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Showing posts from 2021

The Swiss Diaspora in America

Let's play a word association game, watch idiot savant style. I'll offer a word and try to anticipate your response. Bern? I'm guessing Switzerland, or Rolex, comes to mind. Geneva? Maybe you're thinking about the stripes on a movement, or the seal that's a hallmark of quality in watchmaking. Moser? I'm betting you might pull up the Instagram account of H. Moser or recall some of their vanta black dials. Baumgartner? Maybe this won't prompt any particular response, but for aficionados of the Urwerk brand it's almost guaranteed that Felix Baumgartner comes to mind. He's the watchmaker, and co-founder, of the manufacturer. I'm even more confident that, in response to any of these prompts, almost no watch enthusiast would think of the state of Indiana (located in midwest farmland of the United States). The Star Press, Feb 3, 1936. But what about this newspaper clip dated February 3, 1936 from The Star Press out of Muncie, Indiana?

Sorting the Novel Assortments

This is a short note on one of the more important recent innovations in horology. It pertains to the assortment, which is a collection of parts regulating the release of energy from a watch's mainspring. In detail, the assortment consists of the escape wheel, balance wheel, hairspring, anchor lever (usually) and pallet stones. I've now seen two similar, and major, innovations in this portion of a watch mechanism. I was initially confused about the similarities and differences between these two mechanisms, so I thought I would briefly outline them. Two watches represents the start of a potential trend, so this is probably worth doing. In 2017, Zenith announced the Defy Lab, a watch (pictured here with a black strap) featuring the wholesale replacement of a traditional assortment with an oscillating wafer of silicon (see picture). Top: Zenith Defy Inventor, Bottom Left: Zenith Lab,Zenith Bottom Right: Silicon Oscillator Credit: Zenith The price of this reference, ava

Absolving Quartz

Fables are amazing, powerful things. They take on a life of their own. They can play the role of social glue, binding a community together in shared understanding and belief. Fables can become so convincing that a community might become confused and start to treat fables as facts. This is particularly likely when a fable is built around a skeleton of facts, as is the case of the "quartz crisis" fable. The facts in this fable are as follows: in 1969 Seiko released the first quartz watch (the Astron 35SQ). The quartz movement of the Seiko Astron. The fable hanging off these facts: due to the high accuracy and low cost of this innovation, the Swiss mechanical watch industry experienced a downward spiral. Numerous brands folded and innumerable jobs were lost. I've retold this fable myself, taking it as factual. This week, though, I started reading some scholarship on the events of the 1970s, the period over which quartz reputedly claimed most of its victims.

The Shared Responsibility for Flipping

I've been an outspoken critic of flipper hate. A brief reminder: flipping is defined as a situation where a person buys a highly desirable watch at its retail price and then resells it, soon thereafter, at a higher price. As a result, the flipper earns a return on the timepiece. Flipping is the inevitable consequence of multiple decisions in watch markets. First is the fact that a manufacturer has set the retail price too low. As soon as this happens, rationing takes place: the demand for a watch model exceeds the available supply. Manufacturer contributions to flipping. As a result, some collectors are (possibly) left scrambling to get the watch. Are collectors responsible for setting the stage in this manner? So far, the answer is no. Brands set the retail price and decide how many watches they will manufacture. Now, let's turn to a collector who flips. Keep in mind that "flipping" is exactly why finance-types take a long position in an asset (f

Rolex Racing Bar Graph

I've shared this infographic a couple times on Instagram but I wanted to offer it here as well. It might, perhaps, present better. I also think it is so neat that I decided to share it in a few places online. I'm offering a video I made of a "racing bar chart" of manufacturer prices for 60 Rolex references over 64 years. I used an online list of AD pricing, adjusted for inflation, to generate this. I learned two things: first, Rolex seems to employ a "rabbit" pricing model. Infrequently, there are references (usually in precious metals) that are released that are an order of magnitude more expensive than what has come before. This seems to set the stage for subsequently rapid price increases for the more accessible references in the catalogue. I use the term "rabbit" pricing to describe this phenomenon because athletic races of different sorts will often hire a "rabbit." This is a racer who goes flat out at the start of the rac

Does Watch Design Innovation Require Shortages and Waitlists?

