Despite the fact that people have different tastes and preferences, there are certain watches that seem to be on everyone’s wish list. Collectively known as “hype watches” due to the insane popularity and overwhelming demand that surrounds them, these timepieces are virtually unattainable at a retail level and frequently trade hands for steep premiums on the secondary market.
At first glance, it would appear as though nearly all watch collectors have similar tastes, and that these fan-favorite models are highly representative of what the general watch enthusiast population actually enjoys. However, when you consider that a group of humans can’t even agree on pizza toppings, it starts to seem rather unlikely that everyone genuinely gravitates towards the exact same timepieces. Therefore, I can't help but wonder if people actually even like hype watches, or if it's all just… hype?
Everyone Wants the Exact Same Watches
It’s inevitable that some things in life will be more popular than others (for example, pepperoni is more popular than pineapple when it comes to pizza toppings), but rarely do you see the distribution of popularity as asymmetric as it is among luxury watches. If the average person were to take a quick look at the current watch collecting landscape, it would appear as though everyone is interested in the same half a dozen brands, and they are all trying to purchase the exact same handful of models from each one.
These “hype watches” garner the lion’s share of the attention on social media, and nearly all of them - including a $260 plastic (sorry, Bioceramic) Swatch - are unavailable at retail, meaning that in order to obtain them, people typically need to buy one from a reseller on the secondary market and pay a steep premium to above their original brand-new price. Most of the contemporary hype watches fall into one of two categories: classic watches with universal appeal and unconventional designs that capitalize on their hype-driven demand.
Image: Worn & Wound
Classic Watches with Universal Appeal
The first category of timepieces that can frequently become hype watches is fairly easy to understand. Well-made wristwatches with classic designs and versatile sets of features can often be highly popular simply because they offer a significant amount of universal appeal. Rolex excels in this particular category, which is possibly why so many of its timepieces are regarded as hype watches, with virtually all of them now having some type of waiting lists at authorized retailers and boutiques.
With that in mind it’s easy to see why so many people genuinely love Rolex. Not only is the brand one of the most famous luxury manufacturers in the entire world, but iconic models such as the Datejust and Submariner offer timeless designs and practical sets of features that appeal to a wide variety of different potential buyers. There is almost certainly a bit of herd mentality responsible for the insane popularity of certain Rolex models - particularly its famous stainless steel sports watches - but given their widespread appeal and practical features, it's also easy to see why there is hype for them in the first place.
Image: Bob’s Watches
Unconventional Designs and Hype-Driven Demand
The second category of timepieces that can often become hype watches are the ones with bold or unconventional designs that offer a distinct visual impact. While they will likely appeal to fewer people than more traditionally-styled watches, the simple fact that they look entirely unlike any other timepieces can create a positive feedback loop of popularity should the watch ever catch the attention of collectors and enthusiasts.
A perfect example of an unconventional design being responsible for a watch’s hype is the Cartier Crash. While it is undeniably striking, I sincerely doubt the majority of people out there legitimately prefer the Crash’s unusual “melted” case shape over one of the brand’s more traditional designs such as the Tank or Santos. In fact, the Cartier Crash has existed since 1967 and it has only recently seen a surge in popularity after a number of high-profile celebrities including Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Tyler, The Creator were spotted wearing it. Don’t get me wrong, the Cartier Crash is an absolutely lovely watch, but I just can’t see this many people legitimately wanting one if it had not been for all of the recent hype.
Image: Boss Hunting
Huge Profits for Dealers and Flippers
At the end of the day, whether or not people actually like hype watches is entirely irrelevant because they are definitely still buying them. As long as demand exceeds supply, there will always be people willing to pay a premium, and this ultimately means big profits for dealers and flippers. Certain Patek Philippe watches can be purchased at retail and immediately turned around and resold for a six-figure profit. When there is so much money on the line, people start to think of watch collecting as a business and this can often destroy it as a hobby for others.
We now live in a world where you can’t get a Rolex watch at retail without spending time on a waiting list, but that isn’t because there are that many people out there who actually want to own and wear them. It’s an amusing exercise to think about how many people would be lined up to buy a Rolex Daytona if they couldn’t sell it for a profit and actually had to keep it and wear it - just like you’re supposed to do when you buy a watch.
Humans can hardly agree on anything, yet a significant majority of watch enthusiasts seem to all be attracted to the same few models. It’s certainly possible that people are just getting caught up in the herd mentality of collector culture, but given how divided we can sometimes be as a species, I’m just happy that we can all agree that the Patek Philippe Nautilus is a great watch.