Has the Fourth Wave Arrived?

Others may have a different perspective but I’m wondering if we are approaching the fourth wave of horological innovation.

The first wave, I submit, occurred in 1761 when John Harrison refined the chronometer escapement.  He thus enabled a successful conclusion to the Age of Discovery and the world became a much smaller place.

The second wave, and one in which Vacheron & Constantin played a pivotal role, arrived in 1839 when Georges Auguste Leschot applied his pantograph device to the mass production of precision watch components.  As Juan Carlos Torres described it; with this invention “watchmaking entered the Industrial Age”.

The third wave occurred within my memory; the Quartz Revolution of 1975.  Although the Swiss watch industry cursed this difficult decade as the “quartz crisis”, the challenge was met by a renewed focus on craftsmanship and technical excellence.  What was previously a cluttered and bucolic industry emerged as a stronger, global entity.

So, is there a forth wave approaching?  I’m referring to Cloud Computing.  With Internet as the conduit, multiple services are now delivered through a single portal device.  Look around you and notice the infiltration of PDA’s (tablets, notebooks too) substituting for radio, television, telephone, paper media of all kinds, and timekeeping as well.

Lifestyles are quickly adapting to this new order; neither of my adult children own conventional televisions or telephones.  If they want to know the time they reach for their iPhones to gather this factoid, plus the weather forecast or whatever app is the current favorite, while scanning for contact from their “social network”.

I am excited for the watch industry’s response to the Cloud; a hoped-for fourth wave of horological innovation.  Trepidatious too, remembering those bejewelled cellphones sporting implanted tourbillons and ludicrous price tags.

And what of us watch aficionados?  Will the wrist watch become merely an expression of eccentricity; has the contraption wrapped around my arm already reached the evolutionary status of the pocket watch?  Please condemn or confirm my thesis, as you see it.
11/14/2011 - 19:05
11/15/2011 - 17:36
11/15/2011 - 17:44
11/15/2011 - 17:05
11/16/2011 - 22:34
It has arrived and shows that history is an eternal repetition
11/14/2011 - 18:15

In your definition of your 1st wave you very rightly so mentioned  Harrison - an English watchmaker. Followed by other illustrious British watchmakers such as Mudge, Arnold or Tompion and not forget the French: Berthoud, Lepine, Janvier.... who rememers today that watchmaking was English and French? The Swiss came much later but they understood something that the other two had not and which explains that their watch making industry is close to inexistant: watches are not only tools but an object of self assertion any may we like it or not a status symbol (status not (only) as in riches but as what is says about us: the rebel, the intellectual, the attention seeker etc...) Today we definitely don't need watches to tell time that's why brands need to reinvent themselves. Their business is no longer to create items  people need but something people want... an object of desire, an emotion, an atmosphere. May this be obtained by putting forward the technical prowesse, the hand crafting, the history, the sex appeal or whatever but more than just accuracy and time keeping abilities. Technically I would bet on the use of new materials (ie Liga, Silicon etc...) the technilogy has now been around long enough to know the ups and downs and the Time Lab experts have also come to the conclusion that the geneva Seal regulations di not rule out the use of this technology if it brings technical added value to the movement. You ended your post by talking about pocket watches and I started by saying that history is an eternal repetition: haven't you noticed that more and more young people are actually wearing pocket watches? Sure as a sartorial accessory but nevertheless, if even just 1% of these young guys develops a taste for watches the battle is won! 

