There’s a saying in the gun world: H&K hates you and thinks you suck. The German gunmaker’s haughty attitude and lousy customer service earned their customers’ ire. Despite the clickbait headline, I’m not saying Patek Philippe hates you and their customer service sucks. But I am saying that Mr. Stern’s mob couldn’t give a f*ck what you think about them . . .
When Patek killed the blue dial Nautilus 5711, they excommunicated thousands of potential customers who’d been waiting decades for a chance to own the timepiece. That wasn’t very nice. In this lack of customer-centric concern, they’re not alone.
Rolex killed the perpetually perfect Perpetual 39. Not because sales had dropped. Far from it. Because they wanted to. It may seem counterintuitive, but Rolex’s refusal to allow their authorized dealers to put a markup on all their new watches – which would end the drought – shows a similar Swiss disdain for the people putting food on their table. Customers come and go. We are forever. You should be grateful we even exist.
The resulting bullsh*t surrounding in-demand Swiss luxury watches is staggering. You want a Rolex Submariner or Rolex Daytona? Buy $100k worth of watches you don’t want and we’ll talk. You want a Patek Philippe? It’s who you know. If you’re the right sort of person who knows the right sort of person, we might deign to sell you one. If we don’t kill the model first.
This in-demand watchmakers do because they can. Grönefeld recently took to Instagram to gleefully announce that they’ve sold all 188 1941 Remontoires. At around $60k per watch, they’re pulling in over $11m. And that’s just one of their models. F.P. Journe has sold everything they’ve made, make and will make for years to come. There has never been a better time to be a high end luxury watchmaker.
There are lots of reasons for this unprecedented spike in demand. The world is a wealthier place. Arab oil money continues to flow. The Chinese dragon “suddenly” woke up (now accounting for half of all luxury watch sales). The worldwide pandemic lockdown cut off spending on luxury travel and clothes, raising discretionary income amongst the rich. Thanks to the internet, luxury watches are a big thing.
In short, it’s a feeding frenzy. Why should a watchmaker worry about long term customer relations when customers are begging for product?
That said, I reckon we’re heading for what I’m going to call Peak Watch: the point at which every rich bastard who really really wants a Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, Grönefeld, F.P. Journe, etc. has one. Yes, eventually they will. Demand for luxury goods is fungible and fickle. The world economy will hit a wall, however temporary, at some point. It always does.
Enzo Ferrari once declared that he wanted to make one less car than the market desired. While you might think Rolex’s 1m, Patek Philippe’s 60k or Audemars Piguet’s 40k watches-per-year output will never satisfy demand, the real question is what will they do when it does.
Patek Philippe hates you, but don’t worry about their survival. They weathered the Depression for goodness sake. But yes Virginia, there will come a day when you can walk into an authorized dealer for one of these exalted brands and buy the watch you want.
Meanwhile, the luxury watch shortage seems designed to make buyers feel like supplicants. That’s because they are supplicants. Some wealthy people are reacting to this Patek Philippe Hates You and Thinks You Suck vibe by coveting a coveted watch more, throwing money at the problem, making it worse. (Auction prices tell the tale.)
Other potential buyers are put off by the whole thing. They’re avoiding grail watches and grail watch makers, looking for manufacturers with available product worthy of their patronage (e.g., Jaeger-leCoultre).
Unfortunately, there aren’t so many of the second sort of buyer as the first. What our man Adams calls “the flight to safety” – watch buyers gravitating to famous brands in uncertain times – shows little sign of abating. But abate it will.
At that point, the Swiss luxury watch brands will, as stated, keep on keeping on. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll be more choice and less agita. Pre-owned prices will fall. And our patience will be rewarded. Calatrava please.