A Chronograph With a Single Button

Chronographs have been around for a long time, and due to their features, which include the ability to record elapsed time, they remain popular with average watch buyers and collectors.

Models are available in a wide variety of price ranges, as well; you can buy a chronograph for as little as $20 or spend tens of thousands on one.

porsche design They all generally have the same look to them, however – multiple dials, usually at 4 and 8 o’clock, and three buttons on the edge of the case.  The center crown controls time for the watch itself, and the upper and lower buttons control the chronograph features.

It’s been this way for a long time, and most people simply understand this design to be How It Is when it comes to a chronograph.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  People know a chronograph when they see one.  They understand what it does, and if you’ve ever worn one before, you’ll intuitively understand how it works and more importantly, how to use it.  That’s great, because you won’t have to spend time with a learning curve when you first buy one.  You can just put it on and go.

So leave it to Porsche Design to turn the tables on chronograph design.  They’ve come up with a model that looks quite a bit different, in more ways than one.

At first glance, you’ll see that the inset dials are not in the usual location, but are instead at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock.  That’s a bit different, but what really stands out is what you’ll see when you look at the crown.

One button.  Just one.

The Monoblock Actuator makes use of a rocking actuator arm that uses the crown as a pivot point.  This allows you to have a single control that has multiple functions.

It also streamlines the look of the watch, which, we must say, looks terrific.

The watch will be available with either a black face or a blue one, and with a leather strap or a titanium bracelet.

That’s the good part.  The bad part is the price.  While not in the Stratosphere, it will be out of the price range of most buyers, as the watch starts at a bit over $6000.

On the other hand, if you’re a fan of the company’s automobiles, and you already own one, then you’re already likely in the income range necessary to buy one of these beauties.

 

 

Unusual Watch Case Materials Emerge

Sapphire watch case from HublotAside from appearance, most people don’t give a lot of thought to watch cases.  If you asked the average watch buyer what the case is about, they’d likely tell you that it’s to hold the movement.

In a practical sense, that’s pretty much all a case does, but that doesn’t mean that manufacturers aren’t spending a lot of time deciding what kind of materials to use in their cases.

Sapphire watch caseFor most watches, the material used for the case is stainless steel.  It’s relatively easy to work with, it’s a common material, it isn’t going to rust, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money.

You can coat it to give it a bit of color, but most of the coating processes will wear off with time and use.  If you want to keep the color and you don’t want a watch that just looks like it’s made from steel, then you’re going to need to find another material.

For high end watches, gold has long been the go-to material for offering a bit of luxury and a different look.  Gold (and platinum, as well) has a few drawbacks.  It’s expensive, of course, though that’s part of the appeal to luxury watch buyers.

Gold is also quite soft, and that can be a problem, as it scratches easily.  Gold has to be combined with other materials to make it more durable, but it’s still going to be quite a bit softer than steel.

With improvements in technology, a few manufacturers have taken to using other high-tech materials to make their watch cases, with varying degrees of success.

Here are a few materials that we’ve seen in recent high end luxury wristwatch cases:

Ceramic – This isn’t the stuff you work with to make pottery, but is instead a lightweight, durable material that can also hold color for life.  That makes it an ideal material for someone who wants a strong watch that can be offered in a wide variety of colors.

Carbon fiber – Carbon can be quite strong, (diamonds are made from it) and astonishingly lightweight, which makes for a great combination of properties to put in a wristwatch case.  On the downside, there’s nothing particularly luxurious about carbon, though it can appeal to people who are interested in rugged sports models and chronographs.

Damascus steel is a material we’ve seen offered from a couple of makers recently, and that’s rather interesting, as the process for making Damascus steel was reportedly lost sometime in the 19th century.  Damascus steel was used long ago in swords, and the process of repeatedly folding the material to get the impurities out leaves unusual striations in the material that make it quite unique and attractive.

Of course, calling it Damascus steel doesn’t make it so, but it’s a better name than “steel with lines in it.”

Damascus steel

Damascus steel

Bronze is a material we’ve seen in a few watches, and that’s kind of surprising, as bronze has a few qualities about it that make it not all that desirable to have in a watch case.  It’s rather soft and it’s also rather heavy and neither of those are endearing qualities.  On the other hand, bronze takes on a patina as it ages, and that patina can give the watch a unique look.  One can’t help but wonder if we’ll soon see copper watch cases for the same reason.

Sapphire – Yes, sapphire.  It’s expensive.  It’s difficult to work with.  It’s a material that can often look like plastic, which rather takes away from the fact that it’s a very, very expensive material.  How expensive?  Hublot makes a watch with a sapphire case, and it retails for roughly $60,000.

That’s a lot of money for a watch that looks like it might be made from plastic, but sapphire is attractive and does wear well.

