Just as watch wearers come from far and wide, Murray Clark digs up the horological influence of foreign lands. Switzerland – it’s not all about you.
United States of America
Although home to Hollywood dreams and a problematic healthcare system, America is something of a closeted horological hotspot. US manufacturing has always been a thing but instead of fine craftsmanship, we’re given ‘big’ industry (shock) – your automobiles, your fighter jets and your pharmaceuticals. This high volume approach isn’t easily translatable to the watch world, yet times are indeed a changing – thanks in no small part to Shinola. The trailblazing Detroit revivalists have successfully reignited the manufacturing flame with local individuals learning the craft. In addition, other less obvious brands such as Baume et Mercier and Bell & Ross also pay homage: the former in its commemoration of American racecar champion Carroll Shelby and the latter in its direct (and rather sharp) collaboration with Harley Davidson. God bless you, America.
The French manage to pull everything off without even trying. Be it a beautifully soggy Romy Schneider emerging from the waters of La Piscine to the Gauloises puffing front row at Fashion Week, effortlessness is intrinsically en vogue across the Channel. But that’s not to say there’s a cultural aversion to planning and preparation. Distinct heritage combined with a laissez-faire attitude has some enviable results – and the pomp of Versailles and the Arc de Triomphe can be directly translated to the wrist. Take, for example, the bejewelled splendour of both Cartier and Piaget: diamonds may be considered the sole reserve of stuffy diplomatic dinners but in France, they’re a simple essential – a notion that is as much fabulous as it is ridiculous. And as for Chanel, Coco’s classic sentiments have survived the test of time thanks to a small dose of Lagerfeld irregularity. Case in point, the seminal J12 and Premier collections. Vive la vie, ladies and gentlemen.
‘Italians Do It Better’ is a mantra not without confidence. Be it fashion, food, architecture or style, it seems the Milanese have stuck to what they’re good at – which annoyingly encompasses everything. And, if we envy-filled European compatriots weren’t green enough, it seems the land of Pisa and pasta is a dab hand at the old horology game too. Incorporating an archetypal level of excess to the wrist, Gucci cemented their credentials once more with the small (but never unassuming) Diamantissima – a crisp fusion of feminine delicacy and fashion week statement. Meanwhile, IWC channels a more Riviera-worthy approach with the famous Portofino. Inspired by the luxury idylls of the Amalfi Coast, this classic collection is more Talented Mr Ripley than Donatella Versace, and caters to a subtler breed of watch fan. And finally, what of that haute horological demigod, Panerai? By combining bold Florentine sentiments (the iconic thick case) with decades of brand prestige (they were originally created for the Italian navy in 1860), you’ve got the best of both worlds. It pains me to say, but it seems our fratelli Italiani do it much, much better indeed.
Ah, London: the birthplace of the big red bus and comically over-priced rented properties. Whilst Switzerland undoubtedly holds sway, we’ve got something of a notable homegrown horological history. Believe it or not, British watchmaking was a world renowned trade before Hitler started playing the clown – when WWII struck, an entire generation of gents (and subsequently watchmakers) were sent to the front. And, just like that, haute horlogerie was replaced with the ever increasing war effort. Slowly, however, we’re clawing it back. As a likely candidate for world domination, Burberry has closed its ever expanding grip on Cool Britannia with its own respectable watch offering – the City collection being a particular highlight. However, outside the usual fashion juggernauts, Bremont are at the forefront of the industry. Channelling that English sense of exploration (without that classically British subjugation of indigenous peoples), the Bremont line-up has proven itself a worthy adversary to Swiss brandmates. And finally, if those watches are akin to the City, consider Uniform Wares the Shoreditch-based design agency: achingly minimalistic and evidence that there’s still a semblance of cool in the capital.
It’s no surprise that Germany knows a thing or two about watchmaking – the usual hallmarks of precision and efficiency find a very happy home on the wrist. Deutschland however is a far cry from the standard Eurocentric splendour we’re used to: blame two world wars, a big old wall, another Cold War, tearing down said old wall and a Soviet called Khrushchev. That being said, Germany’s history of division produced a cultural contrast alien to the rest of Europe – and that too has had ramifications for the watch output. Hamburg-born Montblanc resonates with a Westernised idea of luxury; at over 110 years old, the multi-faceted collection is every inch the gentleman’s domain and sits neatly in a portfolio of writing instruments and leather goods. Meanwhile, Junghans gives a deep nod to Bauhaus-inspired minimalism for a line-up that holds both Swiss watch credentials and cool kid kudos. And then you’ve got Nomos. The Glasshütte manufacture was in the firm grip of the Iron Curtain and as such, the brand abounds with Proletkult influence. Don’t be fooled, though – the craftsmanship within is more finely-tuned BMW than rustbucket Trabant. The many sides of German history means there’s many watches, so whether you’re sightseeing in Munich, beer tasting in Bavaria or losing your mind post-5am in Berghain, Germany is a reliably versatile comrade.