How These Companies Increased Their Worldwide Grip on Watches

It has been clear for a while that among the many tons of of manufacturers that make up the posh watch business, 4 — Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille — are usually not just like the others.

The manufacturers are wanted by each established collectors and dabblers new to the sphere. Their names are often known as sponsors of main sporting occasions, from the U.S. Open (Rolex) to Les Voiles de St. Barth (Richard Mille), and cultural sights, from the Montreux Jazz Festival (Audemars Piguet) to the Singapore arts heart Esplanade (Patek Philippe). They are name-checked in track lyrics, flashed on pink carpets and, on event, stolen straight off individuals’s wrists.

But since 2017, and particularly over the previous 18 months, all 4 watchmakers have strengthened their dominance of the market, and the demand for — and worth of — their timepieces has continued to rise.

Why 2017? That’s when “the ascent started to happen,” stated Yoni Ben-Yehuda, head of watches at Material Good, a New York-based retailer that carries Audemars Piguet. Demand started to outpace provide, as extra individuals entered the market, with social media taking part in an enormous function. Secondary costs for probably the most sought-after fashions began to extend, at a price of about 15 % yr over yr, Mr. Ben-Yehuda stated.

And why within the final 18 months? The reply lies in a mixture of provide shortages attributable to the pandemic and cash poured into the worldwide economic system by federal banks, defined Aurel Bacs, the auctioneer whose Bacs and Russo consultancy runs the watch division at Phillips. “Suddenly we find ourselves with more money and less watches to buy. Consequently, prices go up.”

A Patek Philippe retailer in Hong Kong. Early this yr the model determined to cease making a mannequin some potential patrons had been ready eight or 10 years to amass. Credit…Anthony Kwan for The New York Times

In late July in Monaco, for example, the watch auctioneer Antiquorum offered a Ref. 5711 Green Dial Nautilus by Patek Philippe, nonetheless in its factory-sealed packaging, for 416,000 euros, or $492,000, a value that included the public sale home’s 25 % fee.

What made the consequence so noteworthy is that the mannequin had been launched in April with a retail value of $34,890.

“The watches from these brands are universal liquid assets now,” stated Geoffrey Hess, a global watch specialist at Phillips, based mostly in New York. “Of course, they’re all well made and recognizable. But there’s comfort for collectors in buying from these brands because buyers and sellers will value their watches as a recognized currency.”

A significant distinction in regards to the so-called Big Four: They are privately owned, whereas most of their opponents belong to publicly held luxurious teams (comparable to Compagnie Financière Richemont, which owns Cartier, and Swatch Group, which owns Omega).

“These four brands don’t answer to shareholders, and none are driven by immediate profits,” stated John Simonian, chief government of Richard Mille within the Americas.

An instance of the Big Four’s strategy could be Patek Philippe’s choice early this yr to cease producing the Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A-Zero10, a stainless-steel timepiece with a black-blue dial — a watch that some potential patrons have been ready eight and even 10 years to acquire. And therein lies the No. 1 rationalization for the manufacturers’ excessive desirability, business specialists say: Demand for his or her watches far outstrips provide — regardless of the 4 corporations’ vastly totally different annual manufacturing figures.

Rolex doesn’t disclose its output. But in line with Morgan Stanley, which in March printed a report on the Swiss watch business titled “King Rolex,” it makes about one million watches per yr — although in 2020, that quantity is believed to have dipped to 810,000. (Even with that decline, the authors wrote, “We believe that Rolex became the largest player in 2020 for the first time in decades, with an estimated market share of 26.8 percent, versus 24.6 percent in 2019,” when the Swatch Group held the lead spot.)

In 2020, the report stated, Patek Philippe made about 53,000 watches; Audemars Piguet, about 60,000; and Richard Mille, about four,300. The numbers are definitely smaller than in a mean yr, nevertheless, as most Swiss factories closed for about two months in spring 2020 because the coronavirus unfold in Europe.

Demand for these manufacturers continues to outstrip provide. This Audemars Piguet retailer is in Hong Kong. Credit…Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images, through LightRocket, through Getty Images

By all accounts, the manufacturers’ retail shows all over the world are actually barren — notably these as soon as stocked with probably the most sought-after sport fashions, together with the Patek Phillipe Nautilus and Aquanaut, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and absolutely anything by Rolex and Richard Mille.

