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Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

aBlogtoWatch is, first and foremost, a publication for wristwatch enthusiasts and consumers. It isn’t, however, possible to truly cover the world of timepiece products without discussing the general watch industry’s status and the global economy, which has numerous implications for not only what types of watches are popular, but also what types of new watches are produced. In this article, I will try to summarize my predictions about which watches people will be buying in 2020, as well as general trends the watch industry will see for at least the next 12 months.

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

To begin, let’s discuss the general state of the watch industry. For most of the larger, established watch brands, 2019 (and 2018 before it) called up the full range of emotions, from unexciting to terrifying. Despite what some published numbers suggest, growth was mostly negative or anemic, and investor confidence greatly suffered as a result. That means corporate group-owned brands had revenue outlooks slashed and investment into marketing and R&D cut as a result. Most brands had large reductions in staff and advertising was diminished or eliminated altogether. The reasons for all of this would be best covered in a book, but the result has been what consumers see as far less activity from major brands, and many brands once interested in global sales reverting to a state of relative hibernation.

Let me give you one example of how this all tied together in 2019 using the case of Hong Kong. This once incredibly powerful market for luxury timepieces has been hit with a few massive punches over the years that have global implications. This didn’t start with the ongoing democracy protests in the city but actually began a few years ago when mainland China decided to stop allowing consumers to enter into the country with foreign-purchased luxury goods without paying a VAT. Hong Kong was a popular shopping destination for mainland Chinese citizens who would come to the city to purchase a large number of goods including luxury wristwatches. The VAT in China is (based on my most recent recollection) 60% on luxury timepieces. Consumers clearly want to avoid such a tax, so they would leave mainland China to purchase watches — and Hong Kong was a natural destination. Given that choice of products is so great in Hong Kong, prices for wristwatches were fantastic — until the VAT laws changed. Then, China required that consumers report goods when re-entering the country and pay the VAT, else face a very steep fine.

Hong Kong no longer sold as many watches because the tax incentive to do so was eliminated. Prices for wristwatches shot up because of a new era of smuggling, which saw “mules” moving luxury timepieces into China from Hong Kong, to consumers happy to pay retail price plus a fee in order to avoid the 60% VAT tax. Thus, before the protests, which curbed so much shopping in Hong Kong, the watch industry — so traditionally reliant on China in recent years — started to face serious economic issues for its greatest market. Then the protests began… Statistics vary on how much of an impact they had, but luxury sales for wristwatches in Hong Kong during 2019 were down something like 50-75%. This economic impact of this decrease in demand and sales hit Switzerland (and surrounding countries) like a wrecking ball.

Other than China, a generally poor global economy meant that the luxury watch industry could not simply shift its attention to another growth market and enjoy sales to “new money” consumers in a different part of the world. New money economic zones are few and far between, these days. Faced with uncertain costs and obligations related to climate change, tariffs, and government instability, corporations around the world are not spending money. That stifles the economy and means that your average consumer has less income and far less disposable cash to spend on luxuries such as watches.

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What this means is that the old adage of someone doing well for themselves and then going to purchase a luxury timepiece they feel expresses who they are, is a far less common occurrence. Interestingly enough, demand for watches as status symbols remains high. In general, demand for wristwatches remains high, but the practice of selecting them, buying them, and owning them in 2019, 2020, and beyond is markedly different than it was just 5-10 years ago. Recently, I discussed this shift in consumer behavior when demonstrating how people are moving from watch purchases designed to celebrate themselves, to purchases designed to enhance perception of status.

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

In-Demand Watches Will Not Necessarily Be Easier To Get & Consumers Still Won’t Know About Enough Alternatives

When people buy watches because they want to promote a sense of personal status or success, they purchase less original watch choices. This is because a major aim of wearing a luxury watch is visibility and less about individual expression. The best manifestation of this is the incredible popularity surge for Rolex. Rolex spends heavily on global marketing initiatives designed to inform a world audience that wearing a Rolex watch means you are successful. Consumers eager to communicate that they are successful (authentically, or not) will choose a watch that onlookers will tend to recognize. So, a popular brand will beat out an original choice in today’s status-seeking economy.

Popularity around Rolex watches has likewise increased demand for them, and Rolex has specifically chosen not to increase supply. This is because Rolex, probably wisely, understands that we are in a demand bubble and that simply producing more of the popular Rolex watches will create a form of inflation that, over the long haul, will diminish, not increase the value of its products. From an economic standpoint, this is odd behavior if you are trying to sell mere products. Rolex isn’t doing that. To better understand Rolex’s mentality toward production and demand, it is better to think of Rolex products more as a currency. When viewed in this light, you can see that, despite Rolex being able to make more money in the short-term, the longer-term effects of producing more watches will have an inflation effect.

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

Rolex has angered large swathes of consumers who would like to purchase one but can’t find the one they are looking for in a store. For many consumers, 2019 has been marked as the year they could not get the watch they wanted. I’m not sure that is going to change. The irony (as I’ve written about before) is that, while Rolex and some models from other brands such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, F.P. Journe, Richard Mille, etc. are very difficult to get, huge inventories of other watches are available with comparatively no demand and low prices. Why have consumers interested in a good watch not focused on the available timepiece products priced with attractive discounts? In short, a marketing deficit.

It takes a very knowledgeable consumer to evaluate one timepiece versus another in a marketing vacuum. That is, in the absence of thought-leaders or advertising not telling them how to evaluate the product or appreciate it, the consumer does not know how to make a decision. That’s totally understandable, as it takes sometimes up to a decade of hard work and experience for a serious timepiece enthusiast to measure one product against another. Most consumers buy what is advertised to them. In the absence of traditional advertising, social media and other pseudo-communal opinion aggregators (again, authentic or not) take the place of advertising. It isn’t that advertising isn’t powerful (because it is), but consider what I said above about how watch brands have been rapidly (and unwisely) decreasing marketing budgets. This has vastly eroded the global engine which created general luxury watch demand.

