My first vintage watch was an ultra-thin Piaget, which probably explains the infatuation I have for the brand. Understandably, the announcement of an upcoming "game changer" last year raised my expectations – and my doubts. July’s release of the Polo S was dominated by polemics over its potential resemblance to some other iconic watches, overshadowing a bit the conversation about whether it might or might not be the crucial game-changing piece that Piaget had promised. More than nine months later, it felt that it was time to look back at the Polo S and truly assess what it was all about, on its own merits.
I spent a week wearing the Polo S Chronograph with a bright blue dial, day in and day out. But don’t be confused. This isn’t A Week On The Wrist, but instead a look at the raison d’etre of the Polo S, its core purpose for Piaget and its core value to customers.
"Comparison is the death of joy," according to Mark Twain, so let’s tackle that side of things first: does the Polo S look like a Patek Philippe Nautilus? Undoubtedly. Especially the blue dial versions. It would be dishonest of me to pretend otherwise. More exactly, it looks very much like the women’s version of the Nautilus, the reference 7118/1A, which also offers a date at six o’clock and a similar looking combination of lumed hands and indexes. However, I truly feel that the Polo S is more complicated than a carbon copy of an iconic reference – itself an interpretation of the Royal Oak from Audemars Piguet, I might add. As you are already aware, both watches were designed by the very same Gerald Genta, some four years apart.
There is indeed something very Piaget in the Polo S, far beyond just its name coming from the cult 1980s collection. Looking closer at the case, it bears a striking resemblance to the Emperador line; the finishing might have been inverted on the case and the bezel, but the lines of the case are pretty much identical. Furthermore, the dial colors of the Polo S can also be found in many previous Emperadors. The blue dial is obviously the most contentious, as it is associated with both the competing Patek and AP models (if you can call watches that are twice the price or more "competitors"), but truthfully it is also an iconic color in Piaget’s history, notably featured on its packaging.
Considering all the previous facts, the Polo S naming seems at first illogical: Why not call it the Emperador S if it borrowed most of its aesthetic from that existing line? Herein is the difference between product development and marketing – branding it Polo S was much more in line with the mission of this launch. Polo S obviously sounds sexier, but I believe the core reason lies deeper than that. The Polo S aimed to accomplish as much as the Polo had done in the late 1970s and early ’80s, when it was the versatile watch of the jet-set crowd, admired for its precious looks and water resistance.
Interestingly, the most Polo-like feature that can be found on the new Polo S is the horizontal pattern on the dial, made in honor of the construction of the original bracelet. Despite this link, it is also one of the most controversial elements in the Polo S, since it is also a signature of the Nautilus.
Now that we’ve looked at its inception, an incorrect assumption must be cleared up before we move to the more detailed stuff: The "S" in Polo S stands for "Sport" and not "Steel." The Polo S does not pretend to be so important because of its metal – though since the mid-1950s all Piaget wristwatches have been made of precious metals, except for the forgotten (and forgettable, I dare say) Upstream, launched in 2001.
No, the real value of the Polo S is that it offers a sportier, more casual alternative to dressier watches, like the Altiplano, that dominate Piaget’s offerings. The price positioning was also important and different for Piaget, with the time-and-date Polo S below $10,000 and the chronograph below $15,000. This makes both watches about half the price of a comparable Altiplano and, as mentioned earlier (and discussed in an epic Three On Three), about half the price of comparable luxury steel sport watches. As such, it can be considered as the introductory piece for Piaget, which can bring new clients to a historical brand.
I specifically chose to spend a bit of time with the chronograph as this version got much less coverage than its three-handed counterpart. And, I will be honest, in the first hours of wearing it, I did not like its proportions very much at all. It was sitting high and large on the wrist, very far from the vintage dimensions with which I spend more time. Yet, it is something you quickly get used to; in a matter of days I had forgotten about it, especially since the blue dial often took the light in various beautiful ways. Here, the horizontal pattern does look very Patek (in a good way) and it definitely reminded me of the bracelets on those earlier Polo models of which I am so fond (though that might be more personal than anything).
The one thing I remained disappointed in was the bracelet; it felt a bit slim for such a case, and the finishing was a bit rough. Then again, the price positioning might justify a sort of trade down in the bracelet department. Moreover, it is not fully integrated, so a switch to a strap is always an option.
There was one place where I could tell no concession was made: the chronograph movement. Its operating was clean and precise, and the layout was highly legible. Note that the caliber 1160P from Piaget bears a striking resemblance with the 1904-CH MC from Cartier, much as the 1110P of the time-and-date Polo S seems close to the Cartier 1904 MC, probably showing some synergy between the two Richemont-owned brands (an ultra-thin Piaget caliber can also be found in the new slim Cartier Drive, for what it’s worth). The last thing about the chronograph gets even more geeky: the feeling might not be shared, but I loved the round sub-register shape in the square-ish case, as it reminded me of the smiley robots I used to play with as a child. Now that I’ve said that, can you un-see it in this watch? I didn’t think so.
After a week of wear, I definitely have a better understanding of the merits and shortcomings of the Polo S chronograph. Far from being a disappointing watch, it is a very interesting release from Piaget at a different price point that, all things being relative, offers a new audience access to the brand. This watch makes total strategic sense, entering the sport-chic segment where the Royal Oak and Nautilus are blossoming, though again at a lower price for a different customer.
But, while it’s a strength in some ways, this is also the Polo S’s greatest weakness in the eyes of the purists. It feel like a "safe" watch, adding nothing new and taking no real risks. As such, it falls below what we would have expected from the Piaget of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, which did not shy away from offering radically different pieces from the competition, from the slim watches with hard stone dials to the original Polo.
Obviously, different times call for different measures, but it surely explains how a self-proclaimed "game changer" disappointed quite a few when launched. However, I want to emphasize two things after my time with this watch: First, it truly is a game-changer for Piaget, if we look at it from a business strategy and long-term-growth perspective; and second, the criticism is coming from seasoned collectors who are not in any way the primary target for the Polo S to begin with. Time will tell if the Polo S (time-and-date and/or chronograph) will find its market and have the same impact on Piaget that the Polo had throughout the 1980s. It will be interesting to observe, at the very least.
The Piaget Polo S chronograph with blue dial retails for $12,400. For more, visit Piaget online.