Ultimate Resource On Horology For Watch Collectors
How Hermès Grew Past Fashion Watches To Join Top Swiss Maisons. Ultimate Resource On Horology For Watch Collectors
A surge of sales in 2021 shows how the luxury leather goods house has made strides with its watchmaking bona fides.
It was a silly visual trick that turned Hermès International into a serious competitor in the watchmaking world. In 2011 the brand released Time Suspended, a mechanical watch featuring a fun little complication: Push a button, and the hour and minute hands would stop, effectively freezing a moment in time. A hand that kept track of the date slipped out of sight completely.
Hidden beneath the face of the watch, the timekeeping mechanism continued to work, but you could theoretically leave the hands locked in place as long as you’d like—a minute, an hour, a week—until you pushed the button again, returning them to the correct time, the watch as accurate as ever.
“We surprised everybody with that complication,” says Guillaume de Seynes, executive vice president of Hermès and a sixth-generation member of the luxury house’s ruling family. De Seynes says this proved to people what the watchmaking team at Hermès could do.
When his uncle, then-Chairman Jean-Louis Dumas, assigned him to the timepieces division in 1999, the brand had been doing a decent business, but it had been selling mostly fashion watches—beautiful trifles with clean lines that were worn for decoration and powered by batteries rather than clever mechanics.
There was the Heure H collection, which boasted bold H-shaped cases, and the Cape Cod line, a preppy staple designed to look like a nautical chain.
De Seynes oversaw a strategy to expand into more serious watchmaking, which included the debut of the company’s first self-winding production watch, the Dressage, in 2003. Henri d’Origny, the mastermind behind the brand’s scarves for 50 years, designed it.
Three years later, Hermès bought 25% of the Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier SA (“manufacture” is watchmaking lingo for “factory”) in Val-de-Travers, Switzerland. It was an effort to more vertically integrate Hermès’s watchmaking business and to draw the prestige of making movements “in-house.”
And then came Time Suspended. After that, de Seynes says, finally “people looked at us in a different way.” A decade later the timepieces department at Hermès reached an even bigger milestone: In 2021 its sales broke into the top 20 group of Swiss watchmakers for the first time.
According to Morgan Stanley, the company surged 73% from the prior year, to €337 million ($368 million), and into the No. 19 position—behind Chopard and ahead of LVMH’s Bulgari.
Hermès sold a total of 58,000 units last year, according to the same Morgan Stanley report. (Rolex, the No. 1 Swiss brand by revenue, sells about 1 million watches annually. Audemars Piguet, which is fourth on the list, sells about 45,000.)
For the past few years, and especially in 2021, the luxury goods industry across most categories has seen substantial growth. Shoppers who found themselves homebound for months because of the pandemic were more flush with cash than usual and more likely to spend money shopping online.
The lifting of lockdowns led to global “revenge shopping” sprees. Sales of apparel, accessories, jewelry, and cars have been soaring.
But even in 2019 the growth of Hermès’s watch division had already started to outpace that of the Swiss industry as a whole. Annual sales in 2021 by the watchmaking unit grew faster than the rest of Hermès (73% vs. 42%, according to de Seynes), putting the division at 4% of the company’s revenue, up from its typical 3%.
The startling growth can be attributed in part to something not so revolutionary: Hermès is now making watches that people are very interested in buying.
“For the past four or five years, they’ve been coming out with really well-designed pieces that the market really appreciates,” says Paul Boutros, head of watches, Americas at Phillips auction house.
Boutros has a prime vantage point across the watch industry from his position overseeing sales at one of the leading purveyors of pre-owned watches. He points to the Slim d’Hermès line, which the brand introduced in 2015, as “a fantastic, elegant watch with its distinctive font styling.”
The cost of an Hermès watch is also not outrageous, comparatively speaking. Slim d’Hermès pieces, which are round and feature a Bauhaus stencil-style font, start at $7,125. “They offer really interesting pieces for some very fair prices,” Boutros says. “The prices on the secondary market have risen over the past few years, which is just a sign of the increased interest.”
Although strengthening, Hermès timepieces are still a meager presence in the secondary market, where collectors fiercely compete over Audemars Piguets, Omegas, Patek Philippes, and Rolexes, driving pre-owned prices to twice or even three times the retail value.
In 2021, Hermès released the H08, a watch that displays the time on a square case with rounded edges. It retails for $5,000 to $9,000, depending on materials and bracelet choices. The H08 is a new base model off which designers can riff and innovate.
“The whole quantity we had planned for the launch was sold out everywhere,” de Seynes says. “We could have sold a lot more.” New variations were showcased at the Watches and Wonders fair in April in Geneva, including one in blue-coated titanium.
A novelty for 2022 is the Arceau Le Temps Voyageur, a world timer that, in addition to displaying the time where you are, shows it in 24 cities around the globe. Many Swiss maisons make world timers, including Patek and more entry-level luxury brands such as Montblanc and Frederique Constant.
But in Hermès’s spin, a small watch face can be moved around the dial to tell the time in other cities. Your “home time” is displayed in numerals at the top of the dial.
A small team designs these innovations in Biel, Switzerland, and is overseen by Philippe Delhotal, creative director of Hermès watches. He joined the company in 2009 after spending time at Swiss powerhouses Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Philippe, and Vacheron Constantin.
The background of the Arceau Le Temps Voyageur’s dial is a fantasy map of the equestrian world created for Hermès in a silk scarf—a connection between the idea of global travel and the company’s equestrian heritage.
“Traveling is part of the Hermès culture,” Delhotal says. “When you speak about traveling, you go back to the horse—before the car, it was the only way of traveling.” And the horse, of course, is central to Hermès’s identity.
The Arceau Le Temps Voyageur, which retails for $28,825 in platinum, serves as a bridge between the lower-price models and a small number of pieces that Delhotal creates each year to showcase painstaking handcraftsmanship, or metiers d’art.
These extremely limited pieces—which feature wood marquetry, engraving, painting, elaborate enamel work, and other techniques—take two years to make and can retail for as much as $50,000. The brand began the practice in 2008.
“We are a house of crafts,” Delhotal says of Hermès. “It was very important for us to be excellent in this field as well.”
This year, Delhotal’s team unveiled the Arceau Les Folies du Ciel, a watch with a hand-painted dial depicting a flying machine motif taken from a scarf that was created in 1984. Only 72 of the timepieces will be made, for top Hermès clients.
De Seynes and his two cousins, Executive Chairman Axel Dumas and Artistic Executive Vice President Pierre-Alexis Dumas, have overseen a slow escalation in prices for the timepieces. Ten years ago the entry price point for an Hermès Arceau watch was less than $1,000. Now it’s more than $2,000.
This increase comes at a time when cheaper traditional watches are losing ground to smartwatches, according to the Morgan Stanley report. Inexpensive brands like many of those in the Swatch Group are falling behind in terms of revenue, and pricier brands and models are getting stronger.
As for de Seynes, he often thinks about the Time Suspended watch introduced 10 years ago. The brand’s goals shouldn’t change much as time passes, after all. “I think that, as always at Hermès, it’s long term, which is important,” he says. “So in five years’ time we will continue the same strategy.” In other words, Hermès will appear to hold time in place while, behind the scenes, the work goes on.
Winding Through The Years
The Kelly watch on this clasped bracelet takes the shape of a dangling lock, a motif familiar to anyone who owns a Kelly bag—the Hermès icon named after Princess Grace of Monaco.
A double wraparound leather strap was added to the brand’s nautical chain-inspired Cape Cod timepiece, creating a lasting design flourish that eventually adorned the brand’s version of the Apple Watch.
The Dressage is the company’s first self-winding production watch, made by Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier. It was dreamed up by longtime house designer Henri d’Origny.