I was on a recent Clubhouse chat which, nominally, was about today's Tag Heuer X Hodinkee release. To set the stage, these collaborators announced the Carrera 'Dato' Limited Edition For HODINKEE reference CBK221D.FC6479. The watch was available in a limited run of 250 examples and priced at $7,250. My use of past tense is not an error. The watch promptly sold out in three minutes and I'm sure, any day now, we'll see how much the flippers profit from the shortage on the secondary market. A prominant collector and artist was in the Clubhouse room and expressed the sentiment that, while reissues are obviously well-received by the market, the lack of design innovation is disappointing. I see his point and agree with it. There is a flourishing space of design innovation among a certain class of brands. Most notably, independent brands and microbrands are arguably at the forefront of design innovation. We also see design innovation among established brands su

The Preowned Balancing Act

Why does anyone buy a brand new Swiss watch from an authorized dealer? There are certain "obvious" answers, such as Rolex, Patek and their ilk, wherein the market price of a preowned watch is well above retail. If you buy at retail, the AD is effectively giving you money. But I'd like to look at some other brands, where the answer is not as obvious. Take, for example, the Longines Hydroconquest reference L37414966. The Longines Hydroconquest on the grey market. This is a 39mm automatic blue dialed dive watch with rotating bezel and date complication on a steel bracelet. The watch runs off an ETA 2892 based movement with a long 64 hour power reserve. The retail price for this timepiece is $1,275. The watch is available new, on the grey market (Jomashop), for $895, a 30% discount. Watchrecon finds this reference available from a private seller for $610, which is more than a 50% discount from the retail price. Carfax claims that a new car typically depreciates

Gender Theory in the Watch Industry

There is growing understanding that the watch industry has an opportunity to improve when it comes to the issue of gender. Cara Barrett recently published a piece for Hodinkee which sheds important light on this subject. Here, I'd like to offer some additional thoughts. Fashion, and the watch industry, reminds me of myself, circa 2011. At that point, I'd worked for the US Navy for about a decade. The "don't ask, don't tell" policy was still in place, which meant we existed in a vacuum when it came to certain issues, issues that many outside our sphere were actively discussing and advancing. A photo shared online by Matt Radick the day DADT ended. The policy meant the military wouldn't ask members about gender attraction and members wouldn't reveal their gender attraction in conversation (or otherwise). In practice, it silenced a lot of discussion about aspects of gender in society. "Don't ask, don't tell" officially ende

Ethical Complications in the Watch Industry

It's July 14, 2017 and I'm standing on a sidewalk outside of the Cipriani ballroom on 42nd Street in New York City. The rain is pouring down. Fortunately, I arrived early enough that I have a spot under a temporary awning set up by Patek Phillipe as part of their Grand Exhibition. I snap a photo of the entrance as I wait. Thierre Stern outside the 2017 Grand Exhibition in NYC Three years later, as I write this piece, I'm realizing that I captured a shot of CEO Thierry Stern taking a smoke break before the exhibition opens in ten minutes. I vaguely recognize a kid waiting in line in the group ahead of me. I can't place him, but I feel like I've seen him on YouTube or maybe heard about him on a podcast. He's a budding expert on watch collecting. Wristie of my Steinhart OVM en route to the Grand Exhibition He turns around and his eyes get big after he takes a look at my wrist. "Is that a ....?!" I stop him before he can build momentum.

Catch Them if You Can: Fiat in Watchmaking

The movie Catch Me if You Can  was released in 2002.  It is a dramatization of Frank Abagnale's early life, a counterfeiter who forged checks.  He posed as a Pan Am pilot to get away with his ruse. Frank Abagnale's earliest known run-in with authorities in June, 1965. Abagnale was eventually caught, prosecuted and imprisoned.  Eventually he worked for the FBI in order to help them catch counterfeiters.  Abagnale believes "the vast majority of fraudsters and criminals get caught, not because of good police work, but because they continue doing the same thing over and over again until someone notices.  Criminals are not as bright as people think and their greed motivates them totally."  What does counterfeit and crime have to do with the watch industry?  Counterfeiting of watches is a well-known topic (and a subject of another post coming soon).  I'm not interested in that particular subject here.  Instead, I would like to discuss why currency counterfeit is crim

Watch Media Revenue in Context

Recently I asked to join a watch enthusiast slack channel. My request was denied. I won't name names, but they told me I am "old media" and old media was not welcome. New York Times newsroom, 1942 This response came as something of a surprise to me. First, I've only been writing about the watch industry for about a year, maybe a little bit longer than that. I have received some compensation for doing so as a freelancer, but these days, almost all of my creative activity is published for free. I don't have any advertisements on my blog. For these reasons, I was surprised that I might have a reputation as old media. The episode also brought me to consider the nature of watch media. Is there really an "old" and "new" watch media? What does that mean? Among the watch community, there is an ongoing discussion of whether watch media are presenting the information needed by collectors and enthusiasts. There is a low rumble of di