I agree with the premise....
11/14/2011 - 18:35
and would succintly summarize Alex's thoughts by saying that contemporary watchmaking is walking along two paths that often cross. One is about artistic self expression and the other is about technical innovation. I think that Ulysse Nardin kicked off this wave with The Freak. Vacheron Constantin has focused more on the artistic side, at which I think they have no peer (1921, Great Explorer, Patrimony Contemporaine), but is flexing its technical muscles first with grand complications, but also with the Quai de l'Ile, which brings an innovative approach to dial and case making. Bill
Timekeeping as an innovation?
11/15/2011 - 17:29
One aspect that would benefit from a new wave of innovation IMHO is timekeeping accuracy for mechanical watches.  It seems that the standards for accuracy have been frozen for nearly 50 years while innovations in materials and design focused elsewhere, such as lower production costs and increased service intervals.
the problem with focusing only on accuracy without
11/15/2011 - 18:41
other non tangible aspects would probably put the brand out of business!!!
Insightful as always
11/15/2011 - 17:23
Yes Alex, I see the introduction of new materials and manufacturing techniques as very interesting, and good to know about the compatibility of these new technologies with the Geneva Seal - had not even considered that!  What intrigues me the most is exactly how brands will reinvent themselves.
Definitely, dean. ...
11/14/2011 - 19:05
i have seen many kids without watches nowadays.  watches are not "needs" anymore as we live in a world of abundance. very likely, we have a lot of everything , be it TVs, cars, computers, phones etc.  so watches cannot be a need anymore as we have the phones to tell time , even before the smart phone's arrival. watches are accesories to men in this world of abundance. as i see it , every segment of the accesories are are met by supply , there's a quartz plastic watch that can be found at usd 5 , the fashion watches that are big and and replicate iconic look of branded with quartz movement, with mechanical movement, the mid end brands with lesser finished, the higher end which sells luxury and crafts.  watches are also hailed as investment, as we have seen pieces appreciates against their retail and appreciate over time, portrayed by media, which i think is a fallacy. that's why i get some friends asking for " investment ideas" in watches, but my answer has always been " watches are at best able to keep their value, but i do not see it as an investment. businesses are the best investment, if u can't start one, invest in equities that make money."  in the world of abundance, many collect crafts, some like the status that tag along luxury brands and collect that way, So high end brands have to be on their toes to produce what interests consumers.  personally, i collect watches like art, i love skilled workmanship on watches , i appreciate " the art of watchmaking" , the manhours devoted for design, engineering and workmanship of the human hands and cognitives. otherwise, in the melt, watches are but a pile of steel, precious metal and offers little intrinsic.  my 2 cents.
Art of watchmaking
11/15/2011 - 17:36
While the wrist watch is no longer a necessity, timekeeping has become ever more important in the modern world.  It is the wrist watch as a device that is at risk of straying from the mainstream.  So the watch as art and decoration becomes an attractive alternative!  Indeed, the transformation of male self-image has changed tremendously over my lifetime to make this entirely feasible.
I do agree with you and actually I think it is already done
11/14/2011 - 20:26
before English and French, there were, Italian and german ... first step of horology were there ;) Internet went strong in the 90s... exactly at the same moment, developped creativity began to spread in horology. Gerald Genta, Franck Muller, Roger dubuis... so long ago now... "When IWC was safe and radium dangerous"  laugh , and some truly revoutionnary product: .Royal Oak Offshore 1993 . .Panerai same year. And then much more exciting with Vianney Halter and Richard Mille 2001 who broke the codes and began a decenny of insane creativity and development.  Vacheron is maybe the best example of a sleeping beauty who waken up. So yes watches have completely changed. Since a lot of years we don't need them, and since that time they got an incredible creativity revolution. I compare the years 2000 to the years 1970 , amazing design creativity (look at catalogues of Omega for example), a revolutionnary product (Royal Oak) but then came the 1980s and a return to classical and smaller sizes (rise of Blancpain). Actually I do hope that some part of the 80s come back  in a new way. To be true, I think VC missed to be the first in the 70s, it followed the RO with the 222, and the QDI follows a little Richard Mille imho. Brillantly maybe but only the pioneers are remembered. If I had an advise to give, it would be to create something not in the fashionable way, something different. Watches got bigger, and thicker, think small and thin. Maybe a return of yellow gold too long let on the side for red gold. The Historiques 1955 is imho a fantastic watch but is not "new" , A new idea which will give a new design, a genius is needed, hope it is by Vacheron ;) cheers Francois
Design as an innovation?
11/15/2011 - 17:44
You describe the vanguard of the fourth wave as design innovation.  I wonder within if the basic concept of the wrist watch prevents further design progression?  Some of the more outrageous creations are interesting, but often at the expense of communicating the time.  Maybe, as Aaron wishes, we may find PDA's integrated into wrist devices...perhaps the bracelet watch will return!
Shiny things...
11/15/2011 - 17:05
In a way mechanical watches are becoming obsolete, but they remain ever so beautiful... And so I think that, even if more as a 'manly piece of jewelry'/ fashion accessory they will remain popular. As much as I love mechanical watches, it would be quite cool if Apple came up with the iwatch (an iphone shrunk to the size of a watch)... being able to videoconference someone from the watch on my wrist would be one of my childhood dream come truelaugh
the iWatch exists but from the designer of the iconic....
11/15/2011 - 17:54

Apple 222: Jorge Hysek!