Set in a newly created, stencil-style font, the modern dial of the Slim d’Hermès signified a fresh look.
Guest artist Ini Archibong designed the Galop’s case to look like a riding stirrup.
For the Arceau L’Heure De La Lune, two watch faces rotate around the dial over the course of 59 days, covering and uncovering two stationary, mother-of-pearl moons. It’s one of the most innovative ways of displaying a moonphase on the market.
Five Female Watch Collectors Weigh In On What They Want
Attention, watchmakers: It doesn’t have to be bling, bling, bling all the time.
If you were to do a quick recap of ladies’ watches introduced during the past two decades, you might conclude that women prefer flowers, hearts, mother-of-pearl dials, and diamond accents over timepieces with horological cachet.
“I think one of the tragedies that has befallen women’s watch design over the last 15, 20 years is the prevailing thought process that in order to make it ‘women’s,’ you either had to add diamonds and/or it had to be a feminine color,” says Washington-area collector Taylor Wos. “That becomes very limiting. It should be possible to embellish a ladies’ watch in a way that is more elegant, more subtle, more thoughtful, and more design-oriented.”
Indeed, it sometimes seems as if watch brands don’t understand female collectors, but these five women are happy to shed some light on the subject. They’ve done their research, and they know what they want—which is primarily so-called men’s watches. Only maybe a little smaller. …
This OB-GYN in Boston has been scouting showcase windows since her early 20s, but back then she was in medical school and had no money. Years later, on the fourth date with her future husband, she remembers admiring a watch he was wearing. “He was about to go on a trip. I said, ‘Do you mind if I wear your watch while you’re gone?’ He said, ‘Yes, I mind,’ ” Simmons says with a laugh.
She married him anyway and, in time, built her own collection, starting with a James Bond Omega Seamaster, which she quickly ditched for a Zenith A386 El Primero from 1969. “I love it,” she says. “Not just the look of it but the history, how it was part of the race to make an automatic chronograph.”
One piece that would yield a $30,000-plus windfall if she ever sold it is a Patek Philippe Ref. 2508 Calatrava. “It’s a simple, beautiful, time-only with a perfectly sized, 35mm, case,” she says. “Pure class. Can’t part with it.”
Given her love of vintage chronographs (they’re a wearable size, for one thing), she couldn’t resist a 37mm MultiChron Decimal made by Gallet, a Swiss company that in the 1940s specialized in military chronographs. The screw-on “clamshell” case is an early example of water-resistant design.
“It’s hard to find them in good condition,” she says. “But it will hold its value, which is important, although I would never buy something I don’t love just because it’s a good investment.”
Simmons doesn’t believe in the grail watch. “If you read about the psychology of collecting, the pleasure centers of your brain are stimulated more during the hunt for a watch,” she says. “Once you get it there’s a letdown, and that’s why you need to find another one to look for. I think about these auctions where someone buys a watch for $21 million. That’s got to be a big letdown when you’re done, right?”
Lung Lung Thun
“When I look at my collection, I realize everything is for men, but that wasn’t deliberate,” says Thun, a financier in Hong Kong. “I love mechanical watches, and men’s are more interesting from that point of view.”
She says she doesn’t buy as an investment. “It would kill the hobby for me. The best part of collecting is that it allows me to be impulsive and illogical,” she explains. “In every other part of my life, I have to be disciplined and structured.”
That said, all Thun’s watches have solid resale value. There’s a gold Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Day Date with moonphase, a Rolex Daytona, a Hublot Big Bang, and an MB&F HM3—nicknamed the “Frog.” (All would likely sell for low-to-mid five figures.)
“I bought most of them in 2011, 2012,” she says, “back when you could still walk into any authorized dealer and buy anything.” She followed up with two A. Lange & Söhnes: a rose gold Datograph Flyback, which she wears on a royal blue alligator strap, and a platinum Langematik Perpetual Calendar on a pretty pink one.
Her prized Patek Philippe is a yellow gold World Time Ref. 5231J with cloisonné enamel—reselling for more than $100,000 online these days.
Thun’s grail is a Patek Ref. 5004 split seconds chronograph perpetual calendar, made in small quantities from 1996 to 2011. She expects it would cost as much as $500,000, if she could find one. “I would use it to mark a big occasion.”
Wos, a commercial real estate developer, has been obsessed with watches since her preteen years. By high school she was crushing on a Cartier Tank Française, the large model with an automatic movement. “It has an essentially androgynous appeal,” she says. When her parents gave her one for graduation, “I lost my mind. There were tears pouring down my face onto the red box as I was opening it.”
Her obsession became serious when she got a job selling watches at Betteridge jewelers in Greenwich, Conn. “It was like putting a sugar addict in a chocolate store,” she says. One day she was unpacking a delivery of pre-owned pieces, and out popped a Panerai Luminor, the quintessential tough-guy watch. “It was chunky and big and masculine and cool, and I thought, this needs to be mine,” she says with a laugh.
Wos also rocks a 40-millimeter Rolex Submariner with a green dial and bezel, fondly known by collectors as the “Hulk.” While at Betteridge she sold the watch to an aunt, who later gave it to her.
“What I really wanted was a Kermit [an earlier version of the Hulk], but my mother said I had to keep it as long as both she and my aunt were still alive,” she says. “Now I’m glad, because it’s become my daily beater. Real luxury can be worn. I see a woman with a Birkin bag that’s been put through its paces, and I respect that.”
One day she glanced in the window of Cellini jewelers in New York and noticed a Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra Thin 1948 that wasn’t supposed to be there. (It was a boutique-only limited edition meant for an important collector, who’d changed his mind.) She worked out a deal with her parents: No presents for the next several years if they’d buy it.
She even tried to negotiate a discount with the owner. “He’s like, ‘Who is this little girl trying to get in my face?’ ” He humored her and gave her a little off, and it’s now a favorite in her collection.
A New York attorney, Chon is a connoisseur of horological arcana. She makes references to Cartiers and Patek Philippes going back decades. Her most cherished piece is a 1997 Cartier Tank à Guichet, a neo-vintage tribute to the original 1920s model. “When I saw that watch, it shouted at me,” she says.
“The angular design has such a strong presence. It always reminds me how much more there is to Cartier than what we see in the current collection.”
Another rarity she fell hard for was the elongated, rectangular London Cartier Tank Cintrée. (At one time, Cartier was run from three locations: London, New York, and Paris, with pieces signed accordingly.) “I looked for an original for years and finally gave up and asked Cartier to make one for me,” Chon says.
“They do custom work only for major clients, which I am not, but I think they saw that I understood the Cintrée and would cherish it.”
Her preferred movement type is the manually wound chronograph, which has no central winding rotor on the back that would hide the beauty. Her favorite of these is the Lemania caliber 2310 in the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Ref. 47101. “It’s the most beautifully finished example of what some consider the best chronograph movement ever made.”
Her pick for best time-only movement is the caliber 12-600 AT in her 1950s yellow gold Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 2526J. It was Patek’s first self-winding caliber, with several patented components.
Chon isn’t completely dismissive of the ladies’ genre. “I think the industry is serving female clientele much better than even two years ago,” she notes. “I feel less spoken down to, but there’s a long way to go. While I love some diamonds, there is no need to put them on every ladies’ watch.”
The recently retired chief scientist of the U.S. Personal Care Products Council has about 50 watches in her collection. “I appreciate the engineering and craft behind mechanical movements,” she says.
“My husband and I also collect art, but the difference is that art stays on our walls; a watch stays with you throughout the day. Before I buy one, I ask myself: ‘Am I going to wear this, and where am I going to wear it?’ ”
The couple divide their time between Vero Beach, Fla., and a ranch in Utah. The mix of extreme climates, Jonas says, calls for robust men’s watches. She has several Rolexes, including a Submariner, a Sky-Dweller, and her favorite—a Yacht‑Master 40 with a rainbow bezel set with 32 colored sapphires, eight tsavorite garnets, and a diamond. It retails for $65,600.
