Monday, November 7, 2016

Planned obsolescence

***Planned obsolescence is when a product is deliberately designed to have a short life span. 

It is purposely and intentionally designed and manufactured to disintegrate, or to be non-repairable, or simply to under-perform.  At the same time, the manufacturer's marketing department will work hard to convince you that you should remain loyal to the brand and replace the obsolete product with the latest version.

There are countless examples of PO consumer products: from mobile phones to automobiles, computer operating systems, hardware, washing machines to printers – and watches.

The concept has been around for almost 100 years. It originated in Switzerland when the representatives from the world's largest lightbulb manufacturers, Philips, Osram, General Electric and others got together to form "Phoebus", a lighting cartel. Light bulb lifespans had, by 1924, increased to the point of crimping sales. The companies thus jointly agreed to reduce the life of lightbulbs to a 1,000-hour standard. Phoebus members marketed the shorter design life as an effort to produce brighter and more energy-efficient bulbs. However, the only significant technical innovation in the new bulbs was a steep drop in the operating life.

The other form of planned obsolescence is to design a product which is impossible to repair, or when the repair costs are deliberately too high. Turning a traditionally durable product into a throw-away, single-use one is the ultimate in planned obsolescence. It is well documented and researched that some manufacturers deliberately make the serviceman's job difficult, discouraging any attempt of repair. For example - the main bearing of the front-loading washing machine is integrated in the frame and almost impossible to replace. Another example - mass-produced watches have often the entire case factory-sealed.
"Suicide hands" is a term coined by watchmakers frustrated by inferior, self-destructive watch hands fitted on expensive watches.

The creativity of planned obsolescence is limitless: products are fitted with special screws, batteries or seals, or would require very specific tools and diagnostic equipment to be serviced. And surely, as a subscriber to my newsletter, you are well familiar with the outright restriction on supply of spare parts in the watch industry. Not to mention sophisticated take-overs and acquisition of independent watch parts manufacturers with the sole intention to limit the competitor’s access to strategic parts.

The ultimate victim of planned obsolescence is the consumers, forced to replace products which, if designed 'properly' in the first place, could easily last for decades.  Not to mention the economic loss to society and environmental pollution.

In 2015, as part of a larger movement against planned obsolescence across the European Union, France passed legislation requiring that appliance manufacturers and vendors declare the intended product lifespans, and to inform consumers how long spare parts would be produced for any given product. From 2016, appliance manufacturers are required to repair or replace, free of charge, any defective product within two years from its original purchase date. Hardly a victory in my book, but at least it is an attempt to curb planned obsolescence to a degree.

In Sweden, legislation has just been proposed which would cut tax on the repairs of bikes, clothes and shoes. Swedes would also be able to claim half the labour cost of appliance repairs (refrigerators, washing machines and other white goods) from their income tax.

Three years ago, before even the first rebelde was design or assembled, we announced the core philosophy behind the watch: we are going to be known as watchmakers who will offer a robust, reliable and repairable watch. Today, those three core values remain as important as ever. My goal is to be known as the maker of "planned rebirth".

The idea is simple: instead of limiting its lifespan, we intend to keep your rebelde keeping time as long as possible.

The action plan will require a long term commitment and will be based on following:

- unrestricted and unlimited availability of rebelde spare parts
- transfer of skills and knowledge to young watchmakers in areas of design, assembly and servicing
- continuing with design of models which will have interchangeable components. For example, each and every rebelde model (steel/titanium/gold) uses same winding stem, gear train, escapement and main spring. The middle case of Pilots and Control Tower models are identical, and so is the sapphire crystal and case back, etc.).
- ability to become a self-sufficient watch component in-house manufacturer, minimizing the reliance on other parts suppliers.

While the Swiss Phoebus will forever remain a case study of corporate greed and planned obsolescence, I honestly believe that one day, rebelde's "planned rebirth" product design model will be studied as an example of good design philosophy.

Your rebelde is here to stay, never to become obsolete. If you share our philosophy then we welcome your business.

TiA 48/50 - $3,000 - available for immediate delivery

TiB 08/75 - $3,000 - available for immediate delivery

Happy collecting,