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SDC Weekly; Homage watch craze; Shapiro wants to be the American Journe #8
Personal experience, watch escapements and Gaudi
It’s a short one this week, so perhaps we should skip the pleasantries and get straight into it!?
Before we do… A quick welcome to the new subscribers, it is exciting to have you here! A heartfelt thank you to those who have shared this with others. Means more than you know!
Homage watch craze
Shortly after last week’s edition, one of the craziest kerfuffles in recent memory kicked off on Instagram. This was a result of some criticism from Horology_Ancienne about this product from Massena Labs:
This hit a nerve, and resulted in this asinine video response:
At the time I posted a response to the video on Instagram, which I will re-share here.
Debating semantics around "plagiarism" when everyone knew what HA meant is childish. I think collectors should appreciate @horology_ancienne calling this out.
This "rebuke" isn't even aimed at Wei/Massena in this one instance, but more of a rebuke overall of the direction the vintage revival trend has taken.
It started with brands taking inspiration from their own past models, and then micro brands came out with offerings that have a similar design language and maybe borrow an element or two but still do so in a new way, and both of those were fair enough.
As time has gone on, though, it seems people brands have gotten more and more bold, to the point where some are coming out with watches that are more or less straight up copies of designs; ones which they have no ownership or affiliation with.
This is, quite frankly, concerning, and it's frustrating that nobody seems to care; quite the opposite, actually - FM won a GPHG prize, and Massena rakes in a heap of cash every few months when he finds some new design to "democratise".
Taking inspiration is fine - there's never anything that doesn't take inspiration from somewhere-but this is just a copy-and -paste job and just a small step away from straight-up clones.
All major publications are in on it because they can make lots of money from it, brands are clearly in on it for the same reason, and it's gotten pretty normalised, which is f*king retarded.
I for one am glad @horology_ancienne spoke up and was willing to take some fire as otherwise, nobody of note would.
Not sure it'll make much of a difference in terms of the overall market for such watches, but it's at least a win in my book because it's forced an idiotic response and will at least make collectors, brands, and publications think twice before doing such shameless cash grabbing again.
They probably still won't care, and as I said before: let the fools be parted from their cash.
Turns out, this event was worthy of an opinion piece by none other than Jack Forster - you can find it here (it even references Walter Benjamin!):
Massena is a shrewd businessman who has built a handful of strong friendships given how long he’s been in the industry, and it should come as no surprise he has been very strategic about these friendships - almost every friendship he has formed or maintained, has been with people who have some sort of major ‘influence’ in the industry and they all seem to freely expend their social capital for his gain. So much so, that everyone remains afraid of his wrath, and so they choose to just ignore all his misgivings because they see the risk of upsetting him to be too large. What a vengeful person he must be? Can’t hate the player of course, he obviously played the long game and is now in a position of power to be reaping the rewards. But at what cost?
Credibility. His own, and those who continue to support his shameless cash grabs. It isn’t a secret that he once tried to buy the rights to Universal Geneve (or the entire brand, I forget), and when that failed, he just went ahead and made his Uni-Racer series anyway - which is just a rip off. With each release, the concept becomes more ‘legitimised’ or ‘accepted’ and eventually, this somehow becomes an established way of doing business. This is just lazy cash-grabbing, unremarkable, and certainly not unprecedented, but why is it marketed by Massena and his friends as the opposite? Particularly silly, is the idea of describing it as ‘democratising’ expensive or difficult to access watches - that isn’t what Massena is doing, because 1) he prices his watches too high and 2) he makes them in very limited numbers. How is that democratising anything?
I asked Brendan Cunningham (Horolonomics) for his thoughts… he made a fair point, that IP protection should not be indefinite… and I agree - this is not really the point here, though. As he points out, Revolution, Hodinkee and everyone else didn’t cover the latest releases from Steinhart watches, did they? These are ‘shameless’ Rolex homage watches, truly democratising the design being cheap, and unlimited. Not, what Massena and co framed their release as.
People who think this is an acceptable business model should ask themselves where they draw the proverbial line, and why? Just because they’ve copied a rare, potentially unique, million-dollar Patek, which has an aura, as Jack suggests? Why is that okay? Should we normalise 1:1 copies of Rolex watches with alternate names on the dials, and have mainstream watch media bang on about those launches?
