Style takes function by the back of the neck and rips its lungs and heart out in the design of a watch called the Cartier ‘Astroregulateur Calibre 9800 MC’, advertised on the back page of this week’s Economist in Hong Kong:
Rather than meet in the middle of the face, the watch’s hands are centred more than two thirds of the way up; the Roman numerals around the dial are therefore clustered towards the top and stretched out at the bottom. The lower part of the face is anyway occupied by what seems to be a separate second hand with a pair of white semicircular dials to itself, so the numbers V to VII are simply missed out. As if the brutish, quasi/semi-art deco appearance were not ugly enough, the creative geniuses behind the contraption saw fit to add a special touch of nastiness in the form of a crown (the knob used for winding the thing) made of a blue gemstone to match the hands.
Such visual repulsiveness calls for extra effort on the part of the copywriter, and, sure enough, fans of excruciating advertising drivel – always spoilt for choice in the Big Lychee – are in for a treat. Reading this on Friday, I seriously considered the possibility at one point that this was some sort of self-deprecating April Fool’s joke…
Of course no luxury designer-label brand is going to prick its pretentious self-importance by poking fun at itself. The execrable blurb is serious, or at least we are supposed to think it is. Apparently, the use of the word ‘complication’ is intentional: it is horlogerie-speak for ‘hideous’ – as in this astoundingly vile-looking “latest complication watch by Marc Alfieri.” Nor should “the quest for watchmaking precision” raise eyebrows. A quick peek at Google reveals that Rolex blathers on about a “relentless quest for chronometric precision,” as do many more, just as schools constantly drone away about ‘excellence’.
Something unique has to justify the dire aesthetics of this device, and it comes courtesy of corny science fiction: a micro-rotor that does something incredible to the point of gravity which in turn has some amazing effect on the oscillation frequency. This is not something produced by a demented hack at one of Hong Kong’s illustrious ad agencies. Cartier’s own website solemnly informs us that “Compensating for the effect of gravity has always been one of Watchmaking’s greatest challenges,” and the wrist-borne grotesqueness that is the Calibre 9800 MC represents an amazing breakthrough that renders the previous solution (step forward, the vestigial tourbillion) redundant.
We might wonder why such a pointless and tacky item is advertised in a reasonably intelligent publication, until we recall evolutionary consumer psychology. The ad is not intended to convince Economist readers to fritter their wealth away on this overpriced and unsightly gizmo. Nor is it supposed to make us believe that those who do are a classy elite to be envied. The idea is to convince the schmucks that do buy the Calibre 9800 MC that the rest of us are aware of its technological and artistic magnificence and – the evolutionary bit – will want to mate with them. The fact that the poor wretch with the Calibre 9800 MC on his wrist can dream on is irrelevant; the ad makes him think it’s so as he discards the Economist in favour of Asian Golfer in the dentist’s waiting room. That’s all that matters.
For those of us rightly fearful of having to behold this unpleasantness in real life, some good news: Cartier, apparently accepting that even they have a corporate social responsibility to limit the spread of bad taste around our once-beautiful world, are producing only 50 of the things.