Is this pure coincidence? Indeed, four of the most iconic watches on the market currently are all being revamped within a few months. While it is certainly not new to see brands digging up pieces from their archives for new releases, what’s more surprising is to see products with notorious desirability or even waiting lists being discontinued. These highly successful watches are reimagined, while they certainly didn’t need to be revamped in order to ensure commercial success. Surely, emblematic models have always evolved to stay relevant. But there is more. Managing availability and exclusivity is key to fuel envy and to create desirability.
Managing the life cycle and the availability of such products is fundamental. Scarcity is the foundation of the very notion of luxury. Being – or staying – out of reach is exactly what has made the Patek Philippe Nautilus or Rolex’s professional steel watches at the top of the watch food chain for years. “It’s not enough to make the most beautiful watches in the world. I also have to make sure that they retain their value, and rarity is one of the keys to that.“ (Thierry Stern of Patek Philippe, to NZZ). In this respect, Patek Philippe could be right to discontinue the Nautilus 5711. The 5711 will enter the brand’s legend, while a new page is being written. “We are doing this for our clients who already own a Patek Philippe and to protect our brand from becoming too commercial… I am protecting the company for the future” (Thierry Stern to the New York Times).
Revamping a classic is a delicate undertaking. Brands need to update the design and specifications, while coincidentally retaining what makes the original watch so special. “They don’t make watches the way they used to” is a sentence you sometimes hear. But you shall not necessarily be wound tight in the grip of nostalgia. Modern mechanical watches are generally built with far better standards than decades ago. Technology and production techniques have improved so watches can last longer. In the words of Thierry Stern “discontinuing a model allows us to make something new again. We can’t just rest, we have to evolve and keep impressing people” (Thierry Stern to the New York Times).
Taking a close look at two of the most important recently updated icons, the Rolex Submariner and the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch, it is interesting to note that if the new versions are unmistakably true to the prevailing models, literally every part has been redesigned, rethought, modernized, optimized…
Last September, Rolex unveiled a new version of one of the most popular and sought-after luxury dive watches, the Submariner. If this new version of the Sub was long-awaited, the update of this icon born in the early 1950s was subtle. The main change is related to the new size of the watch, now 41mm in diameter versus 40mm in its previous generation (even though in reality, the increase is only about a few tenths of millimetres). But beyond the slightly larger dimension, countless details have been updated. In particular, the shapes and proportions of the case have evolved with more tapered lugs and a larger lug width. Last and most importantly, this refresh of the Submariner has been the opportunity for a mechanical upgrade. The reference 124060 is now equipped with the brand’s new generation of movements, replacing its calibre 3130 with the new calibre 3230, featuring a substantial list of improvements (including more efficient escapement, gear train, winding mechanism and barrel). Of course, these updates also concern the date models, with the same proportions and the calibre 3235.
In the same vein, Omega’s most emblematic watch has been revamped earlier this year. The big news with the new Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional is that it is now powered by the new Master Chronometer Calibre 3861. Fitted with a co-axial escapement, this modern movement is chronometer-certified within the specifications defined by METAS (+0 /+5 seconds per day) and it has the remarkable ability to withstand magnetic fields up to 15,000-gauss. This major boost inside also comes with notable design updates. Almost every single element of the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional Master Chronometer is new… but (thankfully) it still very much looks like a Moonwatch. A subtle visual evolution but significant technical upgrade.
The upcoming revamped icons
The rumour was running in the industry for some time. Still, many were surprised to learn that the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 would be discontinued. The brand’s purest expression of the steel luxury sports watch with integrated bracelet, the direct descendant of the reference 3700 introduced in 1976, is simply one of the most (if not the most) coveted watches in the world. The Nautilus 5711 will be part of Patek’s past soon. But what raises speculations now is what the successor (or successors) of the iconic Nautilus will look like? In the words of Thierry Stern, “The replacement to the Ref. 5711 will be quite major. It will be better than the Ref. 5711,” but in the meantime, a farewell model has been launched, the Olive Green Nautilus 5711, which will be around for only a limited period of time, and as you can imagine, with very limited availability.
Last but not least, as announced recently by its CEO François-Henry Bennahmias, Audemars Piguet is about to discontinue an absolute horological icon, the Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin. The 15202ST will be replaced next year, as we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the collection. In 1972, Gerald Genta and Audemars Piguet created with the Royal Oak a model that defined a genre, which has never seemed more relevant, the luxury sports watch with integrated bracelet. Now comes the wait for these revamped icons…