Check out the caseback on the Seiko Presage Studio Ghibli Castle in The Sky. What is that? A crude, barely discernible depiction of the movie’s floating castle obscuring Seiko’s not-at-all-glamorous caliber 6R31 automatic movement. The Brits have an expression for this sort of thing; a dog’s breakfast. Seiko is hardly the only watchmaker guilty of a sticker-based creative caseback fail . . .
As I pointed out in Breitling Norton: Caseback Fail, the above design is anti-Hannah Montana (the worst of both worlds). The sticker on the back of an otherwise admirable Premier B01 Chronograph 42 ruins the image of the bike and the view of the Breitling’s B01 movement.
Slapping a sticker on a standard-issue watch’s caseback to appeal to a bunch of nerds – be they anime enthusiasts, biker boys or Hendrix fans – is the least creative, least expensive and most cynical marketing approach I can imagine.
The practice mars a perfectly good watch, in terms of both aesthetics and resale value. How many British bike fanboys are willing to pay $8500 for a pre-owned Breitling Norton? If nothing else, they’re too busy recovering from the financial pain caused by Exhaust Port Thread Destruction Disorder.
Does the caseback – the bit of the watch no one but its owner sees – really matter? Of course it does – precisely because only the owner sees it. To quote the eminently estimable Hanson brothers, it’s a secret no one knows. A source of personal pleasure. If we’re going down that road . . .
Wearing a treasured timepiece with a creative caseback is like escorting a beautiful woman through town, knowing that her secret charms are just as beautiful. Charms you know well, instantly available in the privacy of your own bedroom. Not worrying about anyone else sharing your satisfaction.
If that isn’t enough to give this analogy legs, don’t forget that you only see your watch’s caseback when you “undress” your watch. And the caseback is the most intimate part of any watch; the bit that rests against your skin. (You might say the strap/bracelet is the more sensually compelling metaphor but I couldn’t possibly comment.)
The two caseback images above – taken from Ball’s Roadmaster Archangel Bronze and OMEGA’s 125th Anniversary Tresor – are excellent examples of the art of the closed caseback. (No commission on links.) The engraved designs delight the eye and define both the watch and the brand.
[OK, Ball’s rep comes from railroads, not deep sea diving. But if Gerald Genta could riff on a diving helmet for Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, I reckon Ball can stay on the ball under the sea. Or something like that.]
By this point you may have noticed I’m not singing the praises of exhibition casebacks, the trend for mid to high end watches.
Hats off to Chronoswiss’ Gerd-Rüdiger Lang for being the first to transport mechanical watch lovers with transparency. I love watching a mechanical watch’s bits doing their thing. A case could be made that the exhibition caseback did more to save the Swiss mechanical watch industry than the aforementioned Mr. Genta.
That said, it doesn’t take a lot of creativity to build a watch with a window – unless you put something other than the watch’s guts in the window. How about this (description courtesy OMEGA’s website)?
On the [OMEGA Speedmaster “Silver Snoopy Award 50th Anniversary’s] caseback, Snoopy appears inside his Command and Service Module (CSM) on a magical hand. When the chronograph seconds hand is used, Snoopy takes a trip around the far side of the moon, which has been decorated on the sapphire crystal using a unique micro-structured metallisation.
There is also an Earth disc, which rotates once per minute in sync with the watch’s small seconds hand.
OMEGA’s orbiting beagle represents a new frontier: animated casebacks. (More animated than the spinny thing powering an automatic watch’s mainspring.) Snoopy’s progress opens up the possibility of even more creative casebacks.
It’s a throwback to watches with obscene automata informing certain gentlemen’s timepieces and a throw-down to watch designers. Post-Snoopy they need to step up, to push the outside of the envelope on the underside.
Will this “hey check out my caseback” entertainment function change the “meaning” of the caseback?
While I’m sure 50th Silver Snoopy OMEGA owners will remove their watch to show friends and family Snoopy’s potentially endless journey around Earth’s natural satellite, that’s a one-time deal. At the end of the day, the creative caseback holds a personal appeal. Even if it is a cheap ass sticker.