Shorter product cycles and the ‘Enjoyment Gap’ for watch collectors

This post is about something I made up, called “The Enjoyment Gap” which arises as a result of watches being released too often. Collectors keep buying them as a result of the need for dopamine or to fuel the status drive, and the releases keep coming, likely a result of watch companies trying to take advantage of the buoyant market we’re in right now. So how does that play out?

In his recent book, The Exponential Age: How Accelerating Technology Is Transforming Business, Politics and Society, Azeem Azhar observes how technologies advancing at an unprecedented pace, but they’re doing so at an exponential rate (velocity vs acceleration). The problem, Azhar argues, is that this rate of technological change is causing certain institutions (regulators and lawmakers for the most part) to fall behind the times. He calls the gap between the rate of technological change and regulatory capacity an “exponential gap,” and argues we need to close these gaps in order for these technology advancements to really benefit society. So let’s see what the exponential gap is about, then draw some parallels to watch collecting.

Exponential gaps

Exponential gaps can go in either direction… For instance, some might argue that the FAA in the US is moving too slowly with regulatory approvals, and holding back things like home deliveries via drones or other UAVs… and for comparison… Artificial Intelligence is largely a free-for-all in the eyes of the law, and regulation is likely not going to catch-up for a while.

So the missing dialogue which needs to happen between and across society will need to be about which technologies we develop and the direction we want to take them in… with particular attention paid to the risks we as society are willing to take along the way. Policymakers and regulators are known to be slow, and often use old precedents, and outdated frameworks or ways of thinking. However, these policymakers and regulators have often been obstructed by politics. I could talk about needing to keep Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos happy in order to have innovation … of course that makes it awkward when you want to ask sensible questions about appropriateness of what they are up to.

This sort of tension emerges because of the exponential gap, Azhar says… the tech may not even be bad – but if you don’t close the gap, this creates power imbalances in society, which in turn result in friction and volatility. This could be anything like living in a world where we feel unsafe online, or too much power in the hands of a few large companies… which leads to them having power in the market to determine employment standards, and to shape of industries look like. Then, since they’re so large, the lobby will ensure these corporate interests are protected within the politics.

Azeem Azhar calls it “the pitchfork risk” i.e. people will potentially rebel against this idea of “How much can we extract before we face a rebellion”.

What does it have to do with watches?

Not too long ago, there was this thing called “Baselworld“, where all the watchmakers and related corporate entities would gather once a year at a big ‘trade show for watches’ and show their new products to the world (Not going to get into the semantics of similar shows like SIHH/W&W since this is not news to anyone). If you happen to be a collector who entered the hobby in 2021, you might think this notion is totally absurd… as we now seem to get a new watch release every month! In the last few years, the exponential increase in choice available to watch collectors is quite noticeable.

So what happened? Most people agree that the pandemic and subsequent global lockdown(s) led to brands having improved access to customers through social media and various other collaborative platforms and networks. The watch community is more active now than ever before, and continues to grow each day, with new ‘types’ of collectors including the casual ‘traders’ and others who see watches are alternative investments.

With the community growing, and with all usual hype products being sold out, there was still an insatiable demand which remained unfulfilled. This led to people seeking out alternatives… things like the previously unloved Vacheron Constantin Overseas or Girard Perregaux Laureato …even entire brands like Cartier… have enjoyed a boost of sorts. Same for independents… 12 months ago for example, few cared about Urwerk except a tiny group of degenerates who knew how cool they were – today, it’s like the new ‘Rolex of indies’! This is largely true for other independents as well, I’m just picking one example here.

None of the above is bad news at all – most of this is all probably deserved attention, which is long overdue for some of these awesome brands/watches. Due to the market we find ourselves in, as a result of this insatiable demand… the issue arises: Brands are now trying to capitalise on the frenzy by releasing watches more frequently than ever before … and often this will be as a limited edition, sometimes as a special collaborative release with another brand, or for some special cause, or as a limited run for some collectors’ club etc … just check out this page of 2021 novelties – its insanely long! Consider even in the lowest price tiers … since the roaring success of the original all-black Casioak, how many variations have you seen since then?!

The exponential gap, however, is a useful parallel to consider. In the case of watch collecting, the gap with watches is obviously not between technology and regulation; it is between innovation and collectors’ ability to keep up. Perhaps we ought to name it… I picked the completely unoriginal term: the ‘Enjoyment Gap‘.

To define it more formally… the Enjoyment Gap is what is formed as watch collectors are bombarded by too many new releases in a short space of time… As a result, collectors are hardly able to enjoy and appreciate the watches they are buying. This, in turn, leads to a type of collecting malaise … it makes the hobby feel like a rat race, rather than an enjoyable journey.

The market conditions that lead to the hype frenzy we see today is like a snowball… people keep rushing to buy the next release, for fear of missing out, or for fear of being shunned or ‘deprioritised’ by a brand for declining ‘an opportunity’… As people keep buying these watches, the brands rush to create more… since it is like free money … change the dial colour, do a quick collaboration, and sell out within 1 hour!

This can’t go on forever. For starters, most people don’t have unlimited funds… and while we have discovered that MANY people have more money than sense, even these imbeciles will soon realise the joke is on them. Additionally, the hype cycle is beginning to slow down… and many brands are reaching ‘stability’ in terms of price points and demand is getting to some semblance of equilibrium. It’s not done, but its getting there.

The fatigue of rapid-fire new watch alerts is leading to less ‘kudos’ or status for buyers… people are now starting to question the sensibility of some purchases, rather than simply taking the watches at face value. So this will go on, up to the point where nobody really gives a damn that you got a new watch – which is basically how it should be – the only person who should care is yourself!

After we get to that point, when people NEED to get enjoyment from a watch in order to justify buying it (as opposed to getting the status, the approval and the dopamine from others’ approval) – then they will likely take more time to decide on a purchase … and will hopefully not feel the pressure to buy it, nor will they think the brand is doing them a favour by offering it to them.

Until then, the smart money is simply sitting out and seeking value for their money. I have spoken to several collectors about this and many are selling all their ‘hype’ watches, cashing in on the hype to pursue value. Others who bought the hype watches before the hype, choose to keep them (because they liked them anyway) but are now simply opting to stop buying from these hype brands altogether, unless its a value play… lots of such examples exist from Patek Annual Calendars to Breguet Tourbillons.

Conclusion

This post is a bit of a waffle, I concede… Like many other drafts which seemingly didn’t have a particularly insightful or strong conclusion, I didn’t plan to post this at all – but chatting with I.G (@uaewatchguy) this morning, he urged me to post it … thanks for the nudge man!

So what’s the point? In short – brands are making hay while the sun shines… they’re cashing in on everyone’s appetite to spend money… people are doing this with the hope of securing the next super-desirable [hype] piece, and perhaps looking cool [gaining status] along the way. Many brands are offering very little, in quick succession, because customers are prepared to pay up anyway. Customers have lowered their standards, and become slaves to the brands and their requirements. Customers feel like they are receiving favours and gifts, when in fact they are spending their own cash!

Try not to be one of the sheeple… that’s all. There will always be new releases, so there is no need to fuel the short hype-cycles and feel pressured to buy a watch every time there’s a new release… there will always be more. Take the time to close your Enjoyment Gap, and you will be better off, both financially, and mentally.

-F

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