Our own dr. Watch shares his ideas about the value and prices of watches. An interesting timing if we consider the second yearly price increase was just announced by Rolex and the Swiss National Bank promises to weaken the Swiss Franc.
It was at least 7-8 years ago that a watch collector told me he stopped collecting recent Swiss watches. German watches, vintage watches, OK, but the new products from the country of eternal bank secrecy and Heidi, no, just too darn expensive. At that moment, I thought of the average AP ROO (Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore), which was entangled in a fierce battle with the likes of the BP FB (Blancpain Flyback) and PP´s Nautilus to decide once and for all who was the most expensive in steel. I also thought shortly about the moment that I realized what a blessing the introduction of the Euro was for the sales of watches in the Euro zone: in the Netherlands a watch that seemed slightly overpriced at 10.500 Dutch Guilders was suddenly priced just below 5K Euro and that price already added some sneaky extra Euro´s… (5k Euro is equal to a little more that 11k Dutch Guilders).
It was also the time that Zenith was still considered an interesting brand for watch brands (hm, maybe it was even longer ago than 7-8 years…): the prices were very decent for a manufactured watch and the designs were appealing. After Nataf got his hands on it, their watches AND prices were beyond reason, but that’s not the topic of today. It seemed like the Swiss realized that the quartz crisis was really over and they were back in the game. What is more, they were leading the game and could change the rules during the match: the early examples of high-priced or just plain expensive watches as mentioned above have now almost blended into the crowd. Well, they created a league of their own, slightly out of reach for the others, as we can conclude today.
It was only a few weeks ago that respected journalist/blogger and watch collector Kristian Haagen asked his connections on Facebook if they could still understand the price of a steel Nautilus. He even owns one of these watches (I can’t judge it and wouldn’t wear one if they were a third of the historic price), so he has a right to ask. And why is Patek asking such outrageous prices for these watches, almost making you wonder if you’re looking at a platinum watch? The easy answer and semi-Obama-quote is: “because they can, yes, they can!”. Why can they produce watches that might be unsellable for everyone else and can sell them at stupefying prices? Why can they (I’m repeating myself, I know I wrote this before, but I still can’t get my head around it) ask 300K+ for a steel chronograph rattrapante watches? Because they can, yes, they can!
This is not just the usual suspect: when a friend of mine recently asked me if a certain Breitling had its own (he meant manufacture) movement, I had to tell him that not only was this not a manufacture movement, but it was one of the most basic movements in the industry (Breitling Calibre 17 is actually an ETA 2824) that can also be found in watches costing about 1/8 of the price of this Breitling. Sure, the parts have been polished and finished and decorated and it now reads Breitling all over the place, but it doesn’t justify the complete price difference.
Is this all in the marketing? Are consumers paying for the efforts of the brands to get so well known that people don’t tend to ask questions anymore about the ratio behind the price? Sure, partly. Are we paying for the investments in new movements and improvements on current models? Let’s hope that’s part of the price as well. Are we paying for the war against counterfeiting and parallel trade, mostly caused by people that are of course far from our inner circle of watch friends and enthusiasts (right?)? Probably. In any case, it doesn’t hurt to ask yourself, your retailer or a fellow watch freak from time to time why he thinks the price is reasonable, acceptable or maybe even inevitable. It might filter out the truly outrageous ones and teaches us something in the process.
In the end, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if someone simply has an expensive taste, who am I to say the watch of his choice is overpriced? All I´m saying is, watch brands should ask themselves from time to time if they can explain the price when a watch collector is puzzled. I´m quite sure there are many people in the trade, and I don´t mean only the brands mentioned above, who would have a hard time to justify the price tag on the watch they´re selling. In the end it´s only the consumer who will decide and he´ll vote with his wallet.