All of these materials are interesting and if you have the money, they’re likely a good investment, too.  For most of us, we’ll just have to stick with stainless steel, and that’s fine.  Steel works well, and is cost effective.

 

 

Asus Getting Out of Smartwatch Market?

The smartwatch market continues to baffle pretty much everyone, and that includes both buyers and manufacturers.  Once thought to be a sure thing that simply couldn’t miss, the smartwatch has not become the must-have device that everyone thought it would be.

asus zenwatchThree or four years ago, manufacturers of traditional timepieces were worried that smartwatches were going to jeopardize the market for traditional mechanical watches, as it was thought that everyone who was already carrying a smartphone would flock to buy a watch that could interact with it.

This led a number of computer manufacturers to jump into the smartwatch business, including Asus and Apple, whose Apple Watch was expected to take the market by storm.  Apple was so confident of the success of their product line that they introduced a model whose price topped out at some $17,000.

At that price, manufacturers of traditional watches, such as Rolex, were starting to panic, concerned their potential buyers might go buy the Apple Watch instead.

That hasn’t happened, and while a few traditional manufacturers, such as Tag Heuer and Fossil, have introduced smartwatches, a number of other makers have either scaled back their offerings (Apple’s five-figure watch is long gone) or bailed out completely.

Asus ZenWatch line was hardly the company’s bread and butter, and their plans to scrap the smartwatch line will likely not significantly impact the company’s bottom line.  A lot of buyers are staying away from smartwatches as they’re not all that functional without a smartphone nearby and some of them are downright unattractive.

Since you can buy a watch for the same price that looks good, offers a lot of features and will likely last for decades, it doesn’t make sense to spend the same amount of money on a smartwatch that may be stuffed in a drawer in a year or two.

asus zenwatchMany of us are old enough to remember the “new” quartz watches with digital displays that became ubiquitous in the 1970s, only to find them not working at all some six months after purchase.  They were expensive and most of them had relatively short lifespans.  We suspect that a lot of buyers remember that and they’re staying skeptical.

One of the downsides of Asus’ exit from the market is that the ZenWatch line was one of the more affordably priced lines of smartwatches on the market.  That they were only able to sell a few thousand of them each month is a testament to the relative shakiness of the market.

Rare Rolex Sells for $5 Million

rolex bao dai 5 million Five million dollars is a lot of money to spend for anything. For most people, they’d expect to get real estate for that kind of money, and probably a lot of real estate, at that.

In this case, we’re talking about $5 million spent for a single wristwatch, the so-called “Bao Dai” Rolex.  This watch bears the name of its first owner, Bao Dai, who was the last emperor of the Nguyen dynasty in Vietnam.  He purchased the watch in Paris in 1954.

Officially, the Bao Dai Rolex is a Rolex Reference 6062.  The timepiece features a gold case with a black face, and is one of only three such models sold.  Making this one unique is that it’s the only one of the three that had diamond markers on the even numbers around the face.  The watch is a certified chronometer with a sweep second hand, a moon phase indicator, and a display that shows both the day of the week and the month of the year.

The $5 million is the most money ever paid at auction for a Rolex, and this isn’t the first time that this particular watch has held the title.  It previously sold in 2002 for a then-record $369,000.

While watch collectors seek out pieces that are unusually rare or which have unusual features, they’re also attracted to models that have unusual provenance.  Watches with famous previous owners usually fit into that category, and this one is no exception.

This sale continues the trend of unusually high priced watches selling well in a market that is slowly growing a bit stagnant.  That’s not to say that the market is sluggish, but it’s sluggish in the mid-to-somewhat-high-priced range.  It’s not stagnant in the upper end of the spectrum, as the people who would buy such pieces have finances that are likely to remain stable over time.

Watches like this one also rarely come to market, so the opportunity to buy them is equally rare.  In those case, buyers always seem to find the money to pay for them.

While a number of bidders were at the auction to bid in person, the ultimate bid was placed over the phone by a buyer whose name remains a mystery.

Though the $5 million price is a record for a Rolex, it is not a record for the most expensive watch ever sold at auction.  That belongs to a Patek Philippe Reference 1518 that sold for more than $11 million in 2016.

That’s a lot of money for anything, even for a one of a kind Rolex.

Why Smartwatches Haven’t Taken Over

A few years ago, the smartwatch made its debut, and people who follow such things were concerned that it might destroy the Swiss watch market, which has been thriving for at least a century.

Those concerns weren’t entirely unwarranted, as a similar watch crisis had occurred just a few decades ago when quartz movements first came to market.  In the end, the traditional model learned to survive along side electronic watches, and a few high end makers manufacture both mechanical and electronic watches today.

smartwatchThe smartwatch was thought to present a different kind of problem, in that many people thought they’d replace traditional watches altogether.  A lot of people don’t even wear watches anymore, as they get the time from their phone.  Smartwatches work with a smart phone to provide some functionality that you’d never get from a mechanical timepiece.

