• Jan Lehmhaus

Made to measure.

Uhren1Personalised watches. The digitalisation of the traditional watch industry is progressing in giant strides. In the future, it will open up new ways for lovers of individual timepieces to find their own personal favourite piece.

The case is optionally made of light or black coated titanium. The bezel, i.e. the border of the dial, corresponds to the lacquer tones of the 911 such as "racing yellow" or "mojave beige". The sports car leather strap in 14 shades can be stitched in 19 possible yarn colours. The "Internet Timepieces Configurator" from Porsche Design is based on the menu navigation of the selection process for a 911 - after all, the customer should be able to put together a watch that exactly matches his car.

A special highlight is the winding rotor in rim design, says Gerhard J. Novak, General Manager Porsche Design Timepieces. The customer can not only choose the rim shape, but also have it painted in the colour of the car. An engraving can be made on the case back as well as on the chronograph's storage box, which will be unique at the latest.

"For many people it is important to design their chronograph to match their sports car. This is made possible", explains Novak. The configurator's price display also reacts in real time to every extra and also reminds you of the online planning of your dream car.

There is hardly anything that makes a luxury good as desirable as uniqueness, the fact that it is tailored entirely to its owner. In the case of wristwatches - always an expression of personal preferences and individual taste - this has long been the preserve of very few customers with a great deal of financial and time flexibility. Because they are usually serial products, handcrafted but as similar as possible. Personalisation was previously a special request, not only making the watch considerably more expensive, but also requiring that the customer was aware of such offers: enamel painting on the case back, dial decoration in the colours of his choice, automatic rotors with very personal relief engraving. These possibilities were hardly communicated to the public, if only because the capacity of the craftsmen specialising in the delicate decorations in the manufactories is limited.

In the meantime, however, digitalisation is opening up completely new possibilities for the industry, which with its mechanical products has long seen itself as a counter-design to the industrialisation and electronisation of the world. Since the producers have increasingly been in direct contact with their customers via social media platforms and have become more familiar with their needs, they are installing online tools to design according to their wishes. "In increasingly digital times, the importance of individualisation possibilities is growing. Watches are an expression of self-esteem, there is a strong personal attachment to this accessory. It is therefore important for our customers to be able to make their watch a very individual part of their lives," explains Chabi Nouri, CEO of Piaget, and continues: "Digitalisation also offers us the chance to increase our visibility. We can show a much wider audience what is behind the watches - technology, the innovative power of an industry rich in tradition". This, he said, would also interest the next generation, perhaps even dampening the watch industry's concern that the digital natives might fail to emerge as new customers.

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This is one of the reasons why Piaget, always a specialist in the fulfilment of extra wishes, has revived and digitalised its 1960s "Style Selector" under the name "Infinitely Personal". Initially only for the top product "Altiplano Ultimate Concept", a second high-end model has now been added with the "Altiplano Tourbillon". At the Piaget boutique, buyers can combine their ideal version from a range of case sizes, a variety of dial colours, matching leather straps and diamond-set shapes - and be confident that the end result will look just like on the monitor. Only a few years ago, such a realistic presentation would hardly have been possible.

Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Group's sister company, also relies on the trend towards individualisation. For many customers, discussing the equipment at the jeweller's has long been part of the buying experience, they say. In addition, the Manufacture has also set up a tool on its website which allows customers to try out and order the engraving of a Reverso optically. The back of the classic reversible case would actually be an ideal carrier for short text messages. But most customers, as we have heard from the company, prefer initials, a date or a combination of both, which is probably only meaningful for the wearer.

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The customers of Nomos are obviously more communicative. The Saxon manufactory has been accepting online engraving orders for quite some time. In their database you can find private items ("From Schatzi for Schnuffi") as well as practical things like address and mail address of an owner who obviously tends to misplace his watches. Congratulations on graduating from high school ("No more stochastic!"), reminders of appointments ("Bridge always Wednesdays, 6:30 pm, Gasthof "Zur Post") and insights into the birth of a child ("Self-realisation can wait") are also gladly immortalised.

Originally set up to have the "Campus" clocks of the house provided with a free dedication, the tool has developed into a self-producer, even though the personalisation of other models is subject to a fee. "In the meantime, 15 percent of the watches we deliver are engraved," estimates Simone Elbe, Sales Manager DACH at Nomos Glashütte. "Most orders are placed from home."

While many established manufacturers only offer their products in a small range of variations, for example in several sizes and with different dial colours, but fixed on the design language and other brand-typical design codes, innovative microbrands are already one step ahead. They rely solely on the online distribution of their products and are completely anti-authoritarian.

The start-up anOrdain in Glasgow, Scotland, for example, builds watches with traditionally hand-enamelled dials - and a completely net-based customisation option. Instead of text engraving, the buyer can also have a map engraved in the case back, depending on the selected section and zoom factor, this shows abstract contour lines or the street pattern of the favourite district.

Specialists such as the US American company Vortic Watch even make the restoration or rededication of historical timepieces an individual experience: the customer sends an old pocket watch to Colorado, where Vortic photographs the dial and movement side and inserts it into an online planning tool. The owner can then use this tool to control the conversion to a wristwatch at home, selecting the case, crown and leather strap.

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With Undone Watches, the customer can freely combine the case, dials, bezel type and colour as well as different hand shapes on the screen, add a date window if desired and can of course also add his initials to his project. Whatever the result, only he has to like it. After all: Even if you don't like it, 50 percent of the purchase price will be refunded after return.

Those responsible at Ochs und Junior in La Chaux-de-Fonds want to avoid such disappointments from the outset. For each visual element of the individually designed timepieces, there are different colours, materials and surfaces available, including unusual ones such as hammered platinum, patinated copper ("Nebra") or sterling silver with abrasion. But the configurator also builds a bridge back to the analogue world. The finished design can be printed out on full-size paper and placed on the wrist. And everything that is not possible on the computer can be discussed on the telephone. "You can also design your personal watch in direct dialogue with us," says Ochs und Junior. ®

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Digital added value.

The digitalisation of the watch industry may soon bring the opportunity to digitally upgrade mechanical timepieces individually. Since this contactless and cashless year at the latest, watches are in demand with which payment can be made in passing. Special smart watches and quartz-driven specialities such as the Swatchpay make this possible.

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The Swiss company Winwatch, however, has now developed watch sapphire crystals that invisibly integrate an Infineon payment chip and antenna. This allows any timepiece to be supplemented with this function. At least in theory. The cases of most watches - with the exception of a few large sports watch classics with strong bezels - still have to be prepared for the glass. "Small adjustments are necessary because the glass is a little thicker," explains Winwatch CEO Alex Kalbermatten. He is therefore now on the lookout for watch brands that want to equip their successful models with his chipped glass ex works and turn them into wallets, "in the process we can also envisage co-branding with well-known watch brands and banks".

The next stage of development will be quite individual: "In the future, older watches can also be retrofitted with the glass," explains Kalbermatten. In the future, many a person would therefore no longer have to choose between electronic-practical and venerable when choosing their watch - and would own a truly unique timepiece.

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Author: Jan Lehmhaus

Photos: Porsche Design // Piaget // Jaeger-LeCoultre // Nomos // anOrdain // NOMOS Glashütte // Vortic Watch Company // UNDONE // Ochs und Junior

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