yeah, I don't want that one, since it doesn't have an iPrice...
11/15/2011 - 18:00
not that Apple products are cheap, but I don't think that the iWatch would retail in the same vicinity as the Slyde... Shame that the price of the Slyde is so high (given the nature of the product), if it had been more reasonable I would have ordered one...
11/15/2011 - 17:55
Sorry Francois, in inadvertently credited someone else for your concept blush.  Decades ago the telecoms began to investigate ways to realize what Dick Tracy had as fantasy in the 1930s; the wrist watch TV telephone.  The limiting factor was excessive heat, which would make wearing these devices too dangerous.  The solution came by removing the device from direct skin contact while making the heat-sink larger, ie, the PDA.  Re-examining the original wrist communicator may be a target of future innovation.
no problemoz
11/15/2011 - 17:57
wouldn't it be cool?cheeky
Marketing innovation?
11/16/2011 - 22:34
The Fourth Wave may be heavily influenced by economics as well as technology and new social norms.  A global recession is being suggested and things may get difficult for awhile... Recall when difficult times arrived in the 19th century.  V&C responded with their so-called Second Quality brands, and later with Fabrique Pour V&C pieces which could be made at lesser investment and retailed for lower prices.  By the accounts of Francois Constantin, it was a successful strategy for the times.  Later, as V&C struggled out of the Great Depression, they entered into partnership with JLC and ceased to manufacture their own movements.  Again, a successful strategy for the times.  Contrast that with the Quartz Revolution and the decade of the 80s.  VC affixed their proud name to uninspiring designs harboring insipid movements (my opinion only).  Demand and production dropped; indicators of an ill-suited strategy.  I'd rather see VC create their own Tudor-like sub-brand than have the Maison ever go that route again! 
Forgot the most successful...
11/17/2011 - 01:49
marketing strategy in VC history; the Chronometre Royal.  What began as a subscription purchasing plan by the Brazilian retailer went on to become the most prolific model range of all time!
Great post and food for thought Dean!
11/17/2011 - 02:51

I’ve always struggled internally with the marketing and business model of a luxury brand vs. the purely technical aspects of mechanical chronometry  (the engineer vs. business person inside of me).


I have to thank Alex for his post above in putting things so succinctly! (in terms of focusing on just accuracy without other non-tangible aspects)


Since the Third Wave / Quartz Revolution, I would say the raison d’etre of mechanical timepieces has shifted away from functional timekeepers to portable, mechanical, work of art.  (I know, I know…the high-end has always really had the “art of watchmaking” as its main focus.  I’m just saying, before quartz, the mechanical watch was the reference timekeeper for most people…not the internet or with radio frequency synchronization with cellular operators and atomic clocks).


As works of art, watches provide a channel for individual expression.  The same way a fountain pen does in the world of keyboards and touchscreens. 


While most people may not think about these, or consider them “eccentricities”, there are still a few of us that recognize that as humans we are physical creatures and enjoy the tangible/visceral feel of using mechanical objects.  BR, Dan  

Hey, we should start a thread on fountain pens!
11/17/2011 - 17:24

I have this desire to re-aquaint myself with the fountain pen enlightened

I have this one coming in next week....
11/17/2011 - 17:29
I guess as with watches you can be creative for old technology items!
11/18/2011 - 00:07
The Jules Verne LE...that is really cool cool
Re: I have this one coming in next week....
11/19/2011 - 03:48
Jonesing for that Antiqua, huh? :-) Best, Gary
LOL you're right Dr Freud :-)
11/19/2011 - 11:51
I only have a couple of these, MB 149s...
11/18/2011 - 07:19
would it be fair to equate them as the "Rolex" of fountain pens? This one is special to me for 2 reasons: 1.  I received it as a graduation gift 24 years ago - and I haven't lost or broken it yet!!! 2.  I can't get a good photo of it, but on the rim of the clip, it is engraved W. Germany (not Germany), :-) My love of fountain pens came from a rather ingnominious beginning.  As a high school freshman, I bought a Schaeffer fountain pen with disposable ink cartridges.  I found out that by flicking it properly - it shoots the ink out in some nice size droplets.  I got pretty good with my aim, winkdevil BR, Dan
never would have thought that of you! you!!! :-)
11/18/2011 - 10:12
Re: Has the Fourth Wave Arrived?
11/19/2011 - 03:51
Great thoughts and questions, Dean! A couple of quick thoughts: 1. The other effect of the Internet and cloud is that everything is known and knowable -- meaning that for manufacturers there is no place to hide, but also helping to ensure that good works do not go unnoticed. The rise of the independents is already attributable to this phenomenon. 2. Lord help me, I do love that DeBethune pocket watch in the iPhone case! Best, Gary