We live in a time where we want to be more deliberate in choosing the watches we buy, at least that is the kind of observation I’ve made through my work interviewing brand owners and collectors. More than ever, we want to buy watches that mean something special to us, and in order for watches to mean something, they have to have a history of their own. I’d bet there are more people buying a Rolex Explorer 1 nowadays because of its connection to mountaineering than there were 60 years ago. However, Rolex, as a brand, sometimes frustrates customers because its watches are hard to get and their price keeps increasing. The question is: should you buy an Explorer 1 despite all of this?
Emotions & Watch Collecting
While there are a few who buy certain watches because it gives them a certain sense of success or status, I’d bet that most watch collectors (and especially the ones you don’t hear about in the media) buy watches because they feel a connection to them. It’s an inexplicable feeling that one has when seeing a particular watch for the first time—and one could argue that it is similar to feeling love at first sight with another human being. Although the watch could be imperfect, too big or too small, powered by a lesser quality movement or just too expensive to buy, we do feel a certain attraction to it and we really want to get it. (Check out this article for great thoughts about this.)
This attraction goes beyond rational thinking and it is what brings us to making certain purchases. I for one buy watches I feel drawn to and not because they are particularly well-made or expensive. I need to have a connection to them. We can experience similar emotions towards a car, a house, or clothes. They might not be perfect but they look good to us and feel good to wear. Buying watches is therefore a highly emotional process which we often glance over. These emotions play an important role in our decision to pull the trigger on a specific watch, regardless of the brand name or what others may think of it.
How Do Brands Get Their Reputation
To make this argument short, let’s focus on a few key houses of horology that we are all familiar with: Rolex, Omega, and Tudor. Without trying to generalize or dumb things down, it is fair to say that these brands have made a name for themselves because at some point in history they invented something that changed horology, or because they have produced constant innovations that have granted them a certain status. Rolex, for example, has repeatedly broken records for, let’s say, manufacturing the watch that broke all previous records for underwater exploration. Or Omega for engineering a watch that could operate on the surface of the Moon.
These are solid accomplishments that make these brands deserve having a special reputation. When all of these remarkable accomplishments were achieved, the watches in question had a stronger toolish aspect that they no longer have now. They weren’t made of proprietary materials or with precious metals. Which meant that these watches cost much less 50 years ago than they do now. (A Rolex Submariner sold in the 60s could be had for $1,250 in today’s money, adjusted for inflation.) The fact that an iconic watch like the Submariner now costs six times this amount, begs the question whether it is still worth it buying it today.
Globally, all of the giant Swiss brands have continued to innovate, and because everything costs more now than it did in the past, their watches are more expensive today than they were several decades ago. And certain models have become so popular that they are almost impossible to get. Yes, I’m talking again about Rolex which has gained a reputation for being for a certain type of person only—someone with deep pockets and very good connections to an Authorized Dealer. But should any of this matter when looking at the watch for what it is, whether or not these rumors are true? Should our feelings towards our grail watch be tarnished because of a series of decisions that have led a brand to now be inaccessible to the masses?
Final Thoughts: Does Any of This Matters?
It shouldn’t. As we saw above, watch collecting is an emotional endeavor and it is difficult enough already to figure out what type of watch we are drawn to the most, how much we can afford to spend on a watch, without adding on top of the question of “Should I care about what the brand’s marketing strategies the past two decades have been?” or “What are people going to say about me for buying this one?” At the core of it, watch collecting should be fun and we should do what makes us happy. Life is complicated enough as it is and we shouldn’t be making our watch buying decisions more difficult than they should.
The Submariner stood for something very specific when it was first released in the 50s: underwater exploration. The fact that now it is made of white gold and costs $9,000 shouldn’t, in theory, remove the meaning of the watch. True, it would be nice if it still cost $1,250, however, that’s how things are now and that is true for everything: the better a product is, the more expensive it becomes. In a sense, then, Rolex keeps innovating by making better movements, using better materials, and making watches more accurate than ever before. And the same argument could be made a of the $100 Seiko 5: it’s a legitimate piece of time keeping that is worth its asking price.
Featured image: https://millenarywatches.com