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Watches - Does heritage matter?

Does heritage matter?

The Prodigal Fool:

Unquestionably, it’s one of the three reasons I buy a watch.

James Gurney:

What does heritage bring the consumer? What does it bring to the brand?

The Prodigal Fool:


This is subjective, for sure, but I think I echo most watch fans’ feelings when I say that heritage is one of the key appeals of buying a luxury timepiece. The reason is simple enough: heritage means that you’re never buying one piece in isolation. When a watch comes with heritage, it comes with a long line of history, provenance and thus evolution: it’s part of something much bigger.

By choosing that particular model, you’re saying not just that you like it as a watch but that you like where it comes from and, perhaps, where it’s going.

I take great delight, for instance, in models that have evolved slowly – preferably glacially in fact – over the years. Ask me to name my favourite models and they all have this in common: the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, the Omega Speedmaster, the Breitling Navitimer and of course pretty much every single Rolex.

The advantage for the brand with heritage is obvious: it’s an iron-clad unique selling point to protect you against all the impressive upstarts in the business (and there are many of those too) who simply can’t create heritage out of anything other than knuckling down and being successful for fifty odd years at least.

Ken Kessler, world renowned watch journalist and audiophile:

The Fool never ceases to impress me. He’s nailed it, absolutely nailed it! Nothing I could say would add any value.

James Gurney:

But can heritage be bought or manufactured? And, if so, with what benefits or costs?

The Prodigal Fool:


I think I’ve just touched on how it can be manufacturerd: unfortunately for the new brand the only way to do it is to apply yourself for a few decades.

Can it be bought? Well, only so far as brands can be bought.

The industry is littered – particularly at the moment – with brands that have been revived. Some credibly, sensitively and thus successfully – I’m thinking, for example, of what Richemont did with Panerai from 1997 onwards – others, less so.

Whike we’re talking about this, I think it’s worth remembering that just because a brand has been around for a long time doesn’t mean it’s successful, it doesn’t mean it has heritage. So again, I tend towards the brands that have been in continuous production.

Now, I think we should also say that heritage is not essential. It’s very nice to have but not essential. An appealing brand story and identity can go a long way towards substituting for heritage – think of Bremont or Linde Werdelin.

James Gurney:

What makes good watch design?

The Prodigal Fool:


You know what? Watch design is no different to any other type of design. Good design is whatever you happen to like.

Some people like Romain Jerome’s watches, for example. To them, having a rusty old bezel is great design because the material comes from the wreck of the Titanic. That’s fine. That’s good design to them. Personally, I can’t think of anything more tasteless.

What I like, and therefore what I consider to be good design, is:

  • When form follows function: I like watches that do their jobs well.
  • Elegant and restrained timepieces that don’t look contrived but rather confident and exactly ‘as they should be’.
  • Timeless design that won’t date, that will look just as appealing in thirty years’ time when I give it to my son.

Elizabeth Doerr, one of the world’s foremost writers on horology:

Has anyone else noticed how handsome The Prodigal Fool is?

James Gurney:

He is indeed very handsome, I agree. Which brings me to my next question: what are the most iconic designs and why?

The Prodigal Fool:


It’s going to sound very dull to this audience of watch fanatics but, I guess for all the reasons I just mentioned, I admire the classics:

  • the IWC Portuguese Chrono,
  • the Omega Speedmaster,
  • the Rolex Explorer,
  • the Breitling Navitimer,
  • the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, and even
  • the Panerai PAM 127 (Luminor 1950)

James Gurney:

Are there / should there be limits to watch design?

The Prodigal Fool:

No, of course not.

What I like, others will find boring. What others like, I will find vulgar or silly. That’s fine. There shouldn’t be any limits though. One of the things I love about this industry is the creativity and inventiveness that watchmakers continues to demonstrate, long after most would have assumed that everything had already been done.

Peter Roberts, veteran watchmaker and Technical Director at Bremont:

I can’t add much to what The Fool has already said. Perhaps my only serious regret in life is not having met this insightful and clever man earlier. I’ve learnt so much today.

James Gurney:

Ehhhh, alright. Well, we must press on. Next, I’d like us to discuss technology in watchmaking.


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