“It’s an amazing watch because you can wear it as a sports watch, but you can also wear it for black tie. It’s one of the few watches I wear that women will ask me about because of the gems.”
Being a Kansas City Chiefs fan, Jonas loves her Rolex Oyster Perpetual 31 with coral red dial. (LeBron James also wears one.)
She has several Patek Philippes, including a Ref. 4947 Annual Calendar, a steel Nautilus 5711, and an Aquanaut. “I do not resell watches, so investment isn’t a primary focus,” Jonas says. “But the current market makes it easier to justify the hobby, although harder to acquire the watches I desire—there are now so many collectors as investors.”
By Merlin’s Beard! Roger Dubuis’s New Releases Are Watch Wizardry
Where Arthurian legends meet “Hyper Horology.”
Hear ye, hear ye! Roger Dubuis introduced two new timepieces during Watches & Wonders 2022 – the Knights of the Round Table Monotourbillon, and the Excalibur Monobalancier.
The former represents the first time Roger Dubuis is pairing its signature Knights of the Round Table motif with a tourbillon, while the latter introduces a new-and-improved self-winding caliber to the company’s flagship Excalibur collection.
It’s a bit hard to believe this is the first time we’re seeing Roger Dubuis add a tourbillon to the Knights of the Round Table series. This brand is positively fixated on tourbillons.
The new Knights of the Round Table Monotourbillon doesn’t disappoint, featuring a central tourby smack-dab in the middle of the “table,” plus 12 knight figures sculpted from pink gold and representing each hour of the day. The manual-wind caliber RD115 inside is the very first central tourbillon movement created by Roger Dubuis.
This is the eighth edition of the Knights of the Round Table, a series that dates back to 2013. Time is shown on the watch via a pair of gold markers that utilize a double-disc rotating system to circle around the tourbillon and indicate passing hours and minutes.
Murano glass is used to form the translucent purple blocks that appear around the tourbillon, as well as on the double-surfaced flange.
The three o’clock crown has two different modes for winding and setting. A pusher at two o’clock that’s set flush against the 45mm pink gold case can be used to switch between the two; when the pusher is engaged, a small red marker pops up that indicates the watch can now be adjusted.
The Knights of the Round Table Monotourbillon is a limited release of eight watches that serves as a halo product for Roger Dubuis as a whole, showcasing the company’s capabilities in highly technical watchmaking and artistic decoration.
The new Excalibur Monobalancier, on the other hand, is a mainline release that enters serial production, while also highlighting Roger Dubuis’ technical bona fides.
Featuring a skeleton dial and the company’s trademark star-shaped bridge, the new Excalibur Monobalancier is highlighted by the introduction of the self-winding micro-rotor caliber RD720SQ. The movement has a 72-hour power reserve, with a pink-gold and tungsten micro-rotor that Roger Dubuis states has been optimized to reduce the effect of shocks and vibrations.
Roger Dubuis also says the balance wheel inertia has been doubled in order to improve the stability of the movement.
Along those same lines, the design of the escape wheel is new and more efficient, due to the use of diamond-coated silicon and the introduction of a new lubrication material and updated diamond-coated silicon pallet stones that can be easily adjusted.
The Excalibur Monobalancier also features an updated 42mm case in Roger Dubuis’ patented EON GOLD alloy, an improved type of 5N gold that is “more resistant to tarnishing when exposed to extreme conditions,” per the company.
The sharply notched fluted bezel carries over from previous Excalibur watches, while the case has been primarily sand-blasted but retains a few polished angles.
At launch, the new-for-2022 Excalibur Monobalancier is available in two editions, both in EON gold. One example comes paired with an embossed black calfskin strap, while the second example features 60 round-cut diamonds set on the bezel and an embossed purple calfskin leather strap.
What We Think
Roger Dubuis likes to describe its specific watchmaking niche as “Hyper Horology.” It’s a pretty apt classification – everything the high-tech, high-mech company does today is intent on pushing boundaries, in aesthetics, in technical details, and in wearability. And the Knights of the Round Table Monotourbillon and Excalibur Monobalancier perpetuate that narrative.
I’m generally not one to back away from boundary-pushing watches, but I’ve often found the current era of Roger Dubuis watchmaking to be a bit difficult to appreciate.
I think it’s the clash between the very-of-this-moment, 21st-century watchmaking on display through the skeletonized dials, and the often baroque aesthetics (notched bezels, literal Arthurian knights running around, etc.). It can be a bit hard to approach.
What’s undeniable, however – despite any personal qualms – is the absolute quality of watchmaking and artistic handcraft that’s on display in any Roger Dubuis watch.
Did you know that every Dubuis timepiece, including these latest releases, receives the Geneva Seal (Poinçon de Genève)? It’s only one of the most prestigious certifications in watchmaking and one that very few of Roger Dubuis’ contemporaries continue to pursue.
(Cartier, Chopard, Vacheron Constantin, and Louis Vuitton are a few of the remaining brands that regularly release watches certified by the Geneva Seal.)
And then there’s the impressive decoration present on the Knights of the Round Table. I imagine owning one of these watches would be incredibly rewarding.
Each of these 12 figures are sculpted by hand and feature a knight with a different pose and demeanor – you could spend hours on hours studying the details present on each knight with a loupe in one hand, and perhaps a sheathed sword in the other.
Brand: Roger Dubuis
Model: Knights of the Round Table Monotourbillon; Excalibur Monobalancier
Reference Number: DBEX1025; RDDBEX0954, RDDBEX0953
Diameter: 45mm; 42mm
Thickness: 15.1mm; 12.7mm
Case Material: Pink gold; EON gold
Dial Color: Central tourbillon, with Knights of the Round Table; skeleton
Indexes: Knights of the Round Table; polished, applied hour markers
Lume: N/A; yes, Super-LumiNova
Water Resistance: 30 meters; 100 meters
Strap/Bracelet: Calfskin leather strap; calfskin leather strap
Caliber: RD115; RD720SQ
Functions: Hours, minutes; Hours, minutes
Diameter: 38mm; 16 3/4 lignes
Thickness: 12.2mm; 5.95mm
Power Reserve: 72 hours; 72 hours
Winding: Manual; automatic
Frequency: 21,600 vph / 3 Hz; 28,800 vph / 4 Hz
Jewels: 29; 32
Chronometer Certified: Poinçon de Genève / Geneva Seal
Pricing & Availability:
Price: Price on request, Knights of the Round Table; $75,000, EON gold; $81,500, EON gold with purple accents
Limited Edition: Eight pieces; N/A
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Inflation Is A Good Thing For Seller Of Used Rolexes Eyeing IPO
* Chrono24’S Transaction Value Grew More Than 40% Last Quarter
* Secondary Watch Market Outpaces Sales Of New Timepieces
Chrono24, the biggest platform for selling secondhand luxury watches, says the resale market is surging as investors seek a shelter from inflation, buoying prospects for a potential initial public offering.
The platform, whose financial backers include the tech-focused investment arm of LVMH founder Bernard Arnault’s family, grew more than 40% by transaction value in the first quarter, co-Chief Executive Officer Tim Stracke said in an interview.
The surge reflects demand for used watches from Swiss brands such as Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe — family controlled firms with limited production capacity. Concerns about inflation are also stoking demand because some luxury timepieces can be seen as a store of value and a guard against currency fluctuations.
“What we are seeing now is more a fear of inflation and a general strong demand for watches, which translates into higher sales but also higher average order values,” Stracke said.