Well, no! And that’s the point. Massena doesn’t get to arbitrarily pick where this line is drawn - there is no line. He is peddling lazy homages, and calling them ‘inspired’.
So I think Jack got it partially right, in that the ire of the community was perhaps, in part, about eroding the aura of a special piece - but I think a larger driver of the reaction was about how the mainstream watch media take the community for fools… When Vyntage launched the exact watch did Hodinkee congratulate them, or did Revolution write about it? No! To go back to Jack’s reference to kit-cars… When random kit-car builders replicate collectible cars, are they featured on mainstream car media’s front pages, and celebrated or congratulated? No! On the other hand, similar ‘inspired’ watches like Furlan Marri, are winning GPHG awards!
So who are we kidding here? This is nothing more than an elaborate web of nepotism, which perhaps people no longer want shoved down their throat… and this was a perfect opportunity to vent.
As a final throwaway thought, here’s a conspiracy theory about these ‘unicorn’-derived releases… admittedly far fetched, but so many people seemed to think it was plausible so I’ll share for a laugh. It goes like this… a random, unknown vintage watch is ‘brought back to life’ through one of these ‘modern reinterpretation’ releases (or in this case, a straight copy paste). This creates a lot of buzz and press noise about this reference, and just like I explained here how fake news works, this ability to ‘cross reference’ recent and seemingly reputable media publicity about a watch, makes everything seem much more kosher than if they had simply unearthed the unicorn last week. Why would this matter? Well, if they eventually take the ‘unicorn’ to auction, then this haze of news and faux-credibility around the more recent launch will do a few things:
Ensure collectors are sufficiently educated about the ‘unicorn’;
Ensure the previously ‘democratic’ replica will go up in value, related to the unicorn selling for a high price and;
Allow the unicorn to be sold with a lot more credibility than it would have if nobody had ever heard of it before.
Moreover, the icing on the cake would be if the watch, the ‘unicorn’ itself, was a fake, legitimised by all the fanfare that preceded it going to auction. Great scam, but like I said, this is just a conspiracy theory, nothing more.
Links of interest
😇 It’s tempting to believe that we can simply rely on personal experience to develop our understanding of the world. But that’s a mistake. The world is large, and we can experience only very little of it personally. To see what the world is like, we need to rely on other means: carefully-collected global statistics.
😮 “I hope we turn a new leaf, getting more American collectors to regard me as their Journe.” That’s a quote from Josh Shapiro in this article, which made me chuckle.
🤖 Last week I talked about the writers strike and the potential for AI to step in - thats why, when I saw Netflix listed an AI job with a pay ceiling of $900k, I laughed!
🔗 The strength of weak ties, 50 years on. Granovetter’s paper is one of the most important in history.
🧵 Why we’re struggling to ditch Twitter for Threads.
🎉Why you should be like a drunken monk and party like it’s 1399.
I’m currently working on a post about brands and branding, which should hopefully be done soon.
Thinking about the homage watch story above… It occurred to me how short-sighted the collective watch media really are. If they were slightly more objective, they could collude from time to time and really hoodwink the public. If they generally criticise watches fairly, and one day, they suddenly rated some new watch as being near-perfect, it would raise some eyebrows right? I look at Marques Brownlee, the tech YouTuber as a perfect example. He has nearly 20 MILLION subscribers, and he does a handful of sponsored videos, but for the most part he is just a straight shooter. He calls out the good, the bad, and the ugly… and I think the brands have come to respect this approach.
Watch media right now is essentially just ‘watch marketing’ - they call themselves journalists, but they just write marketing copy… few, if any genuine critical remarks, and just a bunch of smoke blown up the brands’ collective asses. Surely they can do better? Surely they want to do better?
We’re done! I had a separate section planned to talk about a famous enameller, but will hopefully get to it next week instead.
Until next time!
Bonus link: Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition
It is no coincidence that the bible story begins in The Garden of Eden. Gardens are a metaphor for life. They balance order and chaos, life and death, nature and nurture.