Like Obi-wan grunting on the Millennium Falcon, you may have noticed a great disturbance in the force. That’s because Swatch and Omega just launched a the Moonswatch, a series of watches dedicated to various planets and spheroids including Earth’s moon, Venus, and Mars. The watches come in multiple colors and are made of something called bioceramic which, is a plastic made of castor bean oil and zirconium oxide. The watches themselves run a quartz chronograph movement and use the same SuperLuminova that is found on the original Speedmaster, the so-called Moonwatch. The branding is Omega x Swatch – a suggestion that this is a crossover akin to a Supreme collab – and the entire thing is ingenious.
But what does all this mean, in an horological sense? What happened at Omega that encouraged them to seemingly cheapen their $7,000 timepieces with seeming fakes made to look like their flagship product? And, more importantly, when can we buy a plastic Rolex?
The Watch Industry Then and Now
The watch industry has long been at war with its best customers. Watch fanatics have long been considered second class citizens by the purveyors of haute horologie, whose real customers have long been oligarchs and sheiks. After all, why worry about the bloke who wants to come in off the street to buy a $3,000 when you can make your nut on one $300,000 sale? Therefore the advertising, management, and sales arms of ever major brand ignored the watch forum-loving hypebeast completely.
On a related note, there were a number of watch companies that had no idea why or what they were selling. Companies like Casio, for example, were stuck in the 1980s while Get X and Millenials wore their watches ironically, a bit of marketing jujitsu that made clunky G-Shocks cool. Because of this, they waited far too long to understand their market and react accordingly.
But, finally, they’ve figured it out.
Casio figured out that collabs with artists and creators as well as the creation of an entirely new price level for their new pieces would make them more money. And Swiss watchmakers are finally realizing that their original audience is swiftly dwindling due to Cognac-related liver damage and that they new millionaires don’t want physical objects at all. What to do? What to do?
Here’s What They Did
The Moonswatch is the culmination of Switzerland ceding to the times. There are two things at play here, and neither of them are pretty.
First, you have the rise of crypto, the hype beast, and the NFT. An entire swathe of traditional watch consumers – young men and women who need to look good on their first day at some soul-deadening job but who still consider themselves hip – is abandoning physical goods and moving towards investments that could either make them $0 or $1 million, with the actual number skewing toward $0.
Further, the watch industry is abandoning the steel case, black face mentality that has served it so well because – and this is great – people will happily spend $7,000 on a specially colored watch and then can easily resell it for twice that. Rolex has proven this with its colored Oyster Perpetual line with the prime example being the ludicrously-priced Tiffany dial version that apparently includes brain worms that make people think a $500 hunk of steel and glass is worth more than a used Acura.
The result is a watch industry that is less worried about looking stuffy, staid, and conservative and more worried about looking cool to some guy in shoes that look like they were made of melted candle Swiss cheese.
Street Wear As Savior
Watch companies know they’ve lost the battle. Their old marketing methods – slapping a celebrity next to an airplane in the back of The Economist – has failed. Their audience moved on to more lucrative collecting like Bored Apes. Therefore the only suckers left are those with a little money to spend and a lot of deep knowledge about what sells. Rather than depend on boring Swiss marketers whose lasting contribution to fashion was three-piece suit, they’ve decided to ease into the warm bath of fast fashion in a way that only pisses off the most pedantic of collector. Incidentally, As you might have noticed, the launch of the Moonswatch has actively pissed off the people whose entire watch collecting identity is the Speedmaster, and, let’s face it, those people deserve their self-inflicted pain.
Here’s what happens next: more collabs bring more hype beasts into the lower-end strata of collectors. The proper Swiss brands begin copying these strategies and will, for the most part, fail (iconic pieces are iconic because the pleasure they induce is universal. A Richard Mille inspires no pleasure and, like some kind of astringent whiskey, is an acquired taste available only to the weirdest of the weird.) The Swatch Group will make a mint as will LVMH. The micro brands will attempt (and fail) at the same tricks while the staid fashion watch for the aforementioned newly minted sarariman will continue apace. And, hopefully, the watch industry will get a little more colorful, a little more accessible, and a bit more fun.
Oh, and people will be flipping those $260 Moonswatches for thousands. It will be a bloodbath.