Recently, the Washington Post published a report about a shift in paradigm with ultra-luxe consumers who at one time only sported highly visible status-conscious labels. Now, they are regarded as “a little trashy” shoppers were quoted as saying. Instead, the story goes, consumers eschew logo-stamped products plastered with names like Van Cleef & Arpels, Prada, Gucci or Luis Vuitton.
No Attention Please
My, how things have changed. In the world of luxury goods, manufacturers may have relied wholly on name recognition to push their brand to the fore. Status minded consumers happily participated in prominently flaunting logos believing it added a certain snob-value to their own identity. But the recent disinterest toward blatant self -promotion visible on couture goods has already been observed with the serious timepiece crowd. Knowledgeable, cultivated and affluent, the last thing savvy watch collectors want is attention focused on themselves. They are the rare watch connoisseur.
Bona fide rare timepieces are those of the highest manufacture and artistic merit, with discreet complications, often advanced technology, and crafted in limited editions.
People have been interested in knowing what time it is for eons. The earliest form of timekeeping was a sundial created in Egypt around 1450 BC. By the mid 16th century, countless expert watchmakers were busy in Switzerland. The phrase Swiss-made watch still denotes a fine timekeeping instrument. But inexpensive battery-operated fashion watches have become so cheap that people often toss their watch when its battery goes kaput.
Still a robust market exists for haute horology sending prices soaring into the six figures. That’s because rare watches have complications that enthrall both the novice and seasoned collector. An advanced, albeit discreet, technology is also a potent draw for aficionados. But not every fan can play the game. Only those with deep resources make the leap from admirer to high watch collector.
Watch expert Andrew Block understands haute-horology and its dedicated enthusiasts. He draws on 30 years experience in luxury brand management as president of California-based Stephen Silver Boutique where he curates a collection of rare watches. “It’s not an inexpensive passion, but a rewarding one that develops over time,” Block finds. “We’re talking about the finest examples of craftsmanship and art. Once you develop a passion for any art, you never loose it. With fine timepieces, the highest forms of watch making are true works of art.”
Today’s discerning collector appreciates cutting-edge technology inherent to luxury timepieces, especially when they themselves are in a related field. Discreet complications resonate with venture capitalists and tech-culture scions. Extraordinarily wealthy, they have no intention of flaunting it, however. The owner is usually the only one who knows how the watch performs.
Authority Alexis Sarkissian, CEO, Totally Worth It, has tracked the evolution of rare watches on a global scale. Even first time collectors are an educated set, he says. “More and more novices enter the world of haute horlogerie. In the US especially, consumers educate themselves via the internet’s multiple outlets. My favorite resources are still great salespeople with the passion and faith to share their craft.” One cannot overstate the value of knowledgeable personnel, Sarkissian believes. “Service replaces all the discounts in the world. These professionals will follow you on your collecting journey whether you own one or 50 timepieces.”
Limited edition watches fascinate collectors who understand their discreet complications. DEVON timepieces deliver a patented system known as interwoven Time Belts™. The Ressence, with liquid under its crystal has no crown stem to wind. Instead, the functions happen on the reverse of the case. Laurent Ferrier is the only brand offering a double spiral tourbillon for enhanced security and accuracy. Both of these brands are produced in very small editions of between 50 to 100 pieces annually. Girard Perregaux Chrono Hawk Hollywoodland pays homage to its namesake while boasting self-winding manufactured calibre with visible oscillating weight. Roger Dubouis’ skeleton tourbillon exhibits dynamic depth of field. Parmigiani Fleurier’s 21 house calibres are the basis of the brand’s success today.
“The coolest development in visual complications comes from the guys at Ressence working on a novel way to display time,” Sarkissian informs. “Their elegant, extremely comfortable case houses a beautiful, original and complicated mechanism presenting time in a completely new way with no crown. The time rotates around the dial 360° while being very legible.” Top watchmakers are returning to core values of craftsmanship with some inner improvements. “Laurent Ferrier demonstrates that principal,” he says.
Each manufacturer’s creations are distinct, but the appeal seems skewed towards the male sensibility. “Rare watches are mainly a male thing,” Sarkissian discovered. “Laurent Ferrier developed the Galet Micro-Rotor with natural escapement in a lady’s model. The response in the US to the lady’s version has been lukewarm whereas the man’s model is in great demand. This trend is shared by just about all brands.” The majority of female high-end collectors prefer quartz, brand recognition, plus an association with couture jewelry. Block concurs. “Women focus on fashion and style. Women truly understand the entire concept of accessorizing - collecting watches for women goes beyond artistry.”
What territory remains unconquered for these timekeepers? “It may not be limited to the number of functions per watch,” Block considers, “but rather an innovative combining of complications never seen before. It may be utilizing new materials in combination with new technology. Smart watches are the next frontier to remain a relevant category for a younger demographic of luxury consumer.”