In the ’60s and ’70s, Stanford researchers carried out a series of marshmallow tests that would become a landmark study on delayed gratification. Children, aged between 3 and 5, were put in a room with a treat – such as, yes, a marshmallow. Before stepping out of the room, a researcher told them that they could either eat the treat at any time or wait for the researcher to return – up to 10 minutes later – and receive two treats instead. In the first round of experiments, almost 30 per cent of the kids ate the treat in front of them within 30 seconds.
If I had been around in the ’60s and part of that study, I’m pretty sure that first marshmallow would have been gone in five. Whether it’s snapping up new dresses on my favourite websites or scarfing cookies half an hour before dinner because I feel hungry, I’m terrible at resisting instant gratification. To misappropriate a famous line by the late British economist John Maynard Keynes, “In the long run we are all dead.” So why wait?
In recent years, however, I have begun to understand the importance of taking a long-term view of things. For this, I have to thank the world of fine watches. I’ve been writing about it for the past eight years and in the beginning, I did not get why many watch designs changed so slowly. In fashion, my other area of interest, designers are expected to turn out entire new collections every three months (and burn out because of it). In comparison, I used to find it astounding that tweaking the shape of a subdial or changing a case size by 1mm was considered earth-shattering for some watch brands.
“To misappropriate a famous line, ‘In the long run we are all dead’. So why wait?”
Over time, I discovered one important reason why luxury watch design tends to evolve slowly. I once interviewed a young dad and watch collector who bought a watch when his child was born. He opted for a classic design because he wanted to present said watch to his son on the latter’s wedding day.
It made me realise that for many watch enthusiasts, a fine watch is about legacy. The watch you bestow on your child should look relevant 20 years later. Or at least, look like a cool vintage timepiece, rather than some anachronistic relic better left at the bottom of a drawer. During a recent chat, Bvlgari’s head of watches Antoine Pin shed light on the importance of thinking long term. Explaining why his brand has focused on its record-breaking ultra-thin Octo Finissimo timepieces for six years in a row, he said, “The watch industry moves at a slow pace.
“One reason is that people generally don’t buy watches often. They might buy a watch every five years – and when they do so, they deep-dive into the sector and then they move out. To drive home our legitimacy as a watchmaker, the best solution is to repeat, repeat and repeat, instead of jumping from one place to another. That’s how you convey your message and build things solidly.” In other words, the second marshmallow is worth the wait. Probably.
Featured image: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph with 38mm chronograph, Grande Tapisserie dial and self-winding calibre 2385.