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

Taking its place is the more free-form and seemingly organic “viral engine” of social media. This relies on bubbles of popularity coming from seeming taste-makers or trend-setters. For the most part, the best examples of how this has helped watch brand marketing has been accidental for the brands involved. A celebrity happening to buy a watch and then sharing it with their fans isn’t always something a brand can control. Try they have. Failed they have, as well. In 2020, I predict that more and more watch brands will begin to learn that social media marketing is a consumer manipulation gamble of the likes traditional advertising could never aspire to be. You can “lose your shirt” extremely fast when it comes to expensive social media advertising (the many forms of it), even though there continues to be a perception that it is easier, cheaper, and more effective than traditional advertising. What Switzerland is starting to learn is that stable, ongoing business practices for a professional luxury brand requires stable, professional advertising and marketing solutions. 2020 will start to see a massive diminishing in influencer marketing and other manipulative advertising practices that brands in 2018 and 2019 saw as some holy grail to avoid traditional marketing and advertising expenses.

Most consumers don’t need to bother themselves much with the above problems because they could care less about the health of most luxury brands. They simply want cool products that make them feel good, products by trusted, stable brands. My point of bringing up the above discussion about watch brand marketing is because it helps explain what many consumers view in the course of their research about timepieces. Why one brand may be seeking their attention on social media versus why another is quiet there has nothing to do with product appeal or demand, but rather on whoever is at the helm of marketing decisions at that brand. To have the best purchase experiences in 2020, watch consumers will have to actively ignore or repel manipulative marketing practices (most on social media) and rely on their own good taste and opinions to discover those watches that will appeal to them.

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The Changing Face Of Pre-Owned Watch Sales

The popularity of Rolex watches (and a few others) has also done something else to the watch market, and that is change the face of the pre-owned category. A few years ago, “pre-owned” probably meant a new watch that was sold outside of an authorized dealer and was labeled “pre-owned” so as not to anger brands who don’t want to see their brand new watches being sold at steep discounts online. Today, more and more of the watches labeled as “pre-owned” or “used,” actually are.

Pre-owned is the biggest growth area in the watch industry for a few important reasons; one of those reasons is that the connecting power of the Internet allows for people with someone to sell and people who want to buy that item to connect easily. In the past, people didn’t sell their unwanted timepieces because doing so was a challenge. 2020 will see more and more sophistication when it comes to helping consumers off-load watches they want to sell or trade. What is even better for the watch industry is that most of the time, when a watch collector wishes to sell a watch, it is so that they can afford another watch.

One of the most interesting areas of watch consumer psychology I began to study in 2019 is what I call watch-collection threshold levels. The idea is that, at some point, watch collections get so large in number that the collector feels it necessary to downsize before adding more watches to their collection. What doesn’t happen as much these days is a consumer simply buying more and more watches with unworn watches sitting in drawers. I suspect that consumers get a sense of cognitive dissonance when their collections get to a certain size threshold, at which point the consumer is more interested in “refining” their collection as opposed to adding to it.

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

My estimate is that the collection size threshold for most consumers is between eight and 30 watches. Once that threshold is exceeded, the consumer will want to remove watches from their collection before adding new ones. Pre-owned watch retailers interested in both acquiring pre-owned inventory and selling watches (new or used) to consumers can make valuable use of this information.

2020 is probably the year pre-owned watches will go mainstream. Even though pre-owned has been quietly gaining traction over the last few years, I believe that 2020 will see not only major breakthroughs in pre-owned watch retail but also in battles among organizations with big money to throw at the success of the pre-owned market. I suspect that, sooner than later, the “major” names in pre-owned watch sales online will begin to fight with one another for valuable consumer attention, reputation and, of course, sales activity.

New watch sales will continue to suffer somewhat against pre-owned watch sales for one very important reason. That reason is related to the fact that your average luxury wristwatch has a life cycle that can extend beyond even the second and third owners. It used to be that luxury items only had one owner — which was great for the sale of new products. When the Internet started to connect consumers with other consumers who had used luxury items for sale, it immediately changed the game for luxury. Until only recently, however, buying a pre-owned luxury timepiece was an exercise for experienced consumers only. It was simply too easy to pay too much for an item in not great condition. What the professionalization of pre-owned watches retail has done is to increase consumer confidence by establishing systems of checks and assurances to the pre-owned purchase experience. This has accordingly increased prices because each time a pre-owned watch is sold through a middle person, there is a respective margin that person or company needs to take. The real golden era of pre-owned will be when consumers can more seamlessly trade pre-owned watches with peers (versus retailers), but that will not happen until after 2020, most likely.

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

As it stands, consumers are seemingly willing to pay handsome premiums for “checked” pre-owned watches that are still priced under original retail prices. This detail has been negatively skewed by the fact that some pre-owned watch retailers are also speculators who are pricing particularly hot watches for above retail prices (and claiming that the “market” sets the price, not them — hogwash, if you ask me). It is MSRP which should suggest prices for consumers, not greed.

New watch sales will suffer because consumers who might otherwise purchase a new wristwatch will opt for a pre-owned one, when available. This has proven to be correct in the markets of most other goods, and will accordingly stand true with luxury timepieces. The big question for me is how much more democratized pre-owned sales will get in 2020. As it stands, the system of margin only works for watches priced at a few thousand dollars and above, meaning that retailers aren’t going to make enough money by purchasing, checking, listing, and retailing a watch that they can only charge $500 for. Pre-owned watch retail is here to stay, but as a frontier, there is still so much to be explored, experimented with, and established in this important area of commerce for the watch industry, today.

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

A Boom For Independently-Run Watch Brands

Above, I mentioned how most corporate-run watch brands are stumbling under too-rigid management systems that are unequipped and unwilling to deal with today’s wristwatch market challenges. Despite that, there is still a very healthy market for wrist watches. That creates a huge vacuum in which retail, advertising, and manufacturing space, once occupied by larger brands, is now empty. Who will fill that vacuum?

