With more and more watch brands, particularly independents, popping up every year, limited edition watches are in abundance. The semantics behind terms like “limited edition”, “limited production”, and “special edition” are interesting from a marketing perspective, but I won’t bore you with those details. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll use “limited edition” to describe any watch that’s restricted in either production time or number of units made. Bonus points to brands who disclose those exact values.
Why Limited Edition Watches are Special
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Knowing that limited editions won’t live on indefinitely, brands have room to experiment and take risks. These changes can be aesthetic, mechanical, or a combination of both. Take Brew’s new collaboration with Worn & Wound for example. This limited edition Metric eliminates the central hour hand in favor of a 24-hour subdial at 2:30: a functionally different watch from all other Metrics.Sometimes limited editions simply opt for a different dial color, breathing new life into an existing model. Monta did this earlier in 2023 with the mint Noble (above): a fun summer-inspired refresh to a 3-year-old model. Limited edition watches can be a cool way for a brand to spruce up their catalog. However, there are a few things to keep in mind – from both consumer and brand perspectives – when considering limited edition watches.
Keep Limited Edition Watches Limited
This may sound obvious, but the appeal of limited editions lies in their scarcity: not just the number of watches made, but the number of limited editions run. British car company McLaren is often ridiculed for having too many limited editions. They routinely release 5+ versions of the same car, sometimes within just one trim level (e.g. the 6 “special editions” within the 570S base trim level). I’ve even heard them described as “the Taco Bell of supercar companies”, referring to their large selection of fundamentally similar products. This type of oversaturation reduces the value of limited editions. When you know they’re a dime a dozen, there’s less urgency to buy: less FOMO.
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On the other end of the spectrum, we have brands like Rolex who never release numbered (or otherwise measurably restricted) limited editions. In fact, there are only three examples of numbered limited editions in Rolex’s history, the last of which being the Cellini Ref. 3612 in 1971 (above). While Rolex should be the last brand looking into (additional) manufactured scarcity, a limited edition Rolex would surely be the hottest watch of the year.
Limited editions, like everything, are best done in moderation. If you do too many, they lose their value. If you don’t do any, you probably have a good reason for it (e.g. Rolex’s entire catalog being effectively limited by design). The most beloved, and often most successful limited edition watches, appear few and far between. They incorporate something new: an element that justifies a special release. When done right, a limited edition should win over a buyer who’s otherwise on the fence, or even out of the market.
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