MUSINGS: At the Heart of the Matter

As we unveil Blackbird Watch Manual, allow us to ponder the importance of the watch itself, and how it elicits such an emotionally passionate following, as this is our raison d’être.

Over the past few years, when I tell new acquaintances what I do for work, reactions are invariably at two extremes: there are those who understand immediately what drives this passion bordering on obsession with timepieces, to the point where I have devoted my professional career to learning and writing about them. At the other end are those who look at me very quizzically, wondering how it’s even possible to do this day in, day out. For them, a watch is a functional object, meant to tell the time and not much else. It’s an anachronistic device that bears little relevance to the modern world; after all, we are surrounded by numerous devices that tell time more precisely than most wristwatches. It’s actually quite difficult to avoid seeing and knowing the time, whether it’s displayed on your computer screen, your smartphone, on the wall, you name it, time is literally everywhere.

Watchmaker at Panerai

For those who do “get it”, the conversation generally continues on watches, driven by shared values about these miniature marvels that adorn our wrists, much to the eye rolling of anyone who might be within earshot. We can talk interminably about the latest novelties (to use that slightly awkward term that the watch industry has adopted to say “new watch”, for lack of a better direct translation of the French word, “nouveauté”), what the brands did right or wrong, our latest acquisitions or targets, industry rumours, accessories, favourite brands, complications, straps, boutiques, you name it, there’s little to stop the flow of conversation.

For those who are in the second group, who cannot fathom than a watch could  hold such fascination, nor attract such extravagant amounts of money invested in them, I admit that it’s somewhat of a challenge to evangelise the cult of the watch as an objet d’art rather than a simple utilitarian object. It doesn’t stop me though from at least trying, showing them the watch that I might be wearing, telling the stories that invariably accompany it, of where it came from, the particularity of the complication that animates it, and why in today’s era of the Internet of Things and quasi-permanent connectivity (I overhear people asking for the Wi-Fi password more frequently than asking for the time), it has a relevance that may seem anachronistic at first, but holds a particular value that is difficult to match in most other objects we own.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Gyrotourbillons

I will admit that anyone coming fresh into the world of watch collecting is entering a very different world from when I was first exposed to it. Traditionally, people learned about watches through walking into a boutique or attending an auction, seeing the timepieces that are on display, and asking questions of the staff on hand. Deeper insight required leafing through heavy tomes, dedicated magazines, consistent interactions with fellow enthusiasts, the occasional watchmaking workshop that a brand might organise. Today’s education is by being force-fed through digital channels and so-called influencers, paid partnerships that think that the fact that a digital celebrity’s endorsement almost supersedes the blood and sweat that the watchmakers put into designing and building the watch in question. In the digital realm, everyone is an instant expert, with nary a thought given to where that knowledge may have been gleaned.

The industry itself has changed considerably; we now talk about brands in primarily two different categorisations, groups and independents. The first represents those luxury groups that have, over the years, acquired many of the world’s most prestigious watchmaking brands as part of their business portfolio. This conglomeration is not unique to the watch world, either; it’s pervasive in the automobile industry. It could be argued though that the watch world has been much more impacted by this phenomenon, when we see how fundamentally the business of watches has changed globally in recent years. Independents, on the other hand, are those brands that have remained self-contained entities, who will certainly have working relationships with suppliers and other brands as well, but ultimately do not answer to a board of directors or committee that oversees a portfolio. The term often refers to the smaller brands, or to individual artisans, whose yearly production pales in comparison to what a group might produce in a week. Unfortunately for the motor industry, these kinds of builders are very few and far between now, whilst the watch industry does manage to strike a balance between the groups and the independents. This topic alone could be the basis of many lengthy articles, which we’ll reserve for future developments.

Amidst this changing landscape though, it could be said that the very fundamentals of the watchmaking world, those that are the source of this passion that animates me and my colleagues, have changed. With many brands having thrown their weight behind the digital world such as dedicated websites, social media, and the newest buzzword, e-commerce, we felt that we needed to once again look at watches from a more classical perspective, if you will. Instead of the fast-food, instant gratification approach, we want to delve deeper into the watches that surround us, both modern and vintage. Our goal is to develop considered, researched editorial into the timepieces, where they came from, and also where we feel the industry is headed. We will have reference material on the most significant pieces to come to auction, such that you can fully appreciate their importance, and perhaps understand why there are a handful of collectors willing to put down such astronomical sums towards acquiring them. Content on modern watches will be highly curated, placing them in their contemporary context, while also considering their potential place as future collectibles. We are also selecting and sourcing various related objects and accessories that we will make available through e-commerce, both watch related and otherwise, that we are truly personally interested in, and want to share with you. And before some cynics amongst you chime in, we have no intention of having watches available through our e-commerce; it’s not our fundamental raison d’être. We are story tellers first and foremost, bringing a renewed focus on the reasons that stoked our interest in watches from the very beginning, which we want to share with a wider audience.

Welcome to Blackbird Watch Manual.

MB&F Legacy Machine 2