A few articles ago, I examined memes and their role in the watch community. Memes, and comedy in general, are fascinating as a widely tolerated truth-telling mechanism for many of the watch community’s frustrations. While this is great for relieving some pent up tension, it rarely (if ever) leads to any real changes. Isn’t the point of satire to undermine the establishment and push change?
We have to recognize the obvious here: these meme pages occupy an outsider, anonymous position in the watch world. In other words, a position of little power. It would be significantly different if an insider, say Jean-Claude Biver, were beating the drums of watch humor, utilizing satire as one of the industry’s premier faces.
But there are exceptions.
H. Moser & Cie (Moser) has utilized satire more than any other modern brand. Today, I want to examine how humor works from an insider’s position without the veil of anonymity.
Satire from the inside
Even though the watch industry is an opportune domain for endless parody, our cultural sensibilities almost lead us to proclaim, “impossible from a brand!” But since circa 2015, Moser has been consistent in its use of satire.
The Swiss Alp watch was a tongue-and-cheek Apple Watch design with mechanical soul. There’s also, the Swiss Mad – a timepiece so Swiss, the case is made with actual cheese. However, the most prominent (and controversial) timepiece is probably the Moser Swiss Icons. It is the ultimate hype watch, Frankenstein-ing all the distinct design elements from Panerai, Hublot, Rolex, Patek Philippe, Girard Perregaux, Cartier, IWC, Breguet. What we see is that there are no limits to Moser’s use of satire. It’s scratched at some of the watch industry’s most sensitive topics over the last 5+ years.
It’s easy to read these satirical watches as the behavior of an enfant terrible. Both fans and critics see Moser as a true rebel and outsider in Swiss watchmaking. But I believe the truth is the complete opposite – Moser is the definition of the establishment, albeit in a subtle way.
The watch establishment
When the Meylan family acquired Moser in 2012, the brand’s marketing and communications turned to satire. It makes sense for all the obvious reasons – entertainment, controversy, drama are all phenomenal marketing ploys. Yet, I want to be careful not to judge the authenticity of the brand’s marketing strategy.
All PR spin aside, it very well may be that the Meylan’s sense of satire is a reflection of their true sentiments in the watch industry. If it is, I’ll take their word for it. I have no interest in making a subjective counterclaim. Rather, my attention is drawn to a very interesting, objective coincidence. Namely, that the only indie to criticize mainstream brands is owned by the former CEO of Audemars Piguet, Georges-Henri Meylan. Eduard, Georges-Henri’s son, operates Moser as the face of the brand. My assertion is that established power is a fundamental precondition for Moser’s rebelliousness.
I should clarify that Moser certainly doesn’t always know the limits of humor, even as an insider. How far can jokes go amongst peers? The Swiss Icons watch was ultimately not sold at auction because “the message was unfortunately … misunderstood.” Clearly, there was was some tension, though presumably overcome quickly. I don’t occupy an insider’s position in the industry so I can only speculate what is in and out of bounds for humor in the establishment. But there certainly is a line.
If you want to challenge the industry without the veil of anonymity, it’s easiest to do so as a longstanding member of the establishment. The problem is that, sustaining efforts against the grain long-term is a near impossible feat for an insider. Eventually, you’ll have to either break away and overtake the establishment, or fall in line. I read recently that Moser is perhaps moving away from “stunts,” becoming a little more conservative with their wit. Maybe the Swiss Icons watch was a bridge too far?
I hope that is not the case.
It’s better for the industry to make some noise, keeping all the comfortable, austere establishment on its toes. Ultimately, privilege has to be used wisely, and one fighting the good fight is better than none.
Besides, what’s the point of the “f*ck you money” if you never say f*ck you?
Another day with the beast,