Some models have seen secondary market prices skyrocket during the pandemic. Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak steel sports watch with a blue dial, for instance, now costs about 107,000 Swiss francs ($110,000) on the platform, up from about 46,447 francs in April last year.
While luxury watch retail sales are growing by as much as 3% a year, the secondary market is gaining about 10% a year and is expected to reach $29 billion to $32 billion in revenue by 2025, according to consulting firm McKinsey.
Stracke says he doesn’t regard the current price surge as a bubble that risks bursting, because demand and prices have increased steadily and the supply is stable.
Chrono24 estimates that about 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) worth of transactions were conducted or initiated on its platform last year. There are currently about half a million watches for sale on the website.
The closely-held company says it’s profitable, with earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization margins “well into the double digits,” according to Stracke. He declined to provide financial details.
Based in Karlsruhe, Germany, Chrono24’s platform connects international watch dealers and private sellers with buyers around the world. It earns revenue through monthly listing fees paid by dealers as well as commission fees from each sale on the platform.
Rolex watches generate “by far” the biggest sales on the platform by transaction value, according to Stracke. Next are Swatch Group AG’s Omega brand, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet.
The Richemont-owned Cartier brand is the seventh most popular brand by transaction value. Stracke estimates there are more than 400 billion euros worth of luxury watches in circulation worldwide.
Acquired by Stracke and his partners in 2010, Chrono24 now has about 600 employees and is planning expansion into logistics as well as a secondhand watch-buying concierge service for top customers.
The firm will also now buy and authenticate watches before selling them on the platform.
Chrono24 is preparing for a potential sale of shares to the public sometime in the future, even though Stracke says the company generates cash and has ample liquidity following several financing rounds. Smaller rival Chronext AG postponed a planned IPO in October, citing unfavorable market conditions.
“A business of our size should always be prepared to go public,” he said. An IPO could come next year, in two or three years, he said, whenever “the timing is right.”
Six New Skeleton Watches Reveal Their Inner Beauty
No watchmaking genre celebrates the intricate and delicate craft of mechanical watchmaking quite like a skeleton, or open-worked, design.
Dispensing with the watch’s dial, skeletonization seeks to open up the movement for dramatic visual impact, removing non-essential material to showcase the mechanism’s layered architecture and shining a spotlight on its finely finished bridges, wheels and gears.
Here Are Six Stunning New Skeletons With Great Bone Structure:
Grand Seiko Kodo Constant-Force Tourbillon
Who could blame Grand Seiko for wanting to strut the impressive mechanical stuff of its Grand Seiko Kodo Constant-Force Tourbillon (US$350,000) with an airy, open-worked construction.
This technical tour de force manages to condense a tourbillon and constant force mechanism into one unit on a single axis.
Eliminating extra components to link the two mechanisms not only slims down the 43.8mm case, in mirror-polished platinum and hard titanium, it also dramatically heightens precision and performance.
Kodo means heartbeat in Japanese—a reference to the distinctive beat of the movement, which performs for both eye and ear.
The inner tourbillon carriage rotates as the balance vibrates at eight beats per second while the outer constant-force carriage follows its rotation ticking off one-second intervals—together they harmonize in mesmerizing rhythm.
Parmigiani Tonda PF Skeleton
While skeletonizing a movement typically involves opening it up as much as possible, Parmigiani’s Tonda PF Skeleton, artistically reveals its organic essence in a dark, dense latticework, preserving its contemporary character, balance, and volume.
Available in 40mm 18 karat rose gold (US$97,400) or stainless steel with a platinum knurled bezel (US$65,300), both versions draw a contrast with the graphite-colored open-worked dial, which draws the viewer in for a closer look at the finer details—hand-chamfered angles, alternating sandblasted and satin-brushed surfaces, hand-applied indices, and 18-karat rose gold skeletonized delta-shaped hands displaying time on the outer chapter ring.
Turn it over for another view of the PF777 movement’s 187 components including a 22-karat gold oscillating weight which winds the open-worked barrel, providing a view of the perpetually pulsing mainspring driving the balance at 28,800 vibrations per hour.
Cartier’s Masse Mystérieuse (price upon request) puts a fresh, technical spin on the maison’s specialty in skeletonization and its historic Mystery Clock dating to the early 20th century.
Here, the mystery deepens with the watch’s skeleton movement condensed to the confines of the semicircular spinning oscillating weight sandwiched between panes of clear sapphire crystal with the central hour and minute hands suspended above.
Nearly eight years in the making, the new patent-pending calibre 9801 MC ensures the effects of gravity do not affect the performance of the chronometer. All components that receive energy from the movement, transmission and regulation are integrated in the rotor, which spins bidirectionally as the wrist moves to generate energy.
An integrated sophisticated differential system, borrowed from automotive manufacturing, prevents the time display from getting caught up with the oscillating mass.
Limited to 30 pieces, the 43.5mm platinum Masse Mystérieuse is hailed as the most technical and complex piece ever developed by the manufacture, sure to cause mass hysteria among Cartier’s ardent collectors.
Chopard L.U.C Full Strike Sapphire
Chopard marked the 25th anniversary of its premier L.U.C collection with a clear winner, the L.U.C Full Strike Sapphire (US$450,000), limited to five pieces.
Bringing new meaning to the term fully transparent, the 42.5mm watch’s bezel, case band, crown, case-back, and rear glass are all cut from blocks of clear sapphire, providing a 360-degree view of the hand-wound L.U.C 08.01-L caliber.
The chronometer-certified, in-house movement is the first manually wound minute repeater movement to feature a striking system using crystal gongs attached to the sapphire crystal, forming a single monobloc to amplify the sound.
Endowed with four patents and a unique on-demand striking system, the movement employs two barrels—one for the time with a 60-hour power reserve, and the other for the striking mechanism, generating enough energy to chime the longest sequence, 12:59, twelve times.
H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton
H. Moser & Cie. underscores dimension, dynamics, and diffusion of light in a new open-worked version of its Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon, the 43.8 mm stainless steel Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton (US$86,900). Pared down to essentials, the HMC 811 Manufacture calibre puts the 60-second flying tourbillon equipped with a cylindrical hairspring at 6 o’clock in a dramatic new light.
Under the domed sapphire crystal at 12 o’clock, a domed sub-dial displaying hours and minutes is finished with Moser’s signature Funky Blue fumé treatment appointed with luminescent Globolight indices.
Entering the skeleton watch segment, H. Moser expresses its signature style that balances contemporary design and attitude with time-honored traditional watchmaking, such as the cylindrical hairspring, an 18th-century invention commonly used for marine chronometers.
The Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton is also built for everyday adventures with water-resistance down to 12 ATM, and you can change up the look with a choice of straps in black alligator leather, rubber, textile, or kudu leather plus a sporty steel bracelet.
Montblanc Unveiled Secret Minerva Monopusher Chronograph Limited Editions
While they may appear to be skeletons, Montblanc’s Unveiled Secret Minerva Monopusher Chronograph Limited Editions simply masquerade as open-worked watches with a beguiling sleight of hand—the hand-wound MB 16.29 movement has been turned upside down to reveal its intricate innerworkings through the dial side of the watch without removing a thing.
Yet, it’s more complicated than it sounds. Flipping the movement requires watchmakers to reverse the direction of the hands as well. The MB 16.29 calibre was one of the only movements in Montblanc’s stable of chronographs that could be adapted with the addition of 21 components.
Now, instead of having to turn the watch over to observe the crisp action of the intricate monopusher chronograph with its signature swan-neck regulator through the back of the watch, it’s on top for the world to see.
Montblanc is offering 18 pieces in its proprietary Lime Gold alloy with a subtle green luster (US$48,900) and 58 pieces in stainless steel with a white gold bezel (US$33,500).
