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The Nature of Independence

Nick Foulkes explores the place of journalistic independence when it comes to writing about watches


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By Nick Foulkes

12 Mar, 2020

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Independence is one word with myriad meanings. The true nature of independence would take a greater mind than mine to unravel and on the whole, I would rather leave such matters to Boethius, whose De Consolatione Philosophiae written in early sixth century grappled with the nature of free will and predestination and became a must-read text in the Middle Ages…how the long winter evenings must have flown by.

I first started writing about watches in the second half of the 1980s, a time so distant that one of the articles I wrote was about how certain vintage Rolex Daytonas were creeping up in price and costing almost as much as a new one. The nostalgic in me sometimes yearns for those times. I could please myself, writing about watches was a marginal activity with very few writers beyond the technical and academic spheres.

Since then the watch industry has changed… and how. For young ambitious people in their mid-forties and younger, armed with a qualification from INSEAD, it has become a career choice. And, correspondingly the last 15 years has seen writing about watches emerge as a discrete journalistic genre. For all I know there may now be degree courses in horological journalism.

“Scepticism can come in handy: there was for instance the time I was told by a brand marketeer that a certain watch was launched in the 1980s and that he knew this because he had seen the marketing plan, when as any student of that brand’s history will tell you it dated from the 1920s”

One of the few good things about getting older, is being able to recall from personal experience of them, such events as the launch of the Royal Oak Offshore, the announcement that Omega would adopt the Co-axial Escapement, the inauguration of Franck Muller’s Watchland, the relaunch of Panerai by Richemont, meeting Richard Mille before he launched his brand etc. I also had the privilege of knowing such giants as Philippe Stern, Jean Claude Biver, the late Gino Macaluso, and Alain Dominique Perrin when they were younger men engaged in shaping the watch industry that we have today.

I have found that this perspective of having seen the industry change at first hand rather than having known only a world of slick marketing has left me with a healthy scepticism, which usually manifests itself when I am being given the spiel by some enthusiastic marketing person who has simply swallowed this year’s playbook.

This scepticism can come in handy: there was for instance the time I was told by a brand marketeer that a certain watch was launched in the 1980s and that he knew this because he had seen the marketing plan, when as any student of that brand’s history will tell you it dated from the 1920s (happily I am not so old that I can recall the first time it appeared). There are some extremely clever people working in the industry but there also times when, in my opinion, a few executives confuse the success of a brand with a sense of their own genius.

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As an ageing cynic I am a doubtless considered a pain in that I am not entirely reverential about everything that I am told and I am sure that at times this gets in the way of the ‘marketing message’. I remember once having a row with a CEO no longer in the industry who worked himself up into a fury and shouted in exasperation “ Are you going to help me sell this watch.?” To which I answered that with all due respect this was not my job. If asked I will tell people to their faces whether I like a watch or not, if nothing else it saves us both time; accordingly I try not write anything that I would not say to someone’s face. I do not set out to offend or sensationalise and try to make clear that my tastes are not those of the market, even so there have been a couple of times when I have received complaints.

“I don’t go in for manifestos, declarations or proclamations”

But I also remember that I am not investigating Watergate or passing pompous comments on grave matters of state. I started writing about watches because I liked them and the same is true almost 30 years later. As instruments of pleasure, items of beauty, totems of prestige and examples of human ingenuity and creativity,they continue to fascinate me. When writing about watches all I try to do is convey my enthusiasm for an engrossing field of human endeavour. And I think that is where independence and a sort of integrity or professional pride comes in. I don’t go in for manifestos, declarations or proclamations, it is much simpler than that: if I write about a timepiece with enthusiasm I would like to think that irrespective of whether it is made by a big successful brand or a little known workshop it is something that I would recommend to a friend or be happy to wear myself.

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