During lockdown I got obsessed to a lot of things. Baking, meditation, drinking turmeric tea and walking barefoot on grass to ground myself but I never thought that I would become completely infatuated with watches.
As a kid I was obsessed with time. I couldn’t understand why every thing was measured in tens but time was measured in sixes. A quick google search will tell you we have the Sumerians to thank for that and primarily the Swiss to thank for the current global obsession to possessing some of the most complex and beautiful objects ever made on planet earth.
But why my obsession with watches? I remember my first watch was a digital Casio. I got it for my communion. It was a typical first watch for a kid. It was cheap, reliable, sturdy and digital. I didn’t know then that my simple purchase was ultimately destroying the Swiss watch industry.
The quarts revolution of the 1970’s sent the Swiss watch making industry into turmoil. They had hundreds of years of tradition producing mechanical watches from various different “houses”. The term “house” is essentially the brand. But they couldn’t compete with cheaper more reliable and no service required Japanese watches.
Very long story short some Swiss Watch Makers under an umbrella group “Manufacture Horlogère Suisse” came up with the “Swatch Watch” as an entry level quartz competitor. It worked and by the 90’s a swatch watch was not just a fashion item but more importantly an affordable piece of Swiss engineering on young wrists.
Those young wrists became older and more affluent and some eventually started buying brands like Rolex, Omega and Patek Philippe and thousands like myself also went deep diving into the online world in the last few years and discovered brands like I.W.C, Tudor, Breitling and Jaeger-LeCoultre but why?
My answer? Youtube. I watch thousand of car review videos. Mostly hyper cars that I will never afford or drive. But watches are different. Not alone can I devour copious content from watch influencers like Teddy Baldassarre, Producer Michael and Jenni Elle, but more importantly I can walk into a jewellery store and touch them, look at them and if I’m feeling cheeky try them on (even if I can’t afford them).
Take a brand like I.W.C Schaffhausen. You might have seen Lewis Hamilton from The Mercedes F1 team wear one of those iconic pilot watches. The level of hand made skill, hundreds of hours and complex detailed engineering and ingenuity that goes into making one of them is mind boggling. They are by no means cheap but unlike an apple watch (which I own and love) they are forever.
As Paul Sheeran from Paul Sheeran Jewellers explains: “A watch is much more than a time piece it’s a sentiment that has been purchased for a special occasion. Today is my daughters 21st and we’re giving her a small piece of jewellery that she will have for the rest of her life. A watch is the exact same. The modern horological watch is made for life. You will have it forever and probably pass it onto the next generation you won’t do that with an apple watch. When you touch that watch you’ll remember you father or mother or whoever gave it to you. People have said to me its like your holding hands with them”
I thought it was just me and John Joe Brennan from The 2009 Late Late Toy Show that were obsessed with horology but the internet is exploding exponentially every day with influencers and collectors talking about watches. The bizarre and possible alarming side of things though is the grey market.
In the U.S the second hand market mostly driven by supply and demand. Brands like Rolex and Richard Mille have seen pieces double and triple from their original retail price and there is a growing cohort of people investing their money in watches instead of traditional areas like shares or property. Where once people spent their days trading bitcoin they are now buying and selling on sites like Chrono24.com
How does a retailer like Paul Sheeran see these new trends developing? He explains: “There is unbelievable demand to have the newest hottest watch on your wrist whatever the brand is. We have limited edition pieces here. People think we’re joking when we tell them we will give them the first phone call and first refusal to buy them. For instance we have over 20 names for a new Tudor Chronograph on a waiting list and we had to stop at 20.”
I asked him while holding the very same watch very delicately and desperately not trying to drop it while asking its price. “That’s five thousand euros and if you think that’s expensive we will see that exact same watch on the after market today for eleven thousand euros. We don’t, and the manufactures don’t want to sell these pieces to people who just want to make money from them. We go to great lengths to make sure that it has a good home and doesn’t end up on the grey market.”
And if you think having a watch obsession is a “man thing” you’re wrong. The industry has seen a massive growth in women buying the traditional male brands and buying larger watches too, not your traditional petite sizes. My own person dream watch an I.W.C Portugieser Chronograph is one of the biggest selling watches Sheeran’s sell to women.
So I think its time to see what’s left in my Post Office account and maybe in a decade or so I might be able to put a deposit down on my own little piece of Swiss ingenuity and John Joe Brennan if you ever get to read this you’re not alone my friend horology rocks!