Graduation Watches: How, Where And What To Buy In 2022
They might be tech-obsessed Gen-Zers, but today’s graduates still want mechanical watches. Here, expert tips for buying tickers they’ll appreciate—plus, what to do if they lose that Rolex.
ANDREW SHEAR’S SON is in preschool, but the 36-year-old dad has already purchased his child’s college graduation gift: a Rolex Daytona from 2017, the year his son was born.
Mind you, Mr. Shear is a vintage watch dealer through his company Sheartime, so he’s professionally obligated to believe mechanical watches will still be covetable in 2040.
Tradition is on his side: Watches have been beloved milestone gifts for at least a century. A 1928 Elgin watch ad shilling bezels between $15 and $1,500 declares: “This solves the graduation gift problem.”
With a penchant for vintage, today’s grads, who have grown up with the internet at their fingertips (and on their wrists), obsess over old-school watches’ mechanical workings and supreme style. “Young customers come in having been up all night studying on YouTube,” said Ruediger Albers, U.S. president of watch retailer Wempe.
According to Ira Melnitsky, U.S. president and CEO at Tourneau | Bucherer, which has seen an uptick in grad-watch sales in the past three years, the youths “appreciate a mechanical item that’s not disposable.”
Nolan Daniel White, 20, a watch-savvy TikTok star, has 142,000 followers who hang on his every recommendation. Gen Zers desire analog accoutrements for “the same reason people still drive a 1967 Mustang despite the fact that you can buy a Tesla Model 3 that will fully charge for $3,” he said.
They have “character” and “soul.” Even so, grads won’t love just any old watch. Here, a primer on buying worthy timepieces for the class of 2022.
Timely Advice From The Experts
The idea of buying your grad a watch that dates to his or her birth year, as Mr. Shear did, is an approach recommended by many dealers, executives and collectors. Not only is such a watch sweetly sentimental, it can be cost-effective—even if you don’t plan ahead.
Prices on new watches have been steadily climbing for the last decade, and a secondhand watch from 2000 or 2001, when many of this year’s college grads were born, will likely cost less than something box fresh.
Whether going new or vintage, Steve Kivel, president of Grand Central Watch, a New York store that sells new and used timepieces, recommends capping your spend at $500 for high-school graduates.
However, he advocates being less conservative when it comes to shopping for college grads who, one would hope, have learned a thing or two about accountability.
He prefers microbrands like Davosa or Baltic to the big names like Tissot, explaining that these companies offer a high quality, often Swiss-made timepiece for a lower cost. “A Davosa has the same weight and look as a Rolex for a fraction of the price,” he said.
If going the vintage route, “make sure you buy from a seller who is knowledgeable and stands behind their product,” said Mr. Shear. He has a soft spot for Rolexes old and new because, he said, they tend to retain their value better than watches by many other brands.
If newness is a must, consider a Tudor, said Italian watch collector Auro Montanari. It’s a brand with a long history, now owned by Rolex and selling watches of a comparable design. Should money be no object, Mr. Montanari suggests buying an Omega Speedmaster—the watch worn by Apollo 11 astronauts during the 1969 moon landing.
But with a starting price of around $6,000, it’s perhaps best suited for offspring who, say, graduated summa cum laude or got an early job offer from NASA to become an actual astronaut.
Mr. Albers added that anyone in search of a more delicate watch should snap up Cartier’s classic Tank. “In stainless steel it is an entry-level price point and it looks fantastic,” he said. “It never goes out of style.”
Face It: Your Grad Might Lose The Watch
When Steve Kivel, president of Grand Central Watch, was entering college in the ’80s he saved up to buy a Movado watch. Three days into his freshman year, some sophomores swiped it off his desk. “I couldn’t tell my father, but lesson learned,” he said. His advice to parents when selling them a graduation watch? Give the gift in tandem with a warning about responsibility.
But talk is cheap, watches are pricey and kids rarely listen, so if you’re planning on buying a serious timepiece (particularly one over $3,000), Wempe’s Mr. Albers suggests including it on your homeowners insurance. For watch-specific coverage, consider plans from Jewelers Mutual, Zillion or Chubb.
Six Watches To Suit All Sorts Of Graduating Seniors—No Matter Their Major
1. For History Nerds
If she enjoys researching obscure artifacts, she’ll relish reading up on this renowned brand. Vintage Universal Genève Watch, $850, Chrono24.com
2. For Engineering Aces
He’ll appreciate the reliability of this ticker’s self-winding Swiss movement. Aquascaphe GMT Watch, $1,055, Baltic-Watches.com
3. For Classics Scholars
This elegant option tracks the hours while being timeless, if not quite as timeless as “The Iliad.” Tank Must Watch, $2,610, Cartier.com
4. For Oceanography Majors
Your submergible scientist will be delighted that this stainless specimen is water-resistant up to 200 meters. Tudor Black Bay Watch, $3,900, Tourneau.com
5. For Minimalist Art Students
You needn’t be Agnes Martin to appreciate the clean aesthetic of this unpretentious style. Club Campus 38 Watch, $1,650, Nomos-Glashuette.com
6. For Econ Prodigies
The cost-benefit analysis of this practical, well-priced wristwatch won’t take any time at all. Vintage Diver Watch, $379, Davosa-USA.com
What Grads Want: Four Soon-To-Be Graduates Divulge Their Watch Wishes
“I’d love a Rolex. I want to be a nurse and I want a timeless, durable watch I could wear to the hospital, the beach or a nice dinner.” — Sofie Burstein, 18, Oak Park (Calif.) High School class of 2022
“I’m a huge Fossil fan. I want one with a two-toned bracelet and the nautical thing that twists around.”—Noah Kahn, 22, University of Kansas class of 2022
“I love 1940s and ’50s dress watches. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is my favorite—it’s the perfect size.” —Simon Goldman, 21, Pratt Institute class of 2023
YouTubers Are Schooling Rolex How To Talk About Watches
In the white-gloved world of Swiss luxury watchmaking, a floppy-haired Brit armed with a camera, lighting kit and best-mate charm is rewriting the rules of how to peddle Rolex and Omega timepieces.
A former corporate trainer, Adrian Barker has muscled his homegrown YouTube channel into a luxury wristwatch taste-making empire in the space of a few years. A Barker video entitled “I bought a Rolex Submariner off eBay!” has more than 700,000 views.
Another, asking “Why is HUBLOT the most hated luxury watch brand?,” has been seen more than a million times in just eight months.
Like fans of other high-end kit favored by men of a certain age — think espresso machines, racing bikes or bespoke tailoring — watch aficionados can come off as fussy and stilted.
Barker, by contrast, appears equally at ease discussing his first timepieces — “absolutely foul” — as he does fawning over his current Rolex Explorer II, which retails for about $9,000. It’s all delivered in a rapid-clip narration that’s both disarming and dissecting.
The platform earns the 36 year-old what he calls “a healthy salary” in the six figures, though Barker makes a point about watches being not just for people with silly cash to throw around.
His YouTube videos drive traffic to his website, Bark and Jack, where, combined with separate sponsorship deals, he makes just as much income again selling watch straps, storage cases and coffee mugs emblazoned with his logo.
“I was just having fun,” said Barker, who quit his human-resources job at a technology company in London to go full-time with his channel. “I like making videos and I like talking about watches. It was no more complicated than that.”
While Swiss industry giant Rolex remains aloof, other luxury watchmakers accustomed to having near total control over their marketing and messaging are taking notice. Rolex sister-brand Tudor now loans Barker timepieces for review, and others have accepted the rising power of a new breed of online video influencers.
Vacheron Constantin, part of the haute horlogerie triumvirate that also includes Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, loaned Barker a £26,600 ($33,411) Dual Time Overseas watch last year for review.
