Zen L. from Bangkok, Thailand asks:
When is the best time to buy a watch? It could be said that any watch model has a life cycle, from new release, to last year's model, to out of production in favor of some small update, to historical vintage timepiece. If there is a certain model I like and want, and I don't care that it is the latest version (but want it new), when during that cycle would you recommend pulling the trigger in order to get the best deal? For the sake of narrowing the question, let's say the model is from a mainstream, widely available manufacturer. I understand that this is a broad question and there may be no set rules, but what are some things I should consider? Thanks!
This is a good question and even though you've technically asked a few things, we are going to approach the issue of when, in a watch's product life-cycle, is it a good idea to put down your money. The best analogy of course is with cars. On the one hand you want to have the latest model with the best design and technology, but you also don't want to invest in a "unfinished concept" that will have the kinks worked out in years two, three, and four of its production cycle. It is very much the same with watches.
The key issue, however, is to distinguish between a new watch with new movement and an updated or new design with an existing movement. This is really what will help you make a decision. Even though the watch industry uses a lot of fancy technology, the only real way to test a watch movement is through a lot of real-world use. You'll find that model watch movements today are based on rather old designs. Watchmakers like to use proven concepts because it reduces problems. In other words, all new watch movements will have problems, and the lower their production and more complicated they are, the higher the chance you'll experience problems. We know stories of very high-end watch movements that despite being commercially released never actually worked properly. We know of movements that are more or less guaranteed to break if operating long enough. We also know of solidly made movements that last a long time.
The safest thing to do when it comes to a new movement is to wait a few years after it has been commercially released. Sometimes that means more than two years, sometimes even longer. If that movement is from a major brand who has a high level of production and the movement isn't that complicated the chances of having an issue decrease. Though, for highly complex limited production you'll want to be aware that service issues are common.
If a brand is merely augmenting a movement or changing its decoration a bit for a new model then the chances of there being an issue are much lower. In fact if a brand seems to favor one particular movement in more than one model, it is usually a sign that it is robust - and while those won't have a ton of exclusivity, they should be dependable.
When it comes to a mere design facelift or new watch model with existing movement, then it comes down to a matter of price and whether or not the brand will update it in a few years. It is difficult to predict how often many brands will update their models. Major brands tend to have set schedules, but you never know unless it is a brand like Rolex (once they update something they don't do it again for a while). The first year a watch is available it might be hard to find a deal or even available models. After that, two things may happen; either the inventory goes up and prices go down, or production slows and you can't find what you are looking for. If there is a new watch you like and there aren't issues with the movement, then it might be good to wait 6-12 months after it is commercially released and actually available before hunting for one.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for this question because there are just too many variables. Hopefully, with this information you'll have a better chance at making the right decision no matter what you may have your eye on.