In 2019, it was the various independent brands of the world. The term “independent brand” is rather loose but tends to suggest a company whose leader is free to make broad and agile decisions about the company without first having to get shareholder or group permission to do so. Independent brands ruled the conversation in 2019 because of that agility and freedom from the shackles of having to satisfy shareholders who know little (and care less) about the wristwatch market. Independently run brands are able to hyper-focus on particular niche consumer groups, rapidly come out with products they feel the market will enjoy, and enter or exit new markets with incredible ease.

As long as there remains a manufacturing capacity at third-party manufacturers/suppliers (upon which most independently-run brands get their parts for watches), the smaller brands of the world will rule in 2020 and beyond. Probably to the great chagrin of the “group” brands. This is normal, however, because if a large group brand isn’t able to satisfy consumer or market demand, that demand doesn’t simply go away.

By far most of the product creativity and novelty we saw in 2019 was from independent brands, sometimes companies that are run by one or just a few people. Compare that to the anemic and mostly unexciting products consumers had to put up with coming from the major groups in 2019. That isn’t a universal truth, but on par, I’d say the creativity battle was easily won by independent watch brands in 2019. I don’t see too much changing in 2020, and I suspect that the market will continue to be dominated by non-shareholder or corporate-owned watch brands.

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

Creative Collaboration Products Are Here To Stay, And Getting Stronger

“Collab” or “Collaboration” watches produced by one party and designed (or with design assistance from another party) were very how in 2019, and will continue to grow in popularity in 2020. The appeal of a collaboration product is simple, but an effective relationship is can be challenging to create. The idea is that a popular watchmaker works with a popular tastemaker to create a new product that satisfies the needs and desires of the tastemaker for the mutual audiences of both tastemaker (which could be a person, brand, publication, retailer, etc.) and watch brand.

Collaboration watches are also very desirable to watch brands because it removes their most challenging question, “What should I produce next, and how the hell will I inform consumers about it?” When the collaboration is done correctly, one part acts as the manufacturer (doing what they do best) and the other party is the designer and marketer (ideally doing what they do best). Watch brands actually prefer to work this way as the marketing and demand-creation part of their jobs are the most vexing to them.

The beauty of collaboration watches is that they can take endless forms, at all price points, and appeal to almost any consumer niche. Collaboration watches, at their best, take the appeal of a fine timepiece and extend it beyond the traditional wristwatch consumer market. The idea is that a watch is created that will meet the technical demands of a watch-lover but also has a style or aesthetic value that appeals to a different type of consumer. At present, there is no one formula for getting a collaboration watch product done right, but a few canons of wisdom have already established themselves. First is the need for product originality. Collaboration watches with the names of one brands slapped on the product of another typically is not enough creativity. The product of the collaboration must be an actually original item.

Second is the importance of audience cross-pollination. The means that the outcome of the collaboration should not only appeal to audiences of both the manufacturer and the designers but should also serve as a valuable opportunity to introduce the “other brand” to the respective other audience. When the two audiences meet they should be able to appreciate the virtues of both brands. More rules for successful watch product collaborations will ultimately unveil themselves as these practices continues in full-force in 2020.

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

Long Live The Wearable Watch

People start to get very practical during poor economies — and that has proven extremely true in the watch industry. What I’d like to discuss now is the lasting importance of the practical, wearable watch — no matter the price point. 2019 saw more “bracelet watch” competitors than any time in recently history. Brands believed that Gerald Genta had some magic formula they needed to emulate in order to create watches people want today. They believed that steel was the best choice, for some strange reason in 2019. It confused brands that consumers wanted fewer complications and more simplicity in watch designs. But it’s all related to the consumer pursuit of practical, wearable watches.

Steel is a practical choice for a wristwatch, given its ability to be finely polished and its overall durability and value. Bracelet watches are both comfortable, fashionably versatile, and distinctive looking while being worn. Gerald Genta figured out that people want thin, easy-to-read watches to wear with casual attire that they don’t need to worry about while going about their regular lives. All of this is a remark on how consumers want good watches — but also very practical watches. Grand complication perpetual calendar, minute repeaters might be awesome to behold, but they rarely make for practical wearing. Break one and you’ll be set back huge sums of money and have to wait months, if not over a year, for your watch to be returned to you. Given that people are aiming to be more practical with their lifestyle and purchase choices in 2020 and beyond, brands should consider the importance of the practical, wearable watch for the foreseeable future.

A good question regarding this notion is incompatible with the idea that consumers want to wear timepieces as expressive status items and not merely as tools to tell the time. One might argue that a consumer who really values a practical experience will simply wear a smartwatch, and that part of the core culture of being able to wear a luxury timepiece is being able to express that you don’t need to be so practical. To a degree, that is true, but market data has shown that consumers want an otherwise practical timepiece with a handsome skin slapped on it.

That handsome skin might be the design, the colors, of the name of the brand. Under that skin must however be a practical timepiece, which is wearable, and relatively carefree. This is also related to the changing face and lifestyle of the average luxury watch consumer. Fewer consumers are strictly wearing their timepieces with formal or business attire, and more and more consumers are seeking luxury watches for travel and sport purposes. Those wearing scenarios demand a degree of practicality, which is certainly being manifested in many of the watches purchase choices we see. 2020 and beyond will not likely see a shift in this behavior, which consumers seeking practical choices from brands they otherwise admire. For companies seeking to enjoy sales as a result of this, they will need to engage in the dual effort of both marketing the practicality of their watches, as well as promote the types of enjoyable lifestyles associated with wearing their watches.

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How Most Watch Consumers Will Behave In 2020

So what does all of the above translate into for the typical watch consumer in 2020? If you are looking to further develop your timepiece collection or knowledge as a timepiece enthusiast, what should you be doing in 2020, and what will other collectors like you probably be doing? Note for a moment the number of watch purchase offers the average Internet-browsing consumer is given on a daily basis. If you moderately look at social media and watch blogs like aBlogtoWatch, you are probably given at least one to two dozen watch purchase opportunities a week. With the average consumer purchasing between about one to five watches per year, how will they select from all of those options?