Barker strapped the timepiece to his wrist and hiked up a mountain in Scotland, for a video that’s been viewed more 150,000 times.
Amid all the hype, Barker tries to maintain a degree of independence. He’s had watchmakers send him timepieces to review while asking him to sign contracts stipulating he won’t name rival brands or make negative comments about the watch without approval. When that happens, he said he sends the watch back, unreviewed.
His biggest audience is aged 25 to 35, according to his own analytics data. Barker said watch brands interested in attracting a younger, aspirational consumer are more likely to work with him.
Zenith, founded in 1860 and now part of the LVMH empire, is embracing the trend. Working with watch YouTubers is much cheaper than traditional advertising and better targeted, said Chief Executive Officer Julien Tornare.
“It literally became part of the landscape and we work with them more and more,” Tornare said.
YouTube watch vloggers scattered across the globe, from Australia to Europe to the US, are using their video macro-lenses to propel a revived interest in luxury timepieces that has sent prices soaring.
Besides Barker, there’s Teddy Baldassarre, a 28-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio, who cranks out about six videos a week to his more than 500,000 YouTube subscribers.
Baldassarre now has a staff of 12 and sells watches on his e-commerce site, where annual revenue is fast “approaching eight figures,” he said in an interview.
Barker’s pitch is that, despite all the complications surrounding watches and their movements, keeping it simple is what draws viewers. He’s not fancy, he just fancies some expensive timepieces, particularly rugged tool watches like his own Rolex Explorer.
Think an equivalent to celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, but instead of well-prepared, easy-to-replicate food, Barker lays out the virtues of the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical or Grand Seiko’s quartz-powered GMT.
There’s long been publications dedicated to covering all things luxury watches. Online outlets such as Hodinkee, WatchPro and A Blog to Watch have been popular, respected and influential industry chroniclers for years.
Barker’s twist has been to put video first. It’s paid off handsomely as the very nature of luxury watches lend themselves to high production video, giving consumers a feel and sense for the product in a way that no article in print or online can replicate.
YouTube videos “have definitely changed the landscape in terms of where people get their information,” said Mercedes Abramo, the chief executive officer for North America at Cartier, the maker of Tank and Santos watches. “We see it as a positive because it is an additional channel to learn and teach consumers about great watches.”
Barker is now mulling a social-media consulting business to help centuries-old watch brands understand the secrets of video. Some companies have approached him with an outright takeover offer for the site, though he’s politely declined.
“They clearly don’t understand YouTube and want me to be part of their team,” Barker said.
Five High-Flying Travel Watches
If you’re ready to spread your wings and take flight again, a new fleet of travel watches has been cleared for takeoff.
From a straight-forward GMT or dual time that shows local time as well as home time, to a more comprehensive world-time, which simultaneously displays all 24 of the world’s primary time zones, these five worthy travel companions perform a practical function with unabashed style.
Building off its Arceau L’heure de la lune moon phase from 2020, Hermès adapted the orbiting module to a world-time function with poetic savoir faire in the new Arceau Le temps voyageur.
The dial depicts a map of a fantasy world described as “Planisphere d’un monde équestre.” The design is the brainchild of graphic designer Jérôme Colliard, who created a giant globe for a 2016 show-jumping competition in Paris and later translated the concept to one of the brand’s famous silk scarves.
Against this artistic backdrop, the “traveling time” module with hours and minutes orbits the dial, romantically illustrating the passing of time as the turning satellite passes from city to city, while home time is fixed in an aperture at 12 o’clock in a 24-hour format, which eliminates the need for a day/night indicator.
The Arceau Le temps voyageur is available in two versions: 41mm in platinum with a black DLC-treated titanium case (US$28,825) and a 38mm steel model with a blue dial (US$22,550).
Breguet Marine Hora Mundi
Offering a new interpretation of its Hora Mundi dual time in a sporty new Marine model, Breguet’s Marine Hora Mundi blends technical innovation with decorative arts, and somehow manages to keep a sport-chic vibe.
The result of three years of R&D, the Marine Hora Mundi features an instant-change dual-time display with memory function operated by the pusher and crown.
Set the first city’s time and date followed by the second city’s, and then a system of cams, hammers, and an integrated differential allow you to switch back and forth between local time and home time on demand by simply pressing the pusher.
For the dial, Breguet taps artisans to create a dimensional view of the world using various treatments and superimposed plates in a process taking several weeks. On the gold base, ocean waves are depicted with hand-guilloché-engraving.
The 43.9mm Marine Hora Mundi is available in white gold or rose gold (US$72,700 on leather or rubber strap; US$95,200 on gold bracelet).
Patek Philippe Ref. 5326G-001 Annual Calendar Travel Time
Patek Philippe flexed some technical muscle by combining its patented Annual Calendar with its Travel Time dual-time function in the Ref. 5326G-001 Annual Calendar Travel Time (US$76,882).
The new automatic caliber movement is housed in a round 41mm white gold Calatrava case, with a new twist—the emblematic Clous de Paris guillochéd hobnail pattern appears around the sides of the case instead of on the bezel.
The anthracite dial with luminous applied gold numerals darkens around the periphery and is finished with a subtle grainy texture evocative of vintage camera cases. Two interchangeable straps—one in beige calfskin with a nubuck texture and the other in black calfskin with embossed textile finish and beige decorative stitching—make it easy to change up the look.
Tudor Black Bay Pro
Tudor matches rugged good looks with a straightforward GMT function in the Black Bay Pro (US$4,000 on steel bracelet; US$3,675 on hybrid rubber/ leather strap or jacquard fabric strap.)
This 39mm stainless steel tool watch is fitted with a 24-hour graduated fixed bezel that displays the time in a second zone with an orange GMT hand that can be set backwards or forwards with a jumping hour.
The angular “Snowflake” design of the GMT and hour hands has been a Tudor signature traced back to the brand’s dive watches since 1969.
Parmigiani Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante
Parmigiani’s purist design ethos is matched with a user-friendly technical advancement in the 40mm Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante (US$28,700), in stainless steel with a platinum bezel
The knurled bezel, integrated bracelet and fine barleycorn guilloché pattern of the “Milano Blue” dial stay true to the elegant aesthetic codes of the Tonda PF collection.
But the apparent minimalism belies the technical innovation of the complication, which features two superimposed hour hands: one in rhodium-plated gold for local time and the other in rose gold for home time.
With a press of the pusher at 8 o’clock, the upper rhodium-plated hand jumps forward in one-hour increments to set local time when traveling, revealing the rose gold hand which stays on home time.
Zenith’s Calibre 135 Observatoire Puts A Piece Of Horological History On Your Wrist
Zenith’s historic Calibre 135-O chronometer movement got a new lease on life with last week’s unveiling of the Calibre 135 Observatoire Limited Edition, produced in collaboration with independent watchmaker Kari Voutilainen and the auction house Phillips, in association with Bacs & Russo.
Limited to 10 pieces, these elegant chronometers bridge the past and present, utilizing Zenith’s award-winning vintage Calibre 135-O movements in a contemporary, yet classic, design.
Zenith and Phillips have previously collaborated on a pair of custom El Primero chronographs and a unique piece for a charity auction.
Development of the Calibre 135 started in 1945 under the direction of Swiss watchmaker Ephrem Jobin. The movement was produced from 1949 until 1962 in two distinct versions: a commercial iteration, and a second “O” version made solely for the legendary chronometry competitions at the observatories in Neuchâtel, Geneva, Kew Teddington and Besançon.
These “O” movements, which were never cased in wrist or pocket watches, were put through the rigors of exhaustive testing enduring different temperatures, shocks, and running in six different positions, consistently delivering optimal chronometric performance with minimal variations in rate.
