Age demographics undeniably play a role in the watch industry, from the gatekeepers who govern it, to the type of watch you prefer. The market has, for a long time placed precedence on men of a certain age, contrary to the fact that wristwatches were originally intended for women. Notionally, the audience is divided: Baby Boomers with a clear preference for traditional watches while there is a stronger preference for smartwatches among millennials and Generation Z, according to Deloitte.
But the next generation aren’t just here to only be consumers, and nor does the limit of their taste stop with a smartwatch. A recent visit to the Geneva Watch Days was proof that the next wave of horologists are fascinated by the merge of antiquated methods and the rapid evolution of digital capabilities. Evidenced by a visit to the Greubel Forsey manufacturer’s in La Chaux-de-Fonds, watchmaker’s both male and female alike are eagerly working on the intricate models, bringing to life artefacts from the past with new eyes.
For Simon Barbaz and Cyprien Gass, the field of horology promises something of a joy ride into a world relatively unsung by society. Richly steeped in heritage, the artisanal craftsmanship, the two students established their admiration as young children. Following their first inauguration at Geneva Watch Days, an opportunity to view the beating heart of the watch world, we caught up with the French engineering students to explore how the industry is targeting the next generation and what it means to preserve the language of horology in the dexterity of the digital age.
The Next Hour: Hi guys, it’s great to chat with you both. To kickstart things, can you remember when you first became interested in the world of watchmaking? Was it something your families were interested in or a passion you pursued independently?
Simon Barbaz: I have always loved watches and have been wearing them since I was a kid. But I really got interested in watchmaking when I inherited my grandfather’s watch. The sentimental value of this object made me curious about watchmaking and I fell in love with this milieu. My family doesn’t wear watches and aren’t really interested in them, so I became interested on my own and now share this passion with friends.
Cyprien Gass: I didn’t really have the idea that I wanted to work in the watchmaking world. It is a passion that has continued to grow throughout my adolescence thanks to my father and my relatives, firstly for the beauty of jewellery. It is then the accuracy of the micro-mechanisms and the precision of the movements which impressed me when I had the capacity to understand them a little more thanks to my engineering school. I study global mechanics which is already heavy with precision but when I look at a watch more closely the word mechanical takes on a whole new meaning.
TNH: As budding watch enthusiasts, what is it that excites you about the world of horology?
SB: In the future I won’t really be a watchmaker, as I won’t be working in watch design directly, but in mechanical engineering in the watch industry. Yes, the difference is subtle! Being part of this industry is a testament to thoroughness, to be innovative, a way to use the knowledge I learned during my training.
CG: Also, as a French student it is very difficult to stand out from a Swiss engineer. But this does not scare me, the bigger the challenge, the more exciting it will be.
TNH: What was the first watch you owned? And of course, if you could own any watch in the world and money wasn’t an option, what would you pick?
SG: I had my first watch very young, I was about 8 years old. It was not necessarily beautiful but it was for me, the beginning of a long series. I always try to have a quality watch on my wrist, but obviously if I had no financial limit, I would buy an MB&F LM Perpetual. It is a mesmerizing watch as much on the front as on the back where you have the impression to see the sub-dials floating. The technology developed by this watchmaker to reinvent the traditional perpetual calendar is spectacular as he managed to avoid all the problems of date jumping by integrating a particular mechanical processor.
SB: The first watch I bought was a Casio with a steel bracelet, blue back, and date. I was 9 years old and I remember being so proud to wear it when I walked out of the shop after the salesman told me I had a man’s watch. If money was not an option, I would take Charles Girardier’s Tourbillon Signature Mysterious “Fleur de Sel” watch. I had the chance to see it at Geneva Watch Days and thought the shade was beautiful. The details and the quality of the finishing left me speechless.
TNH: It’s fascinating that for an industry built on tradition and heritage, the number of young people looking to get involved in the horological world is rising. How do you think brands can target younger consumers as the industry moves forward to embrace more modernity?
SB: I think that the young population is more and more interested in vintage, in the classic, at a time when technology is omnipresent with connected watches for example. As young people, are looking for watches with mechanical movements, for example, to admire the workmanship and complexity. However, brands are now really trying to attract young people with connected watches that follow them in their daily lives like their smartphone.
CG: I think that despite its traditional heritage, watchmaking still attracts young people because it is the only tool that is attached to a variable that is still very abstract and that we do not master, time. Heritage or passion, I think that brands can target young consumers by their identity because I think that the attraction for watches is born from an education. Indeed, young consumers who are not familiar with the brand or the watches they know will first get closer to it. So I think it is essential not to totally distort the traditions but to work on complications and customizations specific to their brand so that the watches resemble their consumers.
TNH: Which brands stand out to you right now for the work they’re doing and why?
SB: I think it is necessary to mention Urwerk with original and singular designs. Jacob and Co also stands out with real works of art and incredible complications, and the work of Roger Dubuis with the “Glow Me Up” and its luminescent diamonds – magnificent!
CG: MB&F and Bulgari. On the one hand we find a watch with visible three-dimensional mechanisms where you can discover each time another facet of your watch. Then on the other side a brand that knows how to impose itself with these very singular jewel creations and technological prowess that has earned them 7 consecutive years of winning the prize for the thinnest watch. Indeed, even if they are two opposite examples, I find in each of these brands the desire to develop exceptional products with a real identity. The world of watchmaking for me is the possibility to offer its customers iconic timepieces without limits.
TNH: If you could have a dinner party with 3 people, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
SB: Simon Porte Jacquemus, the French fashion designer. I particularly like his collections, his way of thinking through his interviews, and I think we would get on very well. Then James Brown, a pioneer of funk that I particularly like. And finally, Bernard Arnault, the of LVMH, to discuss his business and luxury vision.
CG:If I could have dinner with three people, I would choose Steve Jobs, Jean-Frédérique Dufour, the CEO of Rolex, and Peter Henlein, a German watchmaker who is often considered the inventor of watches.
TNH: And finally, complete the sentence. The meaning of time today is…
CG: The meaning of time today remains an abstract concept governed by standards where each person can decide what imprint will leave in the present. The objective is not to know how it works but to use it without suffering it to act.
SB: The meaning of time today is in line with progress. In a search for optimization, we are seeking to reduce production times, to consume more quickly. We are afraid of losing time and we want to live quickly. We no longer know how to take time.