“Just a few months ago, you could walk into a Rolex store and see some watches,” stated Dr. Iris Ko, an anesthesiologist in Southern California who has been accumulating mechanical timepieces since 2008. “I just walked into a Richard Mille store, and they’re sold out for months to a year. You can’t get any Royal Oaks — not available.”

For patrons prepared to pay a hefty premium, the one choice is to buy the fashions by secondary channels — auctions, pre-owned websites or non-public gross sales — the place the most popular items are promoting for, at a minimal, 60 % greater than retail.

“The Rolex Daytona in black ceramic has gone up from $22,000 in January 2020 to trade today at $36,000, about a 66 percent increase,” Justin Reis, co-founder and chief government of WatchBox, a Philadelphia-based pre-owned watch vendor, stated on a cellphone name in mid-August.

“The Audemars Piguet 15202, the Royal Oak with blue dial — that’s appreciated from $39,000 in the first quarter of 2020 to closer to $70,000 today, a 75 percent increase,” he added. “And the Patek Aquanaut 5167 has appreciated from $34,000 to $55,000, a 60 percent increase.”

Mr. Reis stated one cause patrons have been perpetually driving costs greater on choose fashions was that, because of corporations like WatchBox and its quite a few opponents, together with Watchfinder & Company, Chrono24 and Crown & Caliber, customers lastly had entry to organized knowledge. This contains previous pricing for particular fashions, which has taken the guesswork out of the shopping for course of. And curiosity in high-value collectibles has soared through the pandemic, as individuals have regarded to arduous belongings to diversify their portfolios.

“Nobody knows where to put their money anymore,” stated Maximilian Büsser, proprietor and inventive director of the boutique model MB&F. “If you handle to get your fingers on a metal Nautilus, a Rolex Daytona, an RM 011 or a metal Royal Oak, the day you purchase it at retail, you’ll be able to resell it instantly, multiplying its worth by two and even three. A 100 % to 200 % upside.

“What funding on the planet — except you’re a drug vendor — really offers you these returns?” Mr. Büsser added.

A Richard Mille store beneath development in London in 2019. According to a report, the model made solely about four,300 watches the next yr.Credit…Richard Baker/in Pictures, through Getty Images Images

The ballooning values of sure fashions really has difficult enterprise for approved sellers, who say competitors amongst patrons is fierce.

“In my 34 years with Wempe, I’ve never seen anything like it,” stated Ruediger Albers, the New York-based president of American Wempe Corp., a distinguished Rolex vendor.

Mr. Albers stated the New York retailer didn’t keep a ready checklist for fashions such because the stainless-steel Rolex Daytona with a white dial, its most requested timepiece, as a result of that will suggest there was a chronological order to fulfilling requests. Instead, he stated, probably the most sought-after items go to longtime shoppers who may be trusted to not flip them.

“The art is to find the customers who will love the watches, not turn them into financial assets,” Mr. Albers stated.

While the Big Four command the lion’s share of consideration amongst at present’s investment-minded patrons, a handful of impartial manufacturers, led by the up to date watchmaker François-Paul Journe, have skilled comparable spikes in demand because the early days of the pandemic.

“All the people who ask me for Journe in the last 12 months don’t even know his name,” Mr. Büsser stated. “But they have heard if you buy a Journe, you can make money.”

Paul Boutros, head of watches for Phillips within the Americas, stated curiosity in F.P. Journe soared in June 2020, when two of the watchmaker’s early fashions, the Tourbillon Souverain and Résonance, offered at a Phillips Geneva sale for a mixed value of greater than $2.5 million.

“Since then, it gave people more confidence to pay more than they wanted to pay for early Journe watches,” Mr. Boutros stated. “And because the older pieces are so sought after and expensive, it makes the newer pieces at retail look like such great value, and drives demand there.”

Yet the query stays: Is this all a bubble? It relies upon on whom you ask.

William Rohr, an business veteran and the New York-based founding father of Massena LAB, which collaborates with watchmakers on limited-edition timepieces, thinks it is perhaps.

“It’s bizarre to a guy like me, who’s been around 30 years,” Mr. Rohr stated. “To a new guy who was unaware of a Journe or a Patek until recently, maybe it’s the new normal?”

“But I don’t think it’s sustainable,” he stated. “Right now, it’s a seller’s market, and the seller is deciding who they want to sell a watch to. For a buyer it can be frustrating. But wait, things are going to change.”