At the time, the high-precision optics systems of observatories provided the optimal testing ground for brands to prove their timekeeping acumen in head-to-head competitions. Over the years, the Calibre 135-O collected 230 chronometry prizes, the most of any observatory chronometer caliber.
The 10 movements chosen for the limited editions are the actual movements that competed and won in the Neuchâtel Observatory trials five years in a row from 1950 to1954. All 10 were awarded prizes within the first category range and had been regulated by celebrated Zenith chronométriers Charles Fleck & René Gygax.
“These calibers were made for competitions—they were not made to be worn or to be aesthetically pleasing,” said Alexandre Ghotbi, head of watches, continental Europe and the Middle East at Phillips Watches. “So, if we’re going to make a wristwatch out of this legendary caliber, who should we ask to take it to the next level? Immediately we said, Kari Voutilainen. He’s an absolute master.”
A restoration expert, Voutilainen cleaned and finished the historical movements to the height of refinement with hand-chamfered and -polished edges on the gold-colored bridges, beveled and polished screw-heads, circular graining on the main plate, snailed brushing on the ratchet and crown wheels, and more—all while preserving the original regulation and fine-tuning of the movements by Fleck and Gygax. The milestone movement is showcased through a clear sapphire case back so it can be fully appreciated.
“The persons working on these movements were the best watchmakers at the time,” Voutilainen said. “They had the know-how to make things precise. That precision doesn’t disappear after 70 years. Our duty was not to touch that performance.”
Aesthetically, the Calibre 135 Observatoire takes its cues from its mid-century commercial ancestors, combining vintage details with contemporary accents. The 38mm round platinum case is fitted with tapered lugs that seamlessly tuck under the smooth polished bezel.
Voutilainen’s Comblémine atelier produced the slightly domed black dial in sterling silver featuring guilloché engraving in a fish-scale motif around the periphery appointed with triangular hour markers and applied polished dot markers in rhodium-plated German silver, while the faceted hands are in rhodium-plated gold. Zenith’s modern star logo adorns the oversized notched crown.
At 6 o’clock, an oversized second counter is inscribed with the movement’s original serial number, emphasizing the exclusive nature of each watch. The dial is signed “Neuchâtel” at the bottom, referring to the Swiss canton where Calibre 135-O competed and won as well as the home base of Zenith and Kari Voutilainen.
The Zenith Calibre 135 Observatoire (CHF132,900) is exclusively offered by Phillips.
Luxury Brands Are Making Watches Even Fewer People Can Afford
Swiss watch revenues hit a record high, driven by high-end models, but lower volumes spark concerns the industry is too elitist.
Luxury watchmakers had their best ever year in 2021—by selling fewer watches.
The Swiss watch industry is moving ever further upmarket as brand owners target rich consumers and try to differentiate their products from the Apple Watch and other wearable tech.
Still, while this approach is boosting revenue now, it could lead to trouble in the future if the industry keeps shrinking itself by selling fewer, pricier models, analysts say.
Swiss watch revenues rose by roughly one-third last year compared with 2020 to reach a record 21.2 billion Swiss francs, the equivalent of $21.5 billion, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, an industry association. U.S. sales grew 28%.
The rise was driven by a resurgence in demand for higher-end watches, the association said, which have benefited from a broader boom in luxury goods as the pandemic has receded.
At the same time, volumes have been dwindling. Swiss watchmakers sold 15.7 million watches last year, half as many as a decade earlier, the association’s data shows. The decline has been led by a collapse in demand for affordable models, which compete directly with Apple Inc.’s $399 to $799 watch.
Those trends have continued this year, with watch sales rising 13% by revenue in the first four months of 2022 compared with the same period last year, the association said.
Watchmakers say the demand for pricey models demonstrates consumers’ enduring interest in watches despite predictions from some analysts that the business of making classic, mechanical watches would soon be swept away by smartwatches and other new gadgetry.
An expensive watch is more like a collectible jewelry piece than a device, said Georges Kern, chief executive of Breitling SA, adding that far from being a handicap, low functionality is core to the appeal.
“People want to balance the overkill of the digital age,” said Mr. Kern. “I don’t know anyone collecting Apple iPhones or watches—there’s no emotion there, you use it and then throw it away.”
That sense of cachet tempted John Royer into swapping his Apple Watch for a $10,000 Rolex GMT-Master II when he turned 40 recently. “I wanted something that I could pass on to my son when he is older,” said the Alabama-based physician.
Top brands such as Rolex, which have always commanded high prices, are the prime beneficiaries of the greater demand for high-end watches.
While there are roughly 350 Swiss watch brands, four independent watchmakers—Audemars Piguet Holding SA, Patek Philippe SA, Richard Mille Horometrie SA and Rolex SA—accounted for 61% of the industry’s 8.5 billion franc profits in 2021, Morgan Stanley estimates.
Other brands are trying to capitalize on the trend by adding high-end models to their lineups.
Last year Breitling, whose watches start at $3,300 in the U.S., launched its Super Chronomat range, raising the top price of an existing product line to $25,650. Mr. Kern said Breitling had boosted demand for its watches by modernizing its stores and refreshing its marketing with slick commercials featuring movie stars such as Adam Driver and Charlize Theron to appeal to younger consumers.
The company now plans to increase output to 250,000 watches next year, nearly double the number in 2017, Mr. Kern said, a move that makes it an industry outlier and reflects a continuing turnaround.
Hermès International SCA has also recently reported a rise in watch sales, which analysts attributed to the luxury company’s move away from relatively affordable products. Efforts to target wealthier clients include the sale of unique watches costing six-figure sums.
One recent example was the Arceau Pocket Aaaaargh!, a pocket watch featuring a leather mosaic of a Tyrannosaurus rex on its cover and a price of €300,000, equivalent to about $315,000.
Not all watchmakers are following suit. Rolf Studer, chief executive of watchmaker Oris SA, said that while the average purchase price of a Swiss watch has risen by roughly half since 2019, his company was resisting the trend to chase superrich clients.
Excessive price rises risk making Swiss watches too elitist, Mr. Studer said, adding that Oris had increased prices by about 10% over the past three years to cover higher costs.
“If we’re only talking to the richest 100,000 people in the world, maybe we no longer have the reason for being here that we used to have,” Mr. Studer said.
Oris, whose watches start at around $2,000 in the U.S., increased its share of the declining “affordable” watch market last year by offering an “inclusive” form of luxury to which most consumers can realistically aspire, Mr. Studer said.
A trend among enthusiasts to buy multiple watches from brands they find appealing, irrespective of price, is helping more affordable brands such as Oris, he added.
Many other watch brands are struggling to grow, however, and relying on selling fewer but costlier models could jeopardize the structure of the industry, analysts say.
“It’s a risky game: They have to be very careful not to make it too small and too exclusive,” said Oliver Müller, founder of Switzerland-based consulting firm LuxeConsult.
Besides alienating everyone but the millionaire buyer, there is a danger of volumes falling to a critical level at which suppliers start to fail, triggering a cascade of closures among smaller brands that can no longer source parts, he said.
“There is a risk of stagnation, of losing know-how and craftsmanship because we’re not producing enough,” Mr. Müller said.
Ultra-Rare Rolex Could Fetch Up To £120,000 At Auction
The auction of an ultra-rare Rolex which had been sitting in its owner’s drawer for decades could bring in as much as £120,000 when it goes under the hammer on Wednesday.
A Perthshire diving enthusiast, who wished to remain anonymous, took the government-issued Rolex 5513/5517 Military Submariner dive watch to Crieff-based antique dealer Nick Brewster, who said on “first sight of this exquisite watch, I felt that there was something about it”.
