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Vapor Waitlist

This isn't a post I really wanted to write or share. The reason: it involves a brand I admire and respect. Some readers might decide that what I write here casts a negative light on that brand. At the end of the day, when I see information that just doesn't make sense, I feel obliged to comment on it regardless of whether it might ruffle a few feathers. I just feel a responsibility in that regard when it comes to readers and subscribers. It is important to me that the state of the watch market is truthfully known. As a side note: I'm going to soon post another story about the brand in question that highlights a neat achievement on their part, so please stay tuned.

Ok, so here we go. Last week, a story in Bloomberg claimed that watch brand Zenith now has wait lists that are similar to those seen at Rolex and Patek Philippe. To set the stage: buyers have recently waited months or years for certain models from Rolex, Patek, and Audemars Piguet (among others).

The Bloomberg story named a specific watch design that supposedly has a wait list: the Chronomaster Sport. Personally, I love this watch and I do believe it sold well for Zenith. But I simply do not believe that it has a wait list and I'd like to explain why.

A waitlist means there is a shortage. Waitlists and shortages necessarily mean that on the pre-owned market a watch will carry a price above the official retail price. The reason? People on the waitlist get tired of waiting and they pay current owners of the watch above retail in order to induce them to sell. We've seen this over and over with Submariners, Royal Oaks and Nautili. It's basically equivalent to paying a scalper more than the ticket price so that you can attend a concert by a hot artist.

A screenshot of preowned listings for the Chronomaster Sport. It was priced below retail on the day of the Bloomberg story.
I checked Chrono24 soon after the Bloomberg story dropped and you could buy a Chronomaster Sport for around $8,000, which is well below the retail price. This is strike one for the Bloomberg story. Let's turn to the next strike.

A day or two after the Bloomberg story, Topper Jewelers sent me an email stating that Zenith models were back in stock (I subscribe to their email distribution list, the timing of the Bloomberg story and the email I received is also curious). Topper is a Zenith authorized dealer on the west coast of the United States. I visited their web page and it turns out you could add a Chronomaster Sport to your shopping cart and click checkout (a screen recording of me doing just that is below). That is not consistent with a months-long or yearlong waitlist. Sure, Topper might have had a few people on their list, but it just couldn't have been very long (or exist at all) if inventory was available online. About 48 hours later and you can still buy these watches on Topper's web page (in fact, you can also buy the second design mentioned in the Bloomberg story but I digress). So, that is two strikes.

Really, this is enough to show that the Bloomberg story is, at minimum, exaggerated and even potentially false. The third strike for me was the DMs I exchanged with a number of extremely knowledgeable people in the watch industry. We're talking a GPHG jury member and the like. To a one, they stated the Bloomberg story was false (I will grant there was someone I highly respect who stated there were "no reasons to doubt" the claim but I hadn't shared my reasons yet).

This is where the greatest risk lies for any watch brand. If information about your brand is sussed out as false by knowledgeable collectors, you stand to lose them as buyers. Sure, you might reel in uniformed buyers who think they can buy a Chronomaster Sport at the retail price and flip it for a tidy $3,000 return (or whatever). Those buyers will feel burned, though, when they find out that their watch actually lost value the moment they walked out of the boutique. A brand really risks losing buyers of all stripes when these kinds of highly inaccurate stories circulate.

I don't know exactly how this inaccurate / false information about waitlists was born. The reality is that brands relying on distribution through authorized dealers do not always know the true state of play at the consumer touchpoint because they do not directly interact with buyers very often. However, it is clear that some skepticism regarding wait list claims is in order.

NB I wrote Bloomberg and stated my concerns with their article but they did not reply. At least one additional story about supposed waitlists for Zenith references are now circulating, but the models in question are still readily available at multiple online retailers.
My book on the history of Rolex marketing is now available on Amazon! It debuted as the #1 New Release in its category. You can find it here.

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