What is a hype watch? Dissecting the horological phenom What is a hype watch? Dissecting the horological phenom

What is a hype watch? Dissecting the horological phenom

Adam Reeder

“Hype” is one of the most ubiquitous terms in watch collecting. It’s right up there with words like “iconic” and “Ouch! I just pricked my hand with this watch tool!”. On the surface, the definition of a hype watch may seem obvious. However, ask three different collectors, and you may get just as many different answers on what constitutes hype. Therefore, we’ve taken on the burden of answering the (not so) age-old question of “what is a hype watch?” once and for all. So, here goes nothing.

“Hype”, as defined by Webster’s dictionary… Just kidding. The best place to start is probably with the most obvious and commonly used definition. For that, I’ll refer to something I heard during indulging in my second guiltiest pleasure, which is watch community live streams on YouTube. Don’t ask about my first. You’d never look at me the same again.

Let’s talk about flex

Audemars piguet royal oak chronograph yellow gold 7

A panel member on one of these streams (you know who you are) often uses a phrase that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. I don’t know if he coined it himself, but if he did he’s a genius. He said that a “hype watch” is defined by how likely it is to win an “elevator flex war”. “What’s an elevator flex war?”, you ask. Essentially, if two people are in an elevator (assuming they don’t have identical watches), whichever timepiece most effectively communicates “I have more money, power, prestige, or all three than you” wins said flex war.

This is probably the broadest definition of hype because it includes both watch nerds and non-watch nerds alike. For example, if two watch nerds are in an elevator with a civilian, and one of them has a Rolex, how many hours does it take the train to reach Kansas City? Wait. I lost my train of thought, and it became an actual train. The point is that a Rolex will always perform well in an elevator flex war due in part to its extensive pop culture presence – the brand basically has its own wing in the hall of hype.

The second most successful elevator flex war watch, known by many on the periphery of the watch world, is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. That’s probably why it’s so popular with celebrities. Using definition A as a barometer, any Rolex and any AP Royal Oak model would be some of the hypiest hype watches of all. Richard Mille may be a close third, though I would argue that RM doesn’t quite have the broad brand cache yet of Rolex or AP. Hype, by this definition, is all about perception and brand recognition to the widest audience. If, like me, you define a hype watch as one that impresses others by the sheer mention of the brand or model, then you subscribe to definition A.

Playing hard to get

swatch omega moonswatch mission to uranus

Others argue that definition A lacks nuance and unfairly categorises the supplicants… I mean fans, of the above brands as shameless hypebeasts. They opine that their definition of a hype watch, let’s call it definition B, has more to do with how rare or difficult the watch is to get than the brand name itself. By this definition, a rare vintage 1 of 73 Seiko Astronomical Observatory Chronometer with Cal. 4520 movement that sold for $40,000 a few years ago is very much a hype piece. By the same token, the MoonSwatch was the ultimate hype buy for a short period when people were barnstorming Swatch stores and prices soared on eBay.

By contrast, in this definition a readily available Rolex Oyster Perpetual would not be a hype watch. That’s because it isn’t that hard to come by and does not require all that much hoop jumping or cash to get. Definition B stands solely on rareness and difficulty of procurement above all else. It pays little attention to the brand name or even the acuteness of the watchmaking. It’s all about supply and demand. I’m not a fan of this particular definition, because it really aims to impress nobody unless you happen to strike up a conversation. Using the Seiko example above, anyone who spends that much money on a vintage Seiko is not concerned with impressing anyone but themselves.

However, sometimes definition B merges with definition A to create a sort of hype Voltron. An example of this would be the Rolex Daytona Le Mans. The watch is a Rolex level-up. It’s also a Daytona – level up again. Add to that how difficult it is to get and you have a perfect storm of hypification, if you will. Definition A casts the widest hype net, and definition B is the more nuanced option.

Spec yourself before you wreck yourself

Artists Studio Grand Seiko Spring Drive Movement

And that brings us neatly to definition C. Definition C defines hype as any watch that is so watch nerdy that it makes other watch nerds clutch their collective pearls at the description of its specs and complications. By this definition, obscure complicated watches that very few civilians would ever recognise would be considered ultimate hype. Having said that, it doesn’t mean it must be ultra-complicated, though sporting something like an A. Lange & Söhne Triple Split would certainly help. Almost any Grand Seiko Spring Drive would fit this definition. Grand Seiko might in fact be the king of all hype if you adhere to this somewhat narrow definition. That goes for the Grand Seiko-adjacent watchmakers at Credor as well.

While definition A promulgates the theory that hype is all about showing off to as many people as possible, definition C involves showing off to a very narrow niche of people. However, that narrow niche of people is highly knowledgeable and prone to asking questions. This gives the watch’s owner even more opportunity to impress by showing off their own knowledge of their watch’s specs and complications.

I would argue that definition C does have some merit as a form of controlled hype, but it doesn’t cut the mustard as a standard definition. After all, when you think of a band’s “hype man”, he’s not the one who can necessarily tell you every intricate detail of the band’s history, or complicated song-writing process. He’s the loud, flashy, somewhat obnoxious guy whose job it is to get himself and the band noticed by as many people as possible.

Regardless of which definition you adhere to, don’t let it affect your decision making. If you think loving a hype watch, however you define it, is somehow bad – it’s not. We all love our watches for different reasons. Whatever that reason may be, it’s the right for one you. So throw on that full-gold AP Royal Oak and hop on the elevator with me.