2016 is almost over. Thus, it is time to have a look back at the year in terms of watches and the watch industry. A lot has been written about the current state of the watch industry, but what does it all mean for consumers, and what does it mean for the future? Of course, we will also touch on the watches that most impressed us over the past year.
State of the Watch Industry
Last year was a tough one for watch brands. They all seemed to feel the pain of the economic crisis, especially the fact that Asian and Russian customers (tourists) weren’t spending as much as they used to. The economy is slowly recovering in Europe, and perhaps in the US as well, but that doesn’t mean people are immediately spending on luxury goods like watches again.
People obviously want to see real value in watches if they’re spending their hard-earned money. This applies to relatively affordable watches as well as complicated high-end pieces. Even so, it seems as though there’s always room for something crazy and truly exceptional, like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie, or the latest creation by MB&F.
Value for Money
Brands like IWC, Rolex, Omega, and Breitling have recognized that the market is difficult right now. People want the sense that their money is not being taken for granted. Rolex, for example, has three nice models on offer in an interesting price range (under 6,000 euros), the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39, Air-King, and Explorer. All of these watches offer great value for money, and aren’t far away from some Baume & Mercier or Montblanc watches, for example. If resale value is important to you, then the logical choice is probably obvious.
A similar strategy that seemed to work well is that of TAG Heuer. When Jean-Claude Biver took over, he decided to stop creating some of the high-end pieces, as there was – according to him – no one interested in buying TAG Heuer watches over a certain amount of money. Instead, he came up with new, young ambassadors endorsing Formula 1 watches that retail for under 1,500 euros. Also, he introduced the TAG Heuer Connected watch, which has a similar look to the Carrera collection – and it worked. Young people perceive that they are buying an A-brand timepiece when they buy a TAG Heuer for 1,500 euros. Biver was right once again.
The world of vintage watches is still gaining more interest among almost all audiences and in all price ranges. Although Rolex and Patek Philippe still dominated the watch auctions (for example the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 1518 sold by Phillips for 11,000,000 CHF), brands like Heuer (Autavia) and Omega (Speedmaster) as well as other lesser known brands with interesting pieces also did very well. There seems to still be enough room for brands that have an interesting background story, a unique design, or great movements. Luckily there are also wonderful vintage pieces that can be found for relatively affordable prices.
The Watch (Almost) Everybody Wants
Just when we thought the Rolex Daytona became a bit of a commodity, since you could even find them in stock at the Rolex dealer, they introduced a new version of this stainless steel icon: a Daytona with a ceramic bezel and a slightly updated dial design (although there is some resemblance to the former Zenith-powered models that were made between 1988 and 2000). The new Rolex Daytona was the talk of the town during Baselworld 2016 and the demand is still so great that market prices are significantly higher than the official list price. It also immediately resulted in the previous steel Daytona becoming more valuable; par for the course for this legendary watch.
40th Anniversary for the Nautilus
2016 was also the year of the Patek Philippe Nautilus. While it was extremely silent in the first half of the year, a buzz about a possible new Nautilus started in the summer. A few months later, it finally arrived, but it wasn’t quite what people were hoping for. The regular stainless steel Nautilus reference 5711/1A wasn’t updated; rather Patek Philippe introduced two limited editions.
There is a limited run of 700 pieces of the Ref. 5711 model in platinum, with a jubilee dial inscription and baguette diamond hour markers as well as 1,300 pieces of the white gold Nautilus chronograph, also with baguette hour markers and dial inscription. These watches come in a nice cork box, reminiscent of the first Nautilus 3700 models from the 1970s.
Many collectors were hoping for a simple vintage-inspired Nautilus in steel without a seconds hand. The jubilee pieces offer those collectors two options, either purchase an original vintage 3700 or keep waiting a little longer with the hope that Patek will heed their wishes someday. A similar situation occurred in 2013, when Rolex introduced their anniversary Daytona in platinum.
More of the Same
We basically saw more of the same in 2016. Most watch brands didn’t dare come up with out-of-the-box designs and relied on existing models and collections. The very popular Oris Divers Sixty-Five, for example, released in 2015, saw over 20 new models in 2016; from larger diameter cases, different dial colors, and straps, to an all-bronze Carl Brashear version. There is nothing wrong with that, but at times there is a fine line between milking the cow and staying true to original designs. The same goes for other brands as well; the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean, for example, is now available in ceramic (like the Dark Side of the Moon Speedmaster), or the Tudor Heritage Black Bay models in burgundy, blue, black, black PVD coating, and bronze.
However, Tudor did win the Grand Prix prize in Geneva with their new in-house movements in the Heritage Black Bay. Tudor also had an extra release later in the year (November), a left-crown – or destro – version of the Pelagos. Tudor seems to be doing well and keeps building up a solid collection of watches, similar to Oris with their Divers Sixty-Five models. Yet, we also hope to see some new designs and original variations in the coming years.
The Customer Decides
Ending the year, we still see danger on the horizon. Laying off staff, hiring new ambassadors, and releasing more “special editions” aren’t long-term solutions. We don’t have a solution either, but as written above, people seem to be longing for real value in the (luxury) products that they are buying, whether that’s a 2,000 euro watch or 60,000 euro timepiece with complications.
We feel it is time for the leaders of the watchmaking industry to realize that there has been a disconnect between them and the consumer for a long time – too long. CEOs have been deciding what is good for the consumer and have forgotten that their consumers are educated persons who know what they want and how they want it. It is time to listen to watch buyers a bit more, as a lot of other (luxury) industries have done for quite some time now.