Adding to the problem is that a few companies, such as Apple, even introduced high end smartwatches that were intended to attract the interest of the well heeled watch buyer.

As with the quartz crisis of the 1970s, a few traditional makers have jumped on the bandwagon to make smartwatches alongside their mechanical models, but…

…three or four years later, the noise has mostly died down, and no one seems to be particularly concerned about the smartwatch destroying the market for mechanical wristwatches.

The Swiss watch industry is not without its problems, and there has been somewhat of a downturn in business.

But those issues have more to do with a lack of well-funded buyers for high end models than it does with a lack of interest in the product itself.

The smartwatch problem has largely gone away, however, because the industry has discovered something that should have been obvious from day one – people who buy high end mechanical watches and people who buy smartwatches are two entirely different groups of people.

High end watch people are fans of watches.  They like the mechanics.  They like the attention to detail.  They like the attention to quality.  But the people who buy smartwatches are a different type of consumer.  They like what a smartwatch does, and that’s about it.

That the two groups don’t overlap at all was made perfectly clear when Apple made the decision to discontinue their high end 18-karat gold Apple Watch, which was priced between $10,000 and $17,000.

Sales of that particular model were so poor that the company removed it from their product line and their Website, and they’d prefer that the public at large forget that it ever existed.

People who want smartwatches weren’t going to pay five figures for one, and people who want to pay five figures for a watch want one with moving parts.

traditional watchA few hybrid models are trying to bridge the gap between the two worlds, but they’re staying fairly close to the smartwatch price range, which tends to run between $100-$500 or so.

People buy high end watches because they’re built well, they’re built to last, and they’re the sort of things that you can wear for a lifetime and hand down to future generations as an heirloom.

While first generation Apple watches may reach collectible status, as early iPhones have, they’re not likely to attract the sort of buyers who would rather buy a Audemars Piguet or a Patek Philippe, and the people who make those high end watches are no longer concerned (if they ever were) about losing market share to the likes of Samsung or Apple.

Is the Watch Market Due for a Correction?

The rare watch market, particularly as it concerns mechanical wristwatches, is an odd duck as collectibles go.  Most people don’t even wear wristwatches anymore, as they have their smartphones to tell them the time.

Despite this, and the decades-old trend towards quartz movements in the timepiece industry, the market for rare and unusual timepieces seems to be insatiable.

Just a few years ago, during the Great Recession, watch manufacturers were concerned about going out of business due to the lack of demand worldwide.  In less than a decade, this has changed dramatically, and makers such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Breitling and others are suddenly churning out tremendous numbers of watches.

Many of these are limited editions, with unusual features – moonphases, a tourbillon, lots of gold, lots of diamonds, and often with production numbers that are well under a hundred pieces.

Some of these also have prices that are well north of $50,000.  A few even have prices that go into seven figures, as seen below:

One would think that the market for such things would be saturated by now.  Everyone has but two wrists.  You can only store so many watches in your case.  The limit for the number of $10,000+ timepieces that someone might want to own would seem to be finite.

Yet production continues, and people are snapping up the limited edition items as fast as they can come off of the assembly line.  Much of this is due to the explosive growth of the economy in China, and people there are quick to want to show off their success.  One way to do that is to show people that you have “Western” symbols of success, and expensive automobiles and luxury watches are a great way to do that.

Rolex Cellini

Because of this, a surprising number of these expensive watches have found their way to Asia, and that does leave some people in the industry concerned.  If all of those watches are over there, what happens if there’s an economic collapse?

Another issue is that there is a seeming glut of vintage pieces for sale right now.  You might flinch at the price that you’ll have to pay for a brand-new Rolex, for instance, but you can buy one from the 1970s or 1980s that’s in great shape and which still has the Rolex pedigree for a lot less money than you’d pay for a new one.

Savvy collectors know this, but the newly wealthy in Asia don’t care…today.  That may change if the market gets a little shaky.

There are a few other factors that suggest that a market correction may soon be in order:

  • Anti-corruption laws in China now make it difficult to bribe public officials, and high-end watches used to be the currency of choice for that.
  • As sales have increased, so have prices, and a lot of would-be buyers are starting to balk at prices that have doubled or tripled in recent years.

It’s hard to say if the market is going to collapse, or fade, or just quietly slow down.  But as anyone in manufacturing can tell you, double-digit sales booms don’t last forever.

Sooner or later, and possibly sooner, there’s going to be a downturn in the high end watch market.  The biggest driver of this, of course, will be the overall economy, and if there’s a global slowdown in the stock markets, then the luxury goods markets will soon follow.

Now might be a good time to start investing in vintage timepieces, rather than limited edition new ones.