It is not that long ago that watches were valued for their accuracy to keep time.
I remember watching commercials that conveyed this by showing the importance of timekeeping as Olympic runners and swimmers crossed the finish line!
Patek Phillippe sporting the fuzziest sideburns while also inventing the wristwatch
I have never had the need to be anywhere within fractions of a second.
And, on occasions where I have missed the train by only seconds, I have never blamed my watch, because the Long Island railroad is never on time anyway. Most people are like me and being off by a few seconds or minutes per day is not that important. Fortunately, I keep my watch in a custom watch safe so even though I may be late, I’ll never lose it!
In the world of luxury watches, the technology to improve accuracy has evolved over time. When Patek Philippe designed the first wristwatch in 1868 it was a simple but ingenious mechanical fabrication of small springs and gears that you wound by hand. Over time new features included self-winding mechanisms, calendars, and alarms, but the overall technology remained the same for about one hundred years until the quartz watch was invented.
How Quartz Changed Everything for Watches
The quartz watch movement revolutionized the industry, and by the early 1970s, the market for mechanical luxury watches was almost nonexistent. For twenty years the mechanical watch industry struggled to reinvent itself.
In the early 1990s fashion trends combined with a renewed interest in mechanical watches and sales began to rise in this new luxury watch market.
Companies like Rolex and Patek Philippe and other Swiss watch companies resurrected their brands with beautifully designed watches with mechanical superiority.
These watches got a publicity boost in movies with James Bond, Sylvester Stallone, and Alec Baldwin just to name a few, but the popular rappers of that era who flaunted their bling really took these watches to a new level and sometimes used the names of watch brands in their songs.
What’s a Luxury Watch Market look like now?
The luxury watch market (and the luxury watch safe market for that matter) had to find its consumer niche and it was the perfect product for an upscale fashion accessory. As a timepiece, it could not compete with the efficiency of a quartz watch so focusing on opulent fashion was the best marketing strategy.
Knowing the mechanical movement could never be as accurate as of its battery-operated alternative, each brand still touted its superior technical prowess.
Not for its engineering ability to keep time within fractions of a second per day, but for its craftsmanship which is far more attractive than a battery-operated watch.
In fact, the beauty and intricacy of the mechanical movement are one of its valued selling points, although you do not see the inside of a watch. But I suppose this is not much different than buying a VVS quality diamond knowing its clarity can only be admired by looking through a jeweler’s loupe.
Can’t go wrong with Vintage (Watches)
As an appreciation for the beauty of vintage watches continued along with the demand for new ornate designs the luxury watch market grew. By staying focused on design, it was able to create its own industry within an industry. As an expensive luxury product, it caters to upscale consumers who can afford to spend money on things they like to wear or invest in.
Meanwhile, in the same way, quartz watches destroyed the mechanical watch market in the 1970s, twenty years later cell phones decimated the quartz watch market.
Luxury Watches No Longer Just Tell Time
There is no reason at all to wear a watch when your phone keeps better time and offers more time-related features.
The luxury watch market however is not about telling time, so it continues to thrive and grow as appreciation for its analog function and stylish design captures the interest of Gen Z and millennials despite their inherent digital mindset.
As the luxury watch market expands from one generation to the next the value of older watches will only increase as will the cost to manufacture new watches.
Like artwork, it can be a worthwhile investment if you have the money and know what you are doing.
And, if your interest in watches is simply for the gratification of collecting or wearing them, they are timeless.