The short answer is that 2020 will continue to be a buyers market. Of course, those strictly interested in a steel Rolex sports watches or similar offerings from Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet might feel otherwise — collectively, there are far more watches on the market than there are wrists to wear them. Consumers will be like snipers, sitting in the bushes as attractive watches strut by, only shooting when they feel the opportunity is right for them. Consumers faced with too much choice are naturally slow (or paralyzed) in the face of making decisions. This is one reason our data suggest that the average consumer ponders watch purchase decisions over the course of six months to a year. In other words, the sheer availability of actual choices means that consumers can drag their feet before purchasing anything.

Don’t let easily purchasable hype shroud the fact that watches today are plentiful and that consumers have more choice than seemingly ever before. That, however, will not last. Brands are starting to wind down both production and distribution in many areas to tighten up a too-loose market for wristwatches. The era of over-production of timepieces isn’t quite over yet, but it is slowing down. I suspect that five years from now, the wristwatch market will have fewer discounts for newer watches, but for the time being, consumers can enjoy a very healthy selection of timepieces around the world at fair retail prices or below.

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

When it comes to what types of products consumers will want in 2020, I have to say that it will mostly be classic, traditional watches — in effect, those watches with a nostalgic or retro appeal. That doesn’t just mean “old-looking” watches but ones that remind people of “better times” (either better times actually experienced by the consumer or collective “better times,” as manifested by pop culture’s sense of collective nostalgia). I say this with some regret because I am personally among the relatively small (15-20% of current watch enthusiasts) who like thoroughly original, even futuristic watch designs. As we are not in an era of optimism for the future, accordingly, as a society, we aren’t as excited about futuristic-looking objects. A shame, but it is a natural outcome of times in which the future looks more dystopian than utopian in the eyes of the general public.

Finally, where will consumers learn about new watches to purchase in 2020 and beyond? That is a good question. Consumers faced with endless choice and huge amounts of manipulative, misinformation about watches online are more cautious about watch purchases today than ever before. Certainly, there are plenty of trusted places to purchases watches online, but consumers are worried about being “marketing victims.” This implies that they purchase a product because of manufactured hype as opposed to authentic shared consumer enthusiasm. In fact, a major part of the Internet media economy today is the creation and distribution of manufactured hype. So much so that authentic, trustworthy information about products is the exception as opposed to the norm.

So other than aBlogtoWatch, where are consumers going to learn about new products and get viable opinions on them in an era in which opinions can be purchased and there is little money in sharing the truth? I worry about this because social media marketing is getting more deceptive as opposed to less deceptive. I can say from personal experience that media choosing to work with brands to share their best virtues as opposed to their preferred virtues are not given much marketing support. Watch brands are hyper-nervous about anything that may further detract from their sales, and media support has been an unwise victim of this culture of fear.

Watch brands have suffering sales not because of media but because of the many reasons I articulated above. Authentic watch media has been one of the only saving graces, but each time a “negative” article comes out, it makes for an easy target among reactionary executives in Switzerland. The outcome is ironically tragic. Independent watch media has helped bolster watch brand sales despite the larger challenging global economy and demand for luxury watches. That said, marketing support for independent watch media is at an all-time low given reactionary bosses seeking targets to blame for their losses. Thus, the watch industry is waning support for one of the very few demand engines that is actually helping to create sales for it — all because independent media does what it does best, and that is offer authentic opinions to create the conversations that actually get people excited about purchasing a wristwatch. I detailed the topic of the watch industry unwisely pulling funding away from watch media in this article here.

Some Predictions On What 2020 Holds For The Watch Industry Featured Articles

2020 will bring retail and marketing opportunities to new players in the watch market, as well as traditional brands and retailers willing to rethink how they do business in 2020 and beyond. Despite a faltering global economy with poor future outlooks, demand for the artistic, expressive and status-communicating effects of luxury timepieces is still very strong. Given that watch-lovers are constantly on the hunt for their next watch, there are many incentives for watch brands and retailers to form relationships with consumers.

2020 will be for the horological risk-takers, the innovators, and the aggressors who have the courage to tell traditionalists, “You are so very wrong and need to give up control.” With that change and redistribution of power comes conflict some pain. There will be brands that will go away in 2020, as well as once-important watch industry personalities who no longer recognize the industry they have been working in.

I’m personally looking forward to seeing how 2020 plays out. aBlogtoWatch will align itself with the brands and people investing in the future who have the courage to take risks and who embrace the fact that the future might not look identical to the past. As a collector, I’m eager to see what products and upcoming design trends flow as a result of that.

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Comments

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  • Dick Mille

    An excellent read. Happy new year!

  • Joe

    A great read to kick off 2020!

    I’ve frequently heard of the analogy comparing Rolex to currency – but I hadn’t really considered that the company would treat it like a currency. Very insightful and interesting!

  • Berndt Norten

    Was once feeling down ‘n’ dirty, feeling kinda mean
    I’d been from one to another extreme
    This time I’m having a good time, ain’t got time to wait
    I wanna stick around till I can’t see straight
    Fill my eyes with that double vision

    Happy New Year, Ariel. Let’s hope you have 20/20 vision.

  • Thank you for this interesting review of the watch market. My own gut feel is that we’ll see prices come down in 2020 due to a mixture of reasons.
    Lack of innovation, like the power reserves – most still below 48hrs therefore a nuisance especially if it has a date complication.
    Also too many rehashes of ‘pseudo vintage’ and far too many limited editions, makes them all less valuable.

  • Steve M

    Great job writing this article. 2020 no doubt will be very interesting in horology. Happy New Year!

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Futuristic-looking means difficult to read.

    • Chaz

      Also means easily tired/dated looking design that will make the owner want to flip it sooner than anticipated after wondering to self “WTF did I buy that for??”.

    • Rob Crenshaw

      Only if you mean MB&F…

  • Pedro Lambareiro

    My estimate is that the collection size threshold for most consumers is between eight and 30 watches.

