What Watchonista wanted to set up together with Bucherer Geneva, under the auspices of the FHH, was far more than a simple gathering for collectors and brand loyalists. We wanted to build a genuine platform for debate, for sharing passions and experiences. To create a forum to discuss all the hot-button issues in watchmaking. The topic up for debate in this first forum was: What is the prime motivator for collectors? Passion or historical value, where does their compass point?
On Tuesday, October 29th, a group of 12 dedicated enthusiasts came together for a breakfast debate in the VIP lounge at the Bucherer Gallery, the new event space situated on the 4th floor of the boutique at no. 45 Rue du Rhône. There, collectors got the chance to talk about themselves, their motivations, goals, and questions.
Birth of a Passion
After questioning each attendee on how they first started collecting watches, it became clear that collections can often be the result of an impulse purchase, a family tradition, or simply a serendipitous discovery. So, it’s not so much a calculated decision based on the historical value of a piece that drives the need to start a collection. More of an emotional spark that fuels the desire to learn, discover, and embrace a true passion. The group covered a range of profiles, but they nonetheless all appeared to identify with this initial description. From avid seasoned collectors with hundreds of pieces to their name to the enlightened amateurs with around twenty timekeepers, they all cited passion as the impetus behind collecting, albeit in embryonic form.
Historical Value: Between Growth and Speculation
Collections grow as the search for information increases, as watchmaking events evolve, and personal networks expand. Changes in the market also swing the compass. The surge in prices in the early ‘90s immediately springs to mind and tempers naturally flare. Our group was of one opinion: the boom in the global luxury industry, Asia’s opening to the world market, and years of global growth fueled the ever-increasing interest in watchmaking. And also, to the same extent, the passion watchmaking inspires.
However, all those present deplored one negative aspect of the growing fascination for luxury mechanical watchmaking: speculation. A distinction, also, must be made between a long-term investment with the intention of handing down something that will hold or even appreciate in value, and short-term speculation which encourages people to buy the most coveted pieces, at any price, so they can be flipped at an even higher price.
Passing fads, disruptions induced by the social networks, effects of globalization, and growth of the rich are among the reasons flying around the cozy confines of the lounge. Undoubtedly, the increase in the number of millionaires in the world, and the opening of new markets such as China, contributed to the current explosion in speculation. And, as a result, the appeal of the historical value of a watchmaking investment has grown proportionally.
But has this happened at the expense of pure, driving passion? Not necessarily. Today, the mechanical watchmaking market appears to be evolving along similar lines to the art market. There are “quotations” for established artists, and for those who are up-and-coming. Nonetheless, there are some art aficionados, like watch collectors, buy from the heart without necessarily considering the potential resale value. Therefore, many are benefitting from the growing interest in watchmaking in general.
The most cynical (or the best informed, depending on your point of view) talk about market manipulation by the brands themselves, who, after the ‘90s, began bidding on their own pieces in auctions. Others prefer to simply put it down to a very poor supply for an ever-growing demand. In both cases, historical value has gone up, whether the interest is due to an increase in passion-driven demand or speculation. The “historical value” indicator only rose at that point.
This raises another important issue concerning the current market. Given the plethora of second-hand supplies increasingly available now, to what are the collectors turning their attention: new or vintage? And in this new dichotomy, where does the compass point for the collector: passion or historical value?
New or Vintage?
The general view is that buying new brings the most security, and the increasing number of guarantees that brands are willing to offer always helps to reassure the end consumers, be they mere enthusiasts or major collectors. Second-hand and vintage, on the other hand, appear to inspire much mistrust and fear, being viewed as the result of many years trading on the unregulated grey market, amplified by the advent of the Internet. However, 50% of the collectors at breakfast confirmed they buy vintage, especially if they love a particular design or detail and are willing to take on the risks. Through trial and error, we all proceed tentatively to find trustworthy sources, where transparency is king. Sincerity and trust are the keywords guiding all collectors in the “pre-owned” market. The increase, in past years, in specific “second-hand” departments within watchmaking brands indicates clearly that this new market is arousing interest and helping to establish the historical value of vintage pieces.
We decided to conduct a test to determining which way the balance was tipping: passion or value? With support from the FHH and Watchonista, Bucherer prepared a selection of models that were then put before our breakfast panel. Some were brand-new pieces, including Chopard’s Alpine Eagle and IWC’s Portugaise Bucherer Blue Limited Edition. Others were vintage models from Rolex and Audemars Piguet, chosen from Bucherer’s recently launched Certified Pre Owned program.
Eyes brightened, and pulses noticeably quickened. The debate became emotional. Heads argued with hearts in favor of the appeal of the new, for its reassurance factor. And yet, 60% of subjects turned their attention to the four vintage models. Hearts, therefore, appeared to overrule heads, urging the collectors toward these iconic models. Or, due to the historical value of the pieces, was it reason that prevailed? It’s tricky to determine when the two sides come together.
The Common Driving Force – Passion
As is often the case when genuine enthusiasts get together, emotions speak loudest. Passion, therefore, generally emerges as the fundamental prerequisite that leads to a purchase. You would think that reason would immediately prevail when faced with budgetary restrictions. But, when we analyzed the feedback from the collectors present at breakfast, it appeared otherwise. For the vast majority, passion was the driving force. Whatever the budget, even the most frugal collectors will often cave into their emotions.
Whether they choose to tread the well-worn path of well-known brands or trailblaze with independent brands, it is the desire to own these feats of mechanical craftsmanship that provides motivation. The staff at Bucherer can confirm: whether it’s an independent or a major brand, the vast majority of buyers are genuine enthusiasts.
To arrive at a conclusion, we went around the table one last time, asking the question: “What do you use more in your decisions as a collector today: heart or head?” The answer was unequivocal: on average, 82% professed to be motivated by passion and 18% by historical value. Even though 3 out of 12 considered themselves split 50-50, most collectors present were happy to confess to being driven purely by passion. Nevertheless, with age, reason occasionally prevailed. But in the end, it’s passion that dictates.
So that was the main lesson of the morning. But it’s still a very good sign for the mechanical watchmaking industry as a whole. For the next gathering on November 19th, we’ll be discussing the burning question: What are the key factors determining the true value of a timepiece today?
It’s a huge subject and one that’s bound to fuel another hot debate. So, save the date and stay tuned!