It’s the same in watchmaking as it is in fashion: the “colour of the year” is a recurring subject, open to endless discussions. There are, of course, colours on which (almost) everyone agrees. Black and gold are supposed signs of elegance. Wearing a red chronograph means that you are sporty. But wearing a pink or violet watch means… nothing. Because these colours do not refer to any recognisable stereotype. And they don’t exist in watchmaking. Why? Nobody knows. But since almost everyone seems to have the same black list, nobody talks about it. Except Jean-Gabriel Causse.
A chromatic assault
Nevertheless, things are changing and two factors seem to be helping the change people’s minds. The first is the influx of entry-level watches. Totally free, and flashy, these Swatches, Ice-Watches, Festinas and others can, by definition, only assert themselves with their look. And they play to this tune without hesitation. “They are brands that take colour on board,” explains Jean-Gabriel Causse, “We can forget them quickly but we can also change them more often, so the recipe works.” They are a huge success, selling in the millions. Enough for the traditional watchmaking brands to be tempted.
Brands are, therefore, gradually embracing colour. At first, the watch industry wouldn’t even consider touching the watch itself. Brands timidly started with the strap, making it interchangeable according to season, like on Baume & Mercier’s Linea collection. Having gained confidence with this, they then looked to the case, where the most obvious – and thus least risky – point of entry was black. PVD and DLC treatments popularised its use, which is still very trendy today. “Black is a discreet colour that can be worn for any occasion and which never goes out of fashion,” says Jean-Gabriel Causse.
And, surprise surprise, the customer gets on board! So the watchmakers take a step further, adding a touch of red or white to the bezel. White was first seen on the Chanel J12 10 years ago and we remember red, “a colour of alarm”, from the Hublot Big Bang Ferrari. Will the brands dare to overcome the last insurmountable obstacle to colour, the dial ?
Colours, Act II
Free of its complex, the watchmaking industry first adds some modest nuances of colour to its dials. Without too much audacity, of course: the use of some colours is merely the result of a resurgence in vintage designs. The TAG Heuer Monaco or the Glashütte Original Sixties only owe the electric blue of their dials to their predecessors from the 1960s. The same is true for the Vulcain Nautical Heritage Seventies, which arrived ten years later and was reintroduced in the collection in 2013 with green, blue and orange tones. “It is interesting to note that brands pay a lot of attention to bring the diameters of their cases in line with the times, but not their colours,” notes Jean-Gabriel Causse. “Yet colours adapt to the times as well”.
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So has the watchmaking industry really not offered any new colour schemes over the past 50 years? Few at best. Too few, in fact, as the enthusiasm for the recent introductions of new tones has shown. For example, the latest Chiffre Rouge from Dior has a sumptuous slate-grey dial, a trend already seen on the Midnight Monochrome Automatic by Harry Winston. “This slate grey recalls the raw material, it’s very trendy,” Jean-Gabriel Causse points out. “We see the same approach in architecture with the grey of concrete, which people no longer hesitate to show off”.
Davidoff applies a rare coating to its dials: an intense blue chiselled with Geneva stripes – “a relaxing colour, ideal for people who are stressed!”. Jaquet Droz decorates its Grandes Secondes SW in the same way. This coating gives two different variants to the same colour, depending on the light. H. Moser & Cie has also followed the same path. The brand is the only one, so far, to produce its famous smoked dials, which have in this particular case become an aesthetic signature of the brand. “This is a unique and very interesting approach. The choice of a yellow gradient illuminates the dial from the centre, like a sun,” says Jean-Gabriel Causse. Corum uses a similar approach, making the reflections of a feather the signature of its eponymous Feather collection. So the power of colours is far from being exhausted!
The credo of the jeweller
This progressive, almost timid, approach to colour is unheard of in the jewellery industry. De Grisogono, the brand that has already pioneered the use of black diamonds, has turned colour into its credo. Its Tondo By Night models are the perfectly brilliant illustration of this. “This is a very bold watch, the combination of red and violet is unusual,” notes Jean-Gabriel Causse. “You have to bear in mind that they are the two most stimulating colours from a sensual and sexual point of view. This watch is clearly an object of seduction!” Bédat dares to mix fuchsia with green to create a striking piece – “a very trendy, very modern approach”. Badollet’s Crystalball Stellaire offers a daring energetic green, while the Rondo Hippocampe by DeLaneau combines a submarine turquoise with an ambitious chestnut strap.
But the chromatic audacity of the jewellers has trouble crossing the threshold to the watchmaking industry. What seems perfectly natural in jewellery is still improbable in watchmaking, which still seems as if it wants to hide behind a trend (vintage), a coating (DLC, PVD) or a material (ceramic) in order to enter the world of colour. Maybe one day it will be able to do without these Trojan horses, and that it can finally add chromatic creativity to its technical and mechanical prowess.