Unscrupulous retailers, unattainable watches: An open letter of despair about the watch worldTime+Tide
Editor’s note: We got this letter from a Time+Tide reader in Germany who was wracked with frustration and despair. He was writing in response to this article we ran last week about the negative impact of hype and high prices on watch collecting. Alessandro’s anguish was particularly directed at certain brands who, he feels, seem complicit in making it virtually impossible for the average enthusiast to buy some of the most in-demand watches.
Now, we appreciate that the notion of “luxury” is underpinned by the idea that demand must remain disproportionate to supply. We understand that scarcity is a tried-and-tested marketing principle. Nevertheless, this letter articulates the pain many watch lovers in the community actually feel. Brands may blithely shrug off such criticism – as Alessandro’s experience shows. But it’s worth acknowledging the depth of emotion here and how our own watch-buying habits may potentially even make us complicit.
This letter is for all those people who became enamored with the witchcraft of watches and fell in love with these intricate and mesmerising mechanisms and their world. For us, a watch tells much more than just the time. When we hold something like a Philippe Dufour Simplicity in our hands, we feel something which is impossible to describe: we’re not just experiencing a beautiful timepiece that verges on perfection. We’re witnessing the life of a man, and those of the thousands of watchmakers that came before him – their passion, their skillful dedication, their genius and expertise. We’re witnessing a tiny ticking testimony of humanity.
This sounds very idealistic, I know. But if we are not allowed to be idealistic when talking about art and poetry, then when? And watches can be art, and they can be poetry. But let’s not digress.
The point is that watches have the power to touch some people’s deepest chords, for a variety of reasons. And if these people are cut out of the picture by the market dynamics, with the silent and arrogant complicity of the companies responsible for the creation of some of the finest timepieces of our time, then I feel that something is going fundamentally wrong, and that this issue must be addressed.
Some of you may have noticed that there are models which are impossible to get at an AD for an average collector, even if you are a relatively good customer. And it’s not a matter of waiting time (which would be perfectly fine, especially when manufactured bottlenecks are real). You just can’t get them, regardless of how long you wait, unless something in the universe goes very wrong and your AD happens to have one and nobody else to sell the watch to.
Yet no matter how impossible it is for the average watch enthusiast to get such models, brand new pieces continue to appear for sale on the grey market, of course, at double, triple, quadruple the recommended retail price. Like with the new Patek 5990/1R, presented just a couple of months ago. At the time of writing there are 14 offerings on a well-known website, all asking for at least four times the retail price. And that is exactly the problem (or at least one of them): somehow many ADs have that special talent of selling the most lusted-after models to people who don’t care at all about the watches, but who just want to profit from them in the short term.
Who are the victims of that special talent? Not the manufacturers of the watches, not the ADs, and for sure not those parasites that buy today to flip tomorrow. No, the victims are the end customers, those watch addicts, who would dearly love to own that particular watch, wear it, cherish it, pass it on to their children one day. They can now no longer do that, unless they can afford and are willing to be robbed blind. If you ask me, this is deeply saddening. And you know what’s even sadder? That the watch brands don’t seem to care.
In one of my idealistic moments, I wrote to Patek Philippe asking what their opinion about the situation is, and whether they are considering doing something about it. After many weeks of waiting, I received an unfriendly, arrogant, impersonal reply, which had nothing to do with my questions, just a couple of standard empty marketing sentences. I know, the realists amongst you must now be thinking: “But of course! What were you expecting?” And they’d be right, of course. Nonetheless, I still had hope that they somehow care about us. Apparently they don’t.
For many, a watch is nothing more than a tiny tool that tells the time, as good as the clock on their iPhone. For others, it is just the umpteenth fashion accessory, used to complement one’s outfit with style. And while a watch is all those things, this letter in not for these people. It is for all of us, for whom a watch is art and history, ingenuity and craftsmanship, passion and dreams, a small piece of our story and that of broader humanity. I ask those people to come together, to find a way to save our community and our common passion, before it loses its soul and completes its transition into a shallow chasing of the latest superficial trend. And to the companies I ask to join us and to support us in this effort and, should they choose not to do so and instead continue to pretend that everything’s fine, then I’d suggest they at least change their advertisement slogan to “You never really own a Patek Phillippe, you merely look after it for the next deep-pocketed Chrono24 user”.
Alessandro G. Bottero