But as smartphone cameras improved, allowing better macro photography, watch lovers began to come around. Over the past few years, and especially in the midst of pandemic lockdowns that gave people ample time to spend on social media, the industry has done a 180-degree turn. While the platform’s impact on watch design may be oblique, it has become so central to the way timepieces are introduced, promoted and sold that the question could be: If a new watch design doesn’t appear on Instagram, does it even exist?
With the IWC Big Pilot “Tribute to 5002,” the answer is no, quite literally. First built as a prototype, the watch was made into a limited edition of 100 pieces only after Christoph Grainger-Herr, IWC’s chief executive, posted an image of the piece, nicknamed Safari, on his personal channel, in June 2017.
“I happened to be on safari at the time, in Kruger National Park in South Africa,” Mr. Grainger-Herr recalled in an interview at a recent IWC event in Los Angeles. “I said, somewhat foolishly, that if I get 50 confirmations in the comments of people saying they would buy it, I’ll make it. We got more like 250 comments within 15 minutes.
“We sent out all the reservation forms by DM,” Mr. Grainger-Herr added. “It was our first accidental foray into social commerce.”
More recently, Instagram helped to confirm the interest around an unexpected revival at Girard-Perregaux. “We posted a picture of a watch called a Casquette, produced by Girard-Perregaux in the ’70s, with a very ’70s design, and people went crazy,” said the brand’s chief executive, Patrick Pruniaux. “One of these watches is now being produced with a partner for a charity auction.”
Reimagined for the Nov. 6 Only Watch auction in Geneva, the one-off timepiece — a remake of a funky, spaceshiplike model that Girard-Perregaux debuted in 1976 — was made in collaboration with the London-based watch customizer Bamford Watch Department.