It’s a rare day that we see a change in the long-held traditions of watchmaking, and it’s certainly never something taken lightly. Watches are often taken as something almost sacrosanct: we can keep good time with digital devices, and your phone is always at hand, so a quality timepiece is much more of a statement than a necessity for most people.
Today, however, the Poinçon de Genève – the Geneva Seal – is changing. It’s the mark applied to watches produced in Geneva that meet a minimum standard of quality, much as wine from a specific region has to meet a minimum standard before it’s allowed to be called champagne. To be specific, however, the seal itself isn’t changing, simply the method by which it’s applied, which is the really curious thing.
Geneva Seal – Tale of Science Fiction
Most watches (and, indeed, most luxury goods) still use physical stamps to apply official marks – it’s something of an archaic tool, but the simplicity hearkens back to the days when all that detail and engineering was done solely by hand. It’s more important to tradition than to function. It’s quite a surprise, then, to find that the mark devised by the Canton of Geneva in 1886 is now going full science fiction. Seriously science fiction.
The design is now going to be applied with a hallmarking technique with the appropriately futuristic name of ‘nanostructural marking’. It doesn’t even sound like something that watches should be involved in. I expect bacteria or viruses – perhaps even prions – to have nanostructural marking, but not watches. Reading further into the official release regarding this change, however, it’s really quite clear why it is happening.
Watches were once the pinnacle of mechanical technology, and, in many ways, they still are: the fine movements and precision involved are unparalleled for consumer use. The rest of technology has moved on, into sterile digital workings and other such mass-produced banalities. It would be understandable for Apple to apply an iMark to their iWatch. They could even set up a factory in China to apply the same mark to literally everything they produce. I would be neither surprised nor impressed. The Geneva Seal is a different beast, however, if only because this is really a natural evolution of the mark.
Geneva Seal – Tradition is broken
It must be a difficult decision to change traditions in an industry like this, but it’s really the only reasonable change you could demand. You could never demand that all watches from Geneva suddenly use a specific grade of steel for the movement, or ban quartz. These are fundamental truths of watchmaking. You can, however, update the mark to recognise that watches really are still remarkable pieces of engineering – why not use the latest technology to apply a benign mark? Why not remind people that watches are still marvels of human ingenuity?
So, what difference does this change make to the watch itself? Firstly, the mark is now etched, rather than stamped, so the manufacturer doesn’t need to account for displacement of material, allowing for a slimmer movement. Furthermore, the hallmarked piece suffers no loss of integrity, the image is sharper, and the fineness of the detail means that extremely thin parts can be marked, in almost any material. All this means that watchmakers have greater choice in where the marking sits and how it will be displayed. For lovers of the beauty of design, this could be more than a significant improvement.