Michael Foley is an alumnus of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and a leading voice on watches in India. He joined Titan Industries in 1990s as a product designer and rose to become its chief creative adviser within a decade. His claim to fame is the Edge series of watches from Titan, billed as the slimmest watches in the universe. In 2006, Foley started Foley Designs, a design studio that specializes in product design, packaging, graphics, environment design and brand identity. Earlier this month, Amazon.in announced that it has brought Foley on board to curate the watches section on its platform. Mint Indulge spoke with him about the watches industry, the impact of technology and the online retail platform. Edited Excerpts:

What is the Indian watch market like right now? Has it bounced back to the pre-economic slowdown levels? Are people buying watches?

The watch space is, at various levels, picking up again. The concept of luxury is also being reinvented in the terms of moving back to the old traditions of watchmaking. The industry has also become interesting after various kinds of smart watches entered the market last year. The advent of technology has brought visibility to the entire wristwatch space in a different light. It has brought an interesting twist to the existing wristwatches.

Going back to the old tradition of watchmaking is a visible shift. There’s a lot more emphasis on the mechanism of a watch and making it as visible as possible. Accuracy is another thing watchmakers are looking at. So what’s happening in the luxury segment is that they are reinventing the mechanical and the automatic movements to create new specials, which, in turn, is opening up the space for new designs and materials. So craftsmanship can come to the fore. People are buying. The industry is picking up pace.

What are the current trends in the industry? What are we expecting in the year ahead in terms of design, make, material and technology?

In terms of design, steel is being reinvented in various metallic colours— rose, chocolate and grey for example—and various kinds of plating and finishing. That’s one. There’s a lot of material innovation coming in from the smartphone space. Injection moulded plastic that is used in smartphones is coming into the watches space, giving it an interesting dimension. Dials of watches are getting a lot more layered. We are also seeing a lot of minimalism. And, most importantly, timekeeping devices are being reinvented from the technology point of view.

We will see an integration of a lot of diverse materials in the year ahead. Technology is also driving the integration of diverse materials in crafting watches. It is also helping the consumer in choosing a particular material for a specific part of the watch, thereby opening up a whole lot of choices for the designing and styling. Technology is the new jeweller watches are drawing inspiration from.

How much effect of technology is there on the industry? How is it going to change the watches space?

Technology is basically becoming an extension of the design that consumers are very comfortable with. There used to be a time when you needed to have clunky, big bodies to incorporate technology in the watch and there were fixed expressions. Today, technology is almost invisible and it is opening up more options in terms of designing. Wearable technology is getting a new definition.

Is online an important aspect for the watch industry? How are the people who buy watches online and the ones who shop in stores different?

The online space is growing for sure and it will grow faster depending on how much product experience you can give to customers online. With Amazon, the whole idea is to make customers know more about the watches space, therefore helping them in making a smarter choice. Once the consumers know the material, style, design and other such things, they make a more educated choice. And it is going to grow. Even though the ratio of people who buy watches online is very low compared with the ones who go to the physical spaces, the online buying will grow in the time to come.

Consumers who are going to stores need assurance about the product. At the same time, the person buying the same product online has had that assurance, maybe by using such products or using the space well. So he knows the specifics well and can filter down the search to what he exactly needs.

Over time, this will help the brick and mortar stores to evolve and get close to the online selling space. Something like you get into a store and you could still buy online. Brands may soon start rethinking the way they sell through physical stores. I see a seamless transition happening between physical and online. For example, if I walk into a store, I could be able to scan my wrist and get all the options online that fit my wrist. And customize the watch down to the last T, according to my liking.

How do you go about buying a watch?

A watch is an expression of an individual’s personality. So choose a watch that suits your personality and goes with the kind of clothes you wear.

The watch should fit your personality and fit you comfortably in terms of money. If technology is important for you then you should think what the utility of a particular watch is. But the most important thing is what kind of a stylistic expression you want to create with a particular watch.

For a collector, it’s good to have a hand-crafted limited edition watch but if you collect watches and like to wear them on different occasions, then it would be interesting to see how diverse you can get from the aesthetic point of view.

So I would say look at watches from the fashion point of view if you are wearing them. If you’re collecting them, look at them from the point of view of craftsmanship.

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