I just had a conversation with my buddy Ben (@koreahasseoul1) and I felt like the topic was worthy of a post. Incidentally he’s a pretty interesting collector, and I would urge you to chat to him too if you feel like you want some advice about your collection, or just to talk watches. I always appreciate his perspectives, and I am sure you will too.
Anyway, this was a relatively quick post with a lot less consideration than many others, so take it with a pinch of salt. It isn’t meant to be exhaustive, or cover every angle – feel free to add your own thoughts to the discussion in the comments below.
Ben and I spoke about how collecting has evolved, especially in the last two to three years. Before the wave of profiteers came onto the scene, you could buy almost all steel Rolex watches from dealer displays, and depreciation was a normal part of collecting. After the hype machine started turning, the waitlists got longer and the number of “keen collectors” snowballed. At this point, there were two notable types of collectors emerging… the ones who would constantly moan about waitlisted watches, and the ones who didn’t care – and sought alternatives. Of course, there were others too – the ones who had been buying for years, and had great relationships to build on – they were in a good place too, from a financial viewpoint – and the ones who never cared, but had the financial firepower to buy their way onto the top of the waitlists… anyway, the story continues with the ones who sought alternatives.
Fast forward another year… and the group who sought alternatives seemed to have created yet another snowball, fuelled perhaps by social media, but also by the sheer volume of overflow from the mainstream waitlists. Dealers such as A Collected Man helped to accelerate this, by publishing in-depth guides to these relatively unknown gems such as Journe, Daniel Roth and Urwerk. The ‘indie craze’ was then upon us – and even now, you see random watches now tagged with #fpjourne on Instagram, reinforcing the notion that it’s the new hype machine. This isn’t a craze limited to independents either; simply low-production watches from larger brands also benefited, since the low production ensured that the supply would not meet demand… H. Moser & Cie, and A. Lange & Sohne come to mind here.
Today, most of the independent brands are oversold, and production is allocated for up to two years in advance… smaller independents are reaping the rewards of this craze too; The likes of Kudoke, Sartory Billard, Laine and others are also seeing collectors flock to their offerings as alternatives to mainstream watches they can’t buy.
At this point, almost everything is highly limited, and/or impossible to obtain without having some insider help… or simply exorbitantly priced. The Vacheron Overseas 4500V with blue dial has a waitlist over 5 years, and has climbed in the secondary market to £30k. Lange 1 early editions are now also at the same level. Original Datograph L951.1’s which were at this level 6 months ago, are now double that amount. Journe is complete unobtanium for any of the most desirable models, and this is spilling over into the rest of their offering. Many of the others are releasing highly limited runs of certain models often with a regional theme… e.g. a special coloured Moser dial for the UAE.
Where to from here? How does this end?
What does research say?
Your brain gets tired, and one fatiguing activity is making choices. Various studies show that as people make more decisions, their subsequent decisions are rushed or they don’t decide at all. One study, by Ned Augenblick and Scott Nicholson of Stanford, analysed voting patterns in a California county, and found that the lower on the ballot an item appeared, the more likely the voter was to not make a choice or to use a shortcut, like picking the first choice or voting to keep the status quo.
The Stanford research showed that this effect wasn’t insignificant; a 10% difference in abstentions was observed between items placed at the top or bottom of the ballot, and the authors found that about 6% of the propositions that had failed in actual voting would likely have passed had they been at the top of the ballot.
Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota has studied choice fatigue too, and found that a day of shopping decisions at the mall reduced the self-control of the individuals she tested. Her research showed that those subjects who had made more decisions during the day showed less inclination to study for a math test or drink a somewhat unpleasant drink in return for a reward. In essence, their brains were tired from a day of decision-making.
While one might think that a lack of self control on the part of a consumer could be a good thing for marketers, it likely isn’t. In the voting study, people were more likely to not make a decision at all if they were suffering from choice fatigue, or to choose to not change the status quo. Neither of these is beneficial to most marketing situations. In reality, offering too many choices can actually reduce sales.
Over time, forcing a consumer to make a series of decisions will tire them out (even though they won’t be conscious of that fatigue). As the decision-making continues, they will be increasingly reluctant to decide at all, or will choose the most simple choice – often a “no” or “do nothing”.
So, posing the question from the introduction again… what happens next? Well, I for one am tired of the constant bombardment of choice, and I felt this fatigue setting in. The problem is that ‘desirable’ is becoming more costly, fuelled by the supply glut – since ‘desirability’ is now largely synonymous with ‘rarity’. This is only getting worse, and as a result, what suffers the most is the existing collection. As we pursue or ‘hope to pursue’ the next piece, we neglect the pieces we’ve already purchased, and fail to enjoy them at all.
What Ben and I agreed on was that the next stage is going to be a default to watches which are easy to buy, and easy to wear. In other words, the ones which don’t require too much thought to put on, and indeed, to buy in the first place. This, by default, means that the affordable ones will win. Think Unimatic, Oris, Baltic, Furlan Marri, Nodus, Halios etc… I’m sure I’ve missed a few but you get the idea.
While we can continue to seek out those “hidden gems” i.e. the under-appreciated, undervalued watch bargains… these are increasingly rare and will continue to dry up – but beyond that, as the profiteers hoover up all the supply of currently hyped watches, the real collectors are longing to just enjoy the hobby and their watches… the ease with which you can buy a lower priced watch without thinking about it is arguably akin to the “no” or “do nothing” choice described in the studies above. Moreover, the added benefits of not needing to worry about insurance, safety, storage and other considerations that come with luxury watches, makes these a far simpler purchase decision.
As we all follow the cycle, new collectors join the ride and as one moves on from Rolex, and the next one chases the next hyped independent…one thing remains clear – we’re all waiting to see what happens next… where this road leads to. Another friend BMR (@tick_tock3940) suggests that perhaps this road might lead to driving out many of the collectors from the market entirely – leaving mostly profit seekers and speculators… this, in turn dries up demand, and leads to brands failing, and a consolidation of sorts – in other words, an ‘industry reset’. Plausible, perhaps if considering everything outside of the mainstream brands with big balance sheets (or ties to a parent company with a big balance sheet).
Speaking to another collector S (@so.frech), he suggests that the death of creativity is the most likely cause of the industry reset, if it comes. “There are too many watch releases with very few showstoppers… and I think this is contributing to the fatigue” he says. Well argued, and I agree – the extent to which the Rolex oyster perpetual pastel range has more than doubled in value on the secondary market is a testament to just how fickle the market is today. Sure, they’re beautiful – but the prices they fetch are idiotic.
I’ll wrap up here; no need to say anything more, this is all just an opinion after all… while I genuinely think this is an interesting topic, the more perspectives we have, the better – so I look forward to your thoughts and feedback in the comments below.