    Some of us must really be a freaks, then. When I decided to sell the non-quartz side of my collection in 2017 the tally was 248 timepieces. Off they went through the stockx website, mementos of personal and business achievements, most of them good, some of them bad. Now its gone, replaced by less than 20 items. the offspring of so much more craftsmanship, a step that’s relatively common in the watch collection world. This last wave of watches were all bought second and third hand. Even the ones with less than an year had at least 20% of their MSRP, some up to 75% (tourbillons with complications on them seems to be easy preys for depreciation)

    Although the boom has definitely past, the bust seems to be shy in making itself show its presence, at least since 2017. So nothing left for most of us to do but wait, the ones lucky enough not to be living from paycheck to paycheck.

    Zenith’s Oscillator isn’t given enough credit. Its the first time we get rid of 30 fundamental core watch components. Compared to it everything from any other brand looks a reminder of days of yore. For me that’s a R&D department I can put my money in, some absolutely unexpected use of materials and the feeling on the wrist feels like nothing ever… a light buzz hovering around one’s bloodstream.

    The Swiss will get the Genequand oscillator out of the doldrums and make it mainstream, after all its something that can make te movements so small and every single complication happen at a microscopic level so lots of space for engraving and all the bells and whistles that luxury costumers are ready to pay for. And who can say no to a 3k watch with a power reserve of 30 days and quartz-levels precision?

  • Mark B

    Interesting and well written article. Thank you.

    I would be remiss if I did not point out a couple things.

    A few years ago, “pre-owned” probably meant a new watch that was sold outside of an authorized dealer and was labeled “pre-owned” so as not to anger brands who don’t want to see their brand new watches being soldat steep discounts online. Today, more and more of the watches labeled as “pre-owned” or “used,” actually are.

    There has been a thriving pre-owned market for many years. As an example, Jeff Bernard was one of the early pioneers of internet pre-owned sales starting in mid-1996. Localized collectors groups, existing in part to horse trade watches have been common since the late ’90’s. And a number of internet forums exist with very active peer-to-peer (interspersed with the quasi dealer) watch buying and selling areas.

    One of the most interesting areas of watch consumer psychology I began to study in 2019 is what I call watch-collection threshold levels. The idea is that, at some point, watch collections get so large in number that the collector feels it necessary to downsize before adding more watches to their collection.

    Having collected watches since the early ’80’s, I would say this is a common practice. It certainly has been with myself and a number of friends. I would also postulate that many watch collections are built upon “windfall” income events. Some people are lucky enough to have perpetual windfall income. Most of us are not.

    Let’s see how your prognostications work out. It will be interesting to watch the industry in 2020.

    • Ariel Adams

      Thanks for the remarks Mark. I wanted to comment on your statement about pre-owned watch sales online. You are correct that there is vast diversity of pre-owned (actually used) watches available online. Though their availability and condition is highly fragmented, and you’ll agree that the way to find them and buy them is hardly suitable for mainstream consumers. The goal right now for many retailers is to mimic the assurances of buying a new watch at retail while buying a pre-owned watch. I am just waiting to see how published prices for pre-owned watches on the more polishes platforms line up with prices for the same watches on more casual platforms such as eBay, and Chrono24. When the difference in price is only 10-15% then i think the polished platforms will gain some traction with enthusiasts such as us. With that said, the profit-necessary motive of most of these retailers might prevent prices from ever falling like that. It means that there continues to be demand for a serious peer-to-peer trading platform. I’ve actually designed one on paper – I’d love to build it someday.

  • Phil Evans

    Big changes :
    WWV natl standards radio time signals are deleted in 2020 USA budget.
    Casio has discontinued the limited edition titanium squares issued September 2019.

    • commentator bob

      Looks like WWVB was going to be killed for FY19, but was saved, and was kept for FY20. Regardless G-Shocks can be set like regular quartz watches and some can also sync via GPS satellite or Bluetooth.

  • Chaz

    Love your prognosticating articles Ariel, but sometimes they are too tome-like for my (recently) more ADD habits.

    Q: Are the Chinese VAT taxes for mainland Chinese citizens returning home after a trip abroad? Because last month on a trip to the PRC, I wasn’t scrutinized at all upon entry (yes, while wearing a pricey Swiss watch) and after doing a bit of watch shopping and question asking I learned that A) ADs are now offering tax refunds on Swiss watches purchased in China and B) for the one boutique (a very mainstream popular brand) that said they did not do tax refunds, their sticker price OTD on a certain popular limited edition model (which they had one on hand) was $100 LESS than the U.S. sticker price pre sales tax!

    Happy new year and all the best in 2020 (and year of the Rat) !

  • harry schaffner

    Kudos to Ariel for the best summary of the current state of the watch industry. I read many watch sites but ABTW is the most direct and trustworthy for two reasons: fine writers and an absence of conflicts of interest sine this site does not retail watches or accessories. I trust Ariel’s views since he gives the reader the reasoning that got him to his conclusions.

    I am not a collector. I own five watches and wear three regularly, the most expensive currently retails for $5,500 USD. I am a person who is interested in the watch industry and particularly luxury items since it is a handy window into a more holistic view of the economies of the world. I used to buy and sell date-justs twenty years ago for modest profit but the fake watches and the size of the used inventory for sale by reputable (?) dealers put me at a distinct disadvantage.

    I detest the notion that some people are flippers. Once the manufacturer gets their original price for the product it enters the free market. At that point it is the buyer who has to decide if he wants to buy a new in the box full set at a steep increase over the original sale price or not. It is no different than scalping tickets on Broadway or to a sporting event. Is putting the tickets in Stub Hub all that different than the kid in the street? (I was the kid in the street long ago and learned a great deal about negotiation skills that carried me to a huge career negotiating settlements for millions.) .

    The Hong Kong part of this article is most informative. Watchmakers have followed the trend of affluence to the ends of the market. There is no new market and therefor Ariel’s conclusion that retailing of fine used watches will become much more respected is true. We already see several new companies with Wall Street money entering the field and more are sure to come. We will see ‘certified’ used watches being sold by the AD’s from their plush retail stores where the rent does not justify selling used watches.

    Summary: Ariel this was a wonderful piece worthy of being published on New Year’s Day. Thanks.

  • Tempvs Mortvvs

    I was happily benefitted by the excess of inventory of several brands. These past few years I’ve been able to buy 3 or 4 watches for what used to be the amount of a single one. Beautiful (to my eyes), well-made, high quality watches. Not mainstream, definitely, but I don’t care about those.

