Have you walked into a Rolex AD recently? We all see the photos online of empty cases and laugh, but have you actually seen it in person? Every time I do, I can’t help but wonder why. Is there even a real shortage or is it artificial? Does the dealer just have a stockpile in the back? Do brands like Rolex, Patek, and AP just not want to make money? Is there a struggle in the Swiss watch industry when it comes to manufacturing? And we all know the internet is full of speculation, disbelief, and honestly, a little bit of anger about the whole thing. But when we look into the topic of “why”, I think there’s a culprit that we just haven’t really considered yet - social media.
As an “older millennial”, I remember the beginning days of social media. We went from AOL chat rooms in middle school, to MySpace a few years later (some of you will never understand the struggle of creating the perfect MySpace layout or picking your Top 8) , followed by Facebook (called The Facebook at the time). Social Media was taking the world by storm. All of a sudden, you could interact with anyone you wanted from all over the world. Watch forums and Facebook Groups were soon to follow, as well as many of the watch blogs that we all continue to follow and read now. All of a sudden, watches weren’t this lonely world anymore. You could enjoy the hobby in ways that none of us could have ever imagined. And then came Instagram…
In just a few years, Instagram grew into the world’s leading social media, with the platform reaching 1 billion users in 2020. As the platform evolved, so did the niche corner of “watch Instagram”. We enthusiasts had a place to share watches like never before. No long threads in a forum to sort through, just quick and easy access to hundreds and thousands of watches, shoved into our faces on platforms that we have evolved our lives around. The “watch community” seemed to grow overnight, with watch forums and even in-person meetings like RedBar becoming more and more common. The watch world was changing. No longer did we have to walk into a watch shop to see watches. Buying our favorite watch magazines wasn’t necessary (though I have to admit I still subscribe to many of them). There was an entire world of watches available at our fingertips...and all we needed was cell phone service or a good Wi-Fi connection.
“So what does this have to do with the shortage of watches by brands like Rolex, Patek, and Audemars Piguet?” I’m so glad you asked. Think about it for a minute...Do you remember even as recently as 5 years ago when you could walk into a jeweler and buy a Submariner that day, at retail? Brands haven’t just quit producing these watches. Why would they? So what changed? The popularity of watches. Social media took what was an incredibly niche hobby and made it mainstream in a way that no one could have ever predicted. Search #rolex on Instagram and there are over 24 million posts! And that’s only one hashtag and one site. Social media has put watches in front of millions of our faces and we’re all just advertising for these brands for free.
The problem? Brands weren’t ready for that. In just a few years of mainstream social media and watch blogs, demand for watches has increased exponentially. And while official production numbers for many of our favorite watch brands remain unpublished, there is a practical limitation that I believe we can all understand when it comes to running a business. A harsh reality is that there’s no way to snap your fingers overnight and increase production tenfold to keep up with an unprecedented demand. Even more harsh, why should they? And why would you want them to? Yes I understand the frustration of waitlists and “flippers.” But I also understand that one of the things that makes these watches seem more special is the fact that not everyone has them so they hold their value. The guys complaining about these watches being “unobtanium” are the same ones who “would never buy ‘x’ watch because it tanks in value”. The reason, because they are mass-produced and it is simple supply and demand. This is just one of those situations where as much as we want to, we can’t have our cake and eat it too.
While this shortage caused by over-exposure has negatively affected some of the industry, other brands are booming. Check out this recent article discussing how other watch brands are benefiting from the shortage of certain models. And while we may never get our hands on the watches we lust after, we can always count on social media to give us some amazing alternatives that many of us would have never before considered. Yes, it may have ruined watches for some, but various platforms have also given new brands a fighting chance at discovery that 5-10 years ago would have never been possible. We’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize the success that social media has brought even to brands like ours. Among those millions of watch hashtags are tens of thousands of Rolex, Tudor, and Panerai watches fitted perfectly with our watch straps (click here and check out our collection).
I guess to sum it all up, social media isn’t going away. And honestly, neither is this shortage of popular timepieces. There really isn’t one single source to place blame for the shortage. Instead, we are all part of the problem. Every post or comment we make turns us into “influencers”, expanding awareness about the watches we already find so difficult to get to possibly thousands of new faces for discovery. But instead of focusing on the negatives and the frustrations, I would encourage you to use these platforms and be more involved in the watch community. Who knows, you may find a great alternative for that Submariner you can’t get your hands on. Or you might even discover something new...that’s the exciting (and scary for our wallets) thing about social media and the ease in which we can consume so much content, there’s always something else out there. No matter what, the #watchfam is the best in the world and even with the frenzy it has caused, it is all worth it.
By: K. Wells