The watch, known as a MilSub, was issued to a former Royal Navy diver in the 1970s by the Ministry of Defence and was bought from him by the current owner in the early 1980s.
From then on the rare item became his go-to dive watch until the bezel fell off in a dive in 1996 and it was then stored in a chest of drawers.
But on Wednesday, the MilSub will go on sale at Bonhams, in London’s New Bond Street, with an estimated price of between £80,000 to £120,000.
Mr Brewster, of Nick Brewster Art and Antiques, said: “The market for exceptional watches is buoyant at the moment. The last original MilSub to reach the Bonhams London saleroom made £180,000, back in February.”
It is thought between 1971 and 1979, only 1,200 of the watches were issued as standard basic equipment by the MoD, mainly for use by Navy submariners and their leading divers and mine-clearance personnel.
Today it is estimated there are only 120 to 180 that still exist.
Mr Brewster said: “It is really fantastic when customers bring in their antiques and art for me to value and sell, even better when it is something so special.
“Although not a jewellery or watch dealer, on first sight of this exquisite watch, I felt that there was something about it that made it stand out.
“After a wee bit of research, I realised that it was an original Rolex MilSub, bar the missing bezel, one of the rarest and one of the most collectable watches today.”
Auctioneers said the Rolex Military Submariner’s unique military-designated features of tritium “T” on the dial, sword hands, 60-minute bezel, fixed lug bars, nylon strap, non-reflective case and military engravings to its back set the MilSub apart from any other Rolex Submariner watch.
Phillips Watch Sale In New York Achieves More Than $30 Million
Phillips’ inaugural spring watch sale in New York reaffirmed the auction house’s place as a market leader in this collecting category.
Taking place over the weekend at Phillips’ New York headquarters at 432 Park Ave., the 163-lot sale achieved US$30.3 million, the second highest total for a watch auction in the U.S., following its record-setting US$35.9 million sale in December 2021.
The sales total more than tripled its presale low estimate of US$9.8 million, the auction house said.
Five watches sold above US$1 million, with multiple records set for individual models, vintage and contemporary.
The auction “included original owner, fresh-to-market, collectors’ watches across brands and eras,” Paul Boutros, head of watches of Phillips’ Americas, and Isabella Proia, head of sale in New York, said in a joint statement. With bidders from 70 countries participating, “there was enthusiasm across the board,” they said.
Leading the auction was the first platinum George Daniels Anniversary Watch, bearing the unique serial number “00.” The piece fetched US$2.4 million, an auction record for any British-made wristwatch and more than double its presale high estimate of US$1 million.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale will benefit The George Daniels Educational Trust, The Alliance of British Watch and Clock Makers, and the Horological Society of New York.
A Rolex Paul Newman Daytona Lemon, ref. 6264, achieved US$2.1 million, an auction record for the model and also well beyond its presale high estimate of US$1.2 million. The watch has been in the same family of Mexican origins since it was made in 1969 and has seldom been seen publicly, according to Phillips.
Another auction record was set by an F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain wristwatch, selling for US$1.5 million against a presale high estimate of US$500,000. Two other pieces from the independent Swiss watchmakers, both Tourbillon Souverain models, also sold for more than US$1 million.
The secondary market for high-end watches has been performing strong. At Christie’s, a 137-lot sale last week achieved US$21.7 million, the highest total for a watch auction at Christie’s New York. The auction was led by an 18-carat rose gold Patek Philippe watch, ref. 5531R-012, selling for US$2.22 million.
Sotheby’s spring sale of “important watches” in New York is scheduled to open on Wednesday. The more than 180-lot sale will be highlighted by a F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain wristwatch, which carries an estimate between US$500,000 and US$1 million.
Swiss Luxury Watchmaker TAG Heuer Introduces NFT-Enabled Smartwatch
Watches, blockchain and NFTs combine with the launch of TAG Heuer’s new luxury wearable.
Watchmaker TAG Heuer has partnered with the well-known nonfungible token (NFT) community surrounding Bored Ape Yacht Club and CLONE-X to create a smartwatch that displays NFTs and connects to crypto wallets such as MetaMask and Ledger Live.
The company says that the functionality of the TAG Heuer Connected Calibre E4 will be straightforward, with NFTs being transferred to it via a paired smartphone.
The device is set to support static and animated NFT artwork, and multiple NFTs can be transferred to the watch at a time. TAG Heuer stated that NFT artwork can be resized and placed within three available designs within the watch.
Current Capabilities Of The Smartwatch And How It Handles NFT Artwork And Display Are Outlined In A Blog Post From TAG Heuer:
“Some NFTs are still images, and some are animated GIFs. TAG Heuer’s watch face will support these formats in crisp detail, with animations looping infinitely.”
The smartwatch will also possess the ability to connect to the blockchain and verify NFTs owned by the wearer. TAG Heuer describes the feature in their announcement saying, “Verified NFTs are displayed in a hexagon with a cloud of particles gravitating around the image.”
This new NFT functionality is set to be available as a free update to all Tag Heuer Calibre E4 owners through Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
TAG Heuer continues to grow in the Web3 space utilizing a team of in-house developers for blockchain-related projects. Back in May, TAG Heuer partnered with BitPay to begin accepting payments in Bitcoin (BTC) and eleven other cryptocurrencies including several US dollar-pegged stablecoins.
NFT watches aren’t a completely new idea with Bulgari, Jacob & Co, and others jumping into the market in recent months.
NFTs exploded into mainstream media in 2021 with individual sales reaching into the tens of millions. Despite recent overall market conditions and cascading NFT prices, sales reportedly remain steady.
Rolex And Patek Returns Beat Vintage Cars And Bitcoin
After bull run, luxury watch prices starting to soften.
An unprecedented price surge for the most sought-after second-hand luxury watches is showing signs of settling down after some owners put their Rolex and Patek Philippe timepieces back on the block to cash out, a new index by trading platform Subdial shows.
The Subdial50 index, which tracks global market prices for the 50 most traded luxury watches by value, has declined about 6% in the past 30 days. A black-dial Rolex Daytona reference 116500LN has lost 10% of its value in a month, though it’s still up about 19% in the past 12 months.
The blue-dialed Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 steel sports watch — which retails for about £119,000 ($145,230) on the site — is down about 12% in 30 days after surging 44% in 12 months, the data show.
“In certain models, there has been this big run-up, and they have come back down to a probably a more sensible price where the true underlying demand was,” Ross Crane, a Subdial co-founder and data scientist who helped create the index, said in an interview.
Still, the index, which includes Rolex Daytonas, Datejusts, and Submariners, as well as several Patek Philippe Nautilus references and one Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, is up about 32% in the past 12 months.
That puts pre-owned luxury watches ahead of a slew of other alternative asset investments, including vintage cars, gold, and certainly crypto currencies, which have suffered a steep decline in recent months. The S&P 500 is now poised for its worst first half since 1970, six years before Patek introduced its first Nautilus (which retailed for $3,100 at the time).
Interest in collectible vintage watches spiked during the pandemic as consumers, flush with cash but stuck at home, parked funds in timepieces they lusted over online. Some investors who earned big returns in tech stocks and crypto currencies looked to pre-owned watches as the next hot asset class.
Prices for some Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet references more than doubled as new buyers piled into a market previously populated by staid collector and hobbyist. After Patek ended production of the 5711 reference Nautilus, prices for its most popular model soared ever higher.
Now, with tech stocks and crypto values getting pummeled and interest rates on the rise, some speculators are selling their timepieces again.
The online watch seller and trading platform has also created watch price indexes tracking specific brands, such as Omega, Cartier, as well as Tudor, the more budget-minded sister brand to Rolex. The data show pre-owned Omega watches have lost about 3% in 30 days, while the index of selected Cartier watches is up marginally, and Tudor prices are down about 1%.