  “I think you’re simply referring to the fact that we’ve sometimes taken existing watch styles and tailored them for the oversized market, therefore offering an innovative and fresh take on classic watch designs.”

TST: It’s true that there are only so many ways to design a watch so overlaps in styles are bound to happen. However, is the direction going forward to create something more uniquely TW Steel?

JC:  “ I believe all our watches are uniquely TW Steel so I don’t think that’s something we have to spend too much time on. We’re always looking to create new concepts while evolving our most successful collections to keep them appealing. We have some dynamic new pieces coming out in 2014 that will present to consumers another twist on oversized watches so we’re excited to see those launch.”

From right: Jordy Cobelens, Dougal Smith, Mick Doohan and Cameron Moses 

TST: The brand is all about being big in size. However, should watch sizes trend towards smaller diameters, will you move with the times and downsize or do you see 45-50mm sizes staying on?

JC:  “I get asked this question so many times.  My answer remains the same. There have always been small watches. They never go out of style. Oversized watches have also proved to be mainstays with many brands offering particular sizes as part of their collections.  Our DNA is in oversized, we simply saw a gap in the market for offering affordable, yet luxurious and appealing oversized pieces. We do adapt ourselves to market needs while holding true to our design values and we’ve introduced a 40mm Canteen bracelet collection and the likes of a slimmer case Pilot.”

TST: Why would someone choose TW Steel over a similarly priced Seiko or Citizen watch? Or even something from the fashion houses, say Kenneth Cole or Hugo Boss?

JC:  “They would buy a TW Steel because they’d want to make a statement with their timepiece, it’s as much about their lifestyle as it is their need for a watch. A TW Steel gets you noticed! They would also appreciate that for their money they’re purchasing a timepiece that reflects exceptional styling and build quality.

TST: Any plans on introducing customization on the TW Steel range?

JC:  “There are no immediate plans but at a more basic level we do have an impressive range of straps that can be switched out to change the look and feel of certain models within the collection. We know, for example, this design trend has been strong in Australia so we take note and make sure we keep the market happy.”

TST: Where do you see TW Steel in 10 years time?

JC:  “I believe we’ll be firmly part of the established watch brands, and no longer the up-and-coming brand. That said, we’ll continue to do things our way and not be afraid to take chances and to stand out. You’ll also see a lot more TW Steel boutique stores, that process has already started and the next few years will see further investment globally to cement our brand footprint. We’re building a lifestyle brand and that’s a truly exciting process. Included in that is the tie between TW Steel and my other company, Steel Entertainment Group, a leading DJ event and artist management company, and the official entertainment arm of TW Steel.”

(All images provided by TW Steel Australia)