    • Berndt Norten

      Care to share some brand and model names??

      • Tempvs Mortvvs

        Some brands come to mind, but not so much the models: BLU, Nubeo, Ventura, Clerc, Wyler, Volna, Corum, Scalfaro… Some of those brands have gone the way of the dodo, but most of the movements, not being in-house, are easily serviceable…

        • Berndt Norten

          Thanks

  • Pete Yo

    Very nice article. I look forward to 2020 and what the watch companies will be presenting. This Blog has educated me tremendously the last two years and whenever I look at my newest watch I am reminded that I made the correct choice. Thank you all (both the authors and the commenters) for educating me. Happy New Years everyone!

  • Esteban

    “Most consumers don’t need to bother themselves much with the above problems because they could care less about the health”
    *couldn’t care less.

  • commentator bob

    “When it comes to what types of products consumers will want in 2020, I have to say that it will mostly be classic, traditional watches — in effect, those watches with a nostalgic or retro appeal.”

    This is a bit ridiculous, and completely inaccurate to say when the Apple Watch is the highest selling watch by revenue in the world, and outsells the entire Swiss watch industry.

    This may be true if only looking at the mechanical watch industry, but that makes sense, because people interested in retro technology are going to want retro looks. However even in the limited mechanical watch market Richard Mille is a popular brand (with regard to number of fans).

    Also, I’m not sure what planet the idea we’re in a bad economy is from. The US has a record expansion with record asset returns and record low unemployment (the reason it is impossible to get certain Rolex, Patek, and AP models), and the world economy is also continuing to grow. Sure I would say a lot of that is fueled by reckless, unsustainable government deficits (the US had a $1 trillion budget deficit in 2019 under Trump, who is managing the country like he ran his eventually bankrupt casinos, and the deficit is going to grow even more in 2020). But the reality is that, for now, world economies are strong.

    • Ariel Adams

      Indeed I am talking about watches people buy for expressive (“fashion,” if you will) purposes and not for functional purposes such as a smartwatches.

      I’m not sure where you are getting your economic data and I’m not going to get into a political discussion here as it isn’t relevant. The bottom line is that disposable incomes per capita is down, consumer confidence is way down, and despite our supposed (if some media is to be trusted, which I’m not sure is wise) statistics about a healthy job market in the US, most of the media doesn’t explain how that data is calculated (I suspect large volumes of unreported US unemployment) and that United States suffers from extremely high levels of what is called under-employment (people aren’t employed at jobs which earn them enough given their skill or training levels). The US government relies heavily on the stability of its stock markets as it wants to keep investment and investor confidence high (optimistic sounding media is a good way to do that). For that reason I think there is a large concerted effort to keep the “news” positive about our economic outlooks. More honest reporting would damage the stock market and for better or worse, the US economy is too reliant on it. This is why I believe the data on most US news channels is not particularly telling of the actual status of the economy (though I do admit that US cities which attract large institutional employers through attractive tax subsidies do benefit for about 10 years – before common infrastructure problems kick-in. Which creates economic bubbles in a larger economic downturn.

      Trust me, I’m the last person who wants to shout about there being a poor economy, as a poor economy doesn’t do any of us any good. Like a good scientist I collect available data and come to a sound and realistic conclusion based upon what appears to be happening. An economic boom is good for the watch industry, so why wouldn’t I exalt one if it was coming? I’m simply being real and talking about the world we live in and hoping it spurs a conversation about getting us to the world we want to live in.

      • commentator bob

        Consumer confidence is pretty close to a 10 year high:

        https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/consumer-confidence

        Disposable income is also at an all time high:

        https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/disposable-personal-income

        There is massive inequality, and I don’t think this is sustainable because of the massive budget deficits fueling it, but the point is that these are “good” economic times. Things are much more likely to get worse than better, including for the watch industry.

        • Ariel Adams

          I don’t like to comment about data whose precise means of collection and analysis I don’t know well enough to speak intelligently on. I think there is an old adage about it not requiring that much effort to produce statistics that look good for you or against depending on how you mess with the numbers. My approach to economic analysis is to measure a broad spectrum of factors – the least of which are graphs.

          With that said, the second part of your statement shows that we more or less have our minds in the same place… so it is wise for all interested parties in the watch industry to heavily invest in innovation and transformation unless they want further challenges ahead.

  • Esteban

    It’s not quite clear to me why brands will use influencers less, if anything, I see them on the rise. Just look at actors and sportspeople.

    I think that smartwatches are not practical, yes they can do a lot of things, but not practically. Small screens, limited space, poorly designed OSs. Maybe you meant that people are looking for a watch that does several things.

    Retro is having a blast, just look at all those rose gold and gold cheap Casios that everyone seems to be wearing nowadays. Totally agree there.

    People are looking for luxury watches for sport? Which sports? Formula 1 and golf? I just don’t see that at any income level (from people that can barely afford a cellphone to people that rent a residence next to their residence while they remodel the 5th bathroom) or sport discipline (boxing, cycling, running, gym… and golf) from my acquaintances. They’re mostly looking for smartwatches (and from Apple generally) for sport.

    As far as collabs go, I couldn’t care less about them. I find them as distasteful as artists promoting watches. I’m sure the market is there? How well has your UNO been selling, for instance? All the myriad of Brand x Hodinkees?

    Everyone’s experience and circumstances are different, of course, but I just don’t see people buying watches. Because of my work I know quite a lot of people, and in all seriousness, I’m the only one that cares about traditional watches. All they care about, if they’re women, are flashy rose gold cheap quartz, or flashy rose gold MK smartwatches. If they’re men, then Apple watch. Also the mentioned cheap Casios if they’re young, and that’s it. Just two of them a Galaxy smartwatch.
    On the streets if I saw someone with a decent watch, it’s usually a person older than 45. And not Mexican.

    Have a great 2020, Ariel and ABTW team!

