These days, nearly everything seems hard to find. Rolex watches all have multi-year waiting lists, a bottle of Blanton’s bourbon is virtually non-existent at a consumer-retail level, and just about two years ago, people were legitimately hoarding toilet paper on a national level. In regards to the watch industry, retail availability for many top models is already an issue, but exacerbating the hype seems to be the fact that half of the new releases these days are limited edition watches, where buyers immediately rush to buy them, and half of the examples end up listed on the secondary market.
I completely understand why people try to secure their favorite limited edition models. However, when so many different watches seem to all be limited editions, and when even a significant portion of the non-limited models cannot be easily obtained at a retail level, does the term “limited edition” actually still mean anything anymore?
The Significance of a Limited Edition Watch
The significance of a limited edition watch is obvious: it adds exclusivity. Rarely is something desirable if it is truly infinitely available, and limited edition watches give owners the ability to say that they have something a bit more special than the everyday standard-production model. Additionally, limited editions also give brands the opportunity to organically produce a specific watch without having to make it part of their core collection.
Most importantly, limited edition watches also give people a better ability to track the general market demand for them. For example, if a major brand only makes 250 examples of a specific watch and that same model does not sell out within the first several weeks, then that is a pretty good indicator to all collectors that there aren’t all that many people interested in that specific model. Alternatively, if you know some brand produced 10,000 examples of a watch, and you only ever see a couple listed for sale at any given time on the secondary market, then that is a good sign that people like holding onto those watches, and don’t often let them go once they manage to find them.
Image: Bob’s Watches
When Everything Is a Limited Edition
Now, where things begin to fall apart is when everything starts to seem like a limited edition. Some brands like Omega and Oris produce so many different limited edition watches each year that it's hard for any one single release to feel all that special. Additionally, other major luxury brands like Panerai and Hublot seem to have nearly all of their models produced as limited editions, regardless of whether that number is a couple hundred or several thousand pieces.
On top of that, even some of the non-limited edition watches are now feeling like limited editions. No one can easily get their hands on a stainless steel Rolex sports watch at retail, and other highly desirable models such as the new Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch with the Caliber 321 movement or virtually any Patek Philippe Nautilus or Aquanaut model cannot be purchased without either a multi-year wait or a stellar relationship with your local authorized retailer. Therefore, when even the non-limited edition watches are unavailable at a retail level, the fact that one might only exist in a specific number does little to make it seem all that much more special.
Cash Grab or Transparent Production?
A lot of people who are opposed to limited edition watches simply see them as thinly-veiled cash grabs on the part of the manufacturers. Producing a watch in a limited quantity is an easy way to fuel hype, and when resellers feel that there is a profit to be made, they often buy up available examples to sell on the open market at a premium. For the brand producing the watch, this is nothing but a good thing. While they might have to deal with a few genuine fans who are a bit annoyed that they weren’t able to buy a watch for themselves, the brand also immediately sold-out of all of its available watches, making the limited edition model an undeniable commercial success.
However, another reason for producing limited edition watches might be to add some transparency to an otherwise rather murky side of the industry. Technically speaking, every single watch could be considered a “limited edition” model, simply because nothing is produced indefinitely. Even some Rolex models that stick around for decades at a time are limited in number once they get discontinued. Therefore, if a brand knows that it only plans on making 3,000 examples of a specific watch (whether that is by choice or due to a lack of confidence that more examples could be sold), publicly stating the intended production number isn’t necessarily a reason to criticize the company.
I think a big part of people’s objection to the concept of limited edition watches is the availability issues that it creates due to flippers and resellers trying to make a quick profit on the secondary market. However, at the same time, it’s also hard not to see at least some merit in the concept of publicly-known production quantities for certain popular watch models. Regardless of your stance on limited edition timepieces, it’s undeniable that the term “limited edition” has lost at least a little bit of its impact in recent years, and there are some times when it can even feel as though there are more limited edition watches than non-limited models.