  • Ariel Adams

    Thank you. I’m glad you like the idea. I’ve refined my concept after sharing it with some potential investors and developers over the last two years. I’m looking to create a sustainable business model that is for watch collectors by watch collectors as I see that as being the only to create a trusted platform. When I encounter the right partners for this project I look forward to building it. I don’t think anyone other than the watch enthusiast community could have dreamed up the idea, and I don’t think anyone other than the watch enthusiast community can effectively build it (that is my way of saying I worry little about the established third-party retailers our there stumbling upon my concept in its entirely independently). Sorry about sounding so vague about the idea but as it is still confidential I don’t want to be giving out too many details at this time.

    • Mark B

      As per previous; very interesting. I will look forward to seeing such a platform materialize.

    • Steven Butler

      I would love for a platform like that to be established. Count me in!

    • Geraldo123

      You are on to something Ariel. The vig, cut, margin(s), of these preowned retailers have increased quite a bit. There’s too much of a difference between the sell price of the enthusiast and the sell price of the dealer. In addition, some of these retailers are selling poor quality over polished out of style-size wise watches for too much money. This is often done through friendly influencer marketing with little objective evaluation of the actual watch.

  • Jared

    shouldn’t it be on the likes of ABTW and other blogs to teach the consumers about the alternatives to Rolex, AP and Patek? To convince them that hey guys, there are other brands out there.

    meanwhile it feels like the opposite is happening, the likes of Hodinkee are basically telling people to only buy Rolex and Patek because god forbid you lose a few bucks on resale on your watch. Better to buy a used Rolex than a new Breitling/Omega/Tudor etc.

  • What fresh hell is this?

    In-Demand Watches Will Not Necessarily Be Easier To Get

    Alongside artificial scarcity, what are the other “biggest cons” in the watch industry today?

  • Ed Yu

    Great article and I definitely have seen myself moving from Rolex to FPJ and other independent brands this year as I have no desire to play the AD game. I now find myself enjoying my $600 Baltic or the $4000 Brellum more than the ceramic Daytona or the GMT.
    I however see this more as a learning process as you first have to learn how to spend money and then the enjoyment on horological achievements before you can find enjoyment irregardless of what the watch conveys to random people who look at your watches.

  • commentator bob

    Illinois is being destroyed by the cost of six figure pensions at 50 or 55 for every state and local government employee. The picture is much different in Texas, Florida, and Tennessee.

  • commentator bob

    Probably the biggest mechanical watch news for 2020 is that the Swiss regulators want to stop Swatch Group / ETA from selling movements to outside companies.

    • Ariel Adams

      To be honest, I really don’t know what the actual effect will be. I know that a decision not in favor of the Swatch Group could have massive ramifications for the industry, but I would need to see it happen. In the past when such worries about supply for movements has been a fear, there has been an impressive amount of third-party suppliers ready to fill the gap. I really don’t think the actual market effect of this is going to be as worrisome as it could be. Though this will have a large impact (either way) for the Swatch Group. Let’s just see how it plays out.

      • Sheez Gagoo

        The third-party movement business is between 0,6 and 1% of SGs revenue. The market eroded in the last years. So this is a flyshit for SG. Small and medium sized firms are not touched by the Comco decision, which is not final. Richemont and LVMH are touched. But SG didn’t want to deliver to them anyway. I found my peace with the industry since I don’t work for it anymore and honestly shorted the shit out of SG. So I was quite happy with the comcodecision. The consewuences for the SG and the industry will me minor.

    • SuperStrapper

      With Sellita stronger than ever, STP popping their capable head up, and some players like concepto, etc stepping into more approachable price points for new brands i don’t see why anyone would care about that.
      Outside of the swiss Seiko, citizen, and miyota have affordable reliability for 3rd parties buttoned up properly.
      It might actually do them some good to close their doors and see the real world. When (if) they do and realise they aren’t hurting anyone, maybe they’ll do something worth talking about rather than just continue to churn out the same suite of movements they’ve been leaning on for decades. I’m not poo-pooing the proven reliability those valjoux and ETA movements have, but they aren’t anything special anymore, or have been for some time. It’s a confidence game, and they’re losing it.

      • commentator bob

        I am interested in what Citizen does. I am a big Seiko fan, but “Swiss Made” still matters a lot to the market (regardless of what it actually means), and Seiko has too much pride to go Swiss. Citizen, on the other hand, already owns Bulova, La Joux-Perret SA, Arnold & Son, Frederique Constant, and Alpina. If they moved some of the higher end Miyota movement production to Switzerland that would be interesting.

        • TheZondaS

          “Seiko has too much pride to go Swiss”
          It’s not pride, it’s just absurd to think this could ever happen. Makes no sense whatsoever.
          Not only this looks ridiculous on every single aspect, but also goes totally against the brand’s values. Seiko is about celebrating Japanese culture and proving to the market that you don’t need to be Swiss or German to built a high-quality timepiece. That’s why they entered the Observatory Competitions, to win against the Swiss and have their watch crowned as the most accurate.

      • Sheez Gagoo

        Miyota is Citizen.

  • Ariel Adams

    Thank you for the interesting contribution to the conversation.

  • cluedog12

    Thank you for making this a single page article, makes reading and commenting much easier.

    I’m hoping the big holding companies look outside of growth in production numbers to drive the bottom line. Just as watch consumers have turned on the big and unwearable timepieces, I believe they’ll eventually turn away from all watches that do not deliver in terms of quality, design and value. Looking at where we are today vs. 2010, I have to say I’m pleased overall as I believe the mechanical watches for sale today are more wearable and better looking than they were ten years ago. You and the rest of the media have played an important role in this outcome.

    Independents are well-situated to continue growing, at the expense of the big hold-co’s that don’t dominate the status segment. Secondhand independent watches are an excellent point of entry for knowledgeable consumers looking for quality watchmaking beyond a signalling mechanism. I hope ABTW will continue to cover the best of these emerging brands in the decade to come, with very considered collaborative efforts sprinkled in as needed.

  • Osama Abughanim

    Just hope companies like Rolex goes out of business

    • Playboy Johnny – Team Mariu$

      All because you could not order a new Rolex???

      Sounds childish.

    • m33cav

      Any Company that fails means jobs are lost. That is never something to hope for.

    • •L•E•O•

      If Rolex goes out of business, all the others will be dead already. Rolex will be the last standing.

  • Geraldo123

    True.

  • Geraldo123

    For someone with no crystal ball, Ariel writes a great story. In addition. I see the preowned influencers trying to disparage new watches so as to encourage customers to buy used watches from them naturally. It’s a tough world out there.

  • R.J. Kamatovic

    Fantastic article again Ariel – As always – I find your editorials so much more rewarding and thought provoking than the ‘Advertorials’ that Ironically, the brands likely demand and pay for, but hurt both the media outlet, and the brand… (although, there are still a surprising number of naked emperors walking around)
    I think another big issue facing the consumer is the ‘investment’ angle – even without any horological knowledge, the value retention argument has become a part of the conversation like never before… along with “pre-owned” becoming a major player, the expectation of loss when reselling will give way to the expectation of “retained investment”… and anyone who would otherwise feel unqualified to give advice on watch purchasing will offer the sage advice of ‘only Rolex, AP, and PP retain value’.. and they wouldn’t be wrong.

    now brands only play seems to be in artificial scarcity, or limited editions… when you see models “limited to 7,000” being snapped up like crazy and “re-selling at premiums” you know that a new type of manipulation is underway… when the speculators/investors start getting burned, and feeling betrayed, a new level of resentment may be bred… we all say that the emotions around watches are the driving force.. and this is usually because the emotion is so positive (celebrating a life-milestone/wedding/promotion/getting a watch that belonged to a love one).. when the emotion becomes negative (“I was told to buy this to make money, I lost thousands!”, “Hodinkee told me this was ‘Lit’, but now I can’t give it away”) an emotion that was never part of the watch world, an immigrant parasite, has now entered the biosphere…

    After the dust settles, the true lovers of the hobby will still be left standing… but it will be interesting to see what kind of collateral damage there might be…

  • Sheez Gagoo

    Ok

  • Les DeFelice

    Ariel:

    As a franchisee for Visiting Angels, America’s Choice in Homecare, I am the new owner of an F.P. Journe QP, my second watch ever at age 66, thanks to your wonderful review. I see parallels in your excellent analysis of the top brands in horology and our industry. Like those brands, there is an ever-increasing demand for consumer pay home care with a decreasing supply of qualified caregivers.

    Through cracking the code of satisfying that demand, I look forward to a lifetime of appreciation of F.P. Journe timepieces
    through additional purchases. I am grateful for your insights!

    • Ariel Adams

      Thank you for the contribution to this discussion!

  • •L•E•O•

    Good article, Ariel.

    So much so that authentic, trustworthy information about products is the exception as opposed to the norm.

    Very true. The biggest problem is that many brands are dishonest about the manufacturing, for example. Only a few openly tells that they work in China (like Atelier Wen) or make the effort to produce a real Swiss watch (like Ultramarine, which I make). It is complicated to ask the journalists to tell the truth when most of the companies are not, and paying the bills with adds or paid articles. And so, it’s very complicated for the customers to know what is what.
    The 60% value rule to have the Swiss Made label also doesn’t help at all, because in fact, with labour cost from 20 to 1, one can can do 90% of the work in China and still meet the 60% Swiss value rule.
    But it’s even worst with the Germany Made label : one can have it with… 0% of the parts made in Germany.

  • Osama Abughanim

    The kind I like

  • Ariel Adams

    I stick by all of my statements related to the economic matters I mentioned. Of course all theories and perspectives are malleable when presented with new evidence and data. The conclusions I come to are based on a combination of studying data, digesting high-quality economic news from around the globe, and lots of personal experience as someone who travels to far more places each year that most of the population. My statements refer to the general economy – even though there are bubbles of growth and success here and there.

    I’m also not sure how your initial remark about Invicta-style “discount pricing” connects to your second statement. You are commenting on a particular style of selling watches direct to consumers whereas I am talking about third-party intermediaries artificially jacking-up prices.

    I also don’t participate in United States partisan economic talking points. I don’t watch US televised news as I don’t find it particularly useful or accurate. So if statements I make are akin to those made by people with clear political motives then it is entirely by coincidence. I strive to be a realist who applies logic to the arguments I make – arguments entirely independent of catering to one way of thinking or another.

  • Lord Ravenor

    Have you actually worked with a lot of successful business people? I have and not all of them can express thoughts and ideas about the broader economy (and the watch industry) with the clarity that Ariel just did in his article. He should be commended, not condemned, for “parroting” “far left” talking points.

    The truth is, making economic observations is not the exclusive province of successful business people — contrary to what certain individuals who stumbled into power might have you believe — or these same successful individuals wouldn’t be employing actual economists to help inform their thinking.

    If anything, the willingness to listen and learn from many different points of view is the common denominator among many successful business people I’ve met — but you may have a different experience.

  • Dan F

    Speaking to Ariel’s point, that today it takes consumers a long time to make up their minds and actually BUY a watch…. Choice is great and all, but I see so many watches that are essentially the same. To me, the market has become fragmented with so many brands and models, that it is overwhelming. Blogs like ABTW help make sense of it all! The vintage trend is nice, but I don’t think it should make up the majority of the market. At some point I think it will die down. The icons will always be there, butI think it is healthier for the industry to see more innovation with new styles.

    • Ariel Adams

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Aditya

    One could make the case that Ariel is a successful businessman.

  • Max

    In agreement re: the independent brands, You’ll also see the occasional traditional brand snap up social media darlings (similar to Mvmt/Movado) when it makes sense — little risk and some big rewards for new talent/viewpoints/agility. Independents continue to offer the general public accessibility to owners and designers that many folks love — it’s the nature of those brands. Every consumer study, especially regarding social media, shows that consumers are seeking a relationship with brands — this is now starting to happen at the non-luxury level (which, oddly, has started treating their consumers less special) and it’s had some great results. These new brands — love them or hate them — will drive a lot of creativity and customer service that’s desperately needed.

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