Why If Ultra-Expensive Watches Were 90% Cheaper You Would Probably Lose Interest
by Ian Skellern
Greubel Forsey makes some of the finest hand-finished wristwatches in the world. And at upwards of $150,000, the prices of those watches reflect their inherent quality.
I would love to own a Greubel Forsey, but cannot hope to ever buy one . . . well, not unless I convince my wife to sell our house spend the rest of our lives in a tent.
You might drool over a platinum Patek Philippe minute repeater, a rare vintage Rolex Paul Newman Daytona, or a George Daniels pocket watch, all the while knowing that your fantasy will always be out of reach.
Not because the cost is just a little bit out of your grasp, but because it is at least ten times or more expensive than you could ever hope to afford.
Now imagine you wake up tomorrow and that in-your-wildest-dreams watch now only costs 10 percent of what it did yesterday. Admittedly that’s still very expensive, but now it’s within reach.
You might have to forget the new car, skip the luxury holiday, and tighten your belt for a while, but you can now own that fantasy watch you have long dreamed of.
And there’s no rush: in this imaginary tomorrow prices have permanently dropped 90 percent thanks to a series of massive breakthroughs in production efficiencies, so you can take your time and save up to make the financial setback easily manageable.
It might take a year or so, but that dream watch will be yours.
Imagine how you will feel when that dream comes true. Are you . . .
C. Feeling a deep inner joy
D. None of the above
Unfortunately, the truth is more likely to be D, none of the above, because having the very tangible possibility of realizing a dream has the effect of downgrading it and replacing it with something even more unobtainable.
That’s the nature of who we are (or who many of us are, anyway).
If Greubel Forsey tourbillons and Patek Philippe minute repeaters start costing what Omega and Rolex wristwatches do today, then our lust for them would also drop to the level of our lust for standard Omegas and Rolexes today: i.e., high but not oxygen-deprivation-altitude high.
In the eighteenth century, it took English watchmaker John Harrison six years to make his H4 watch, which won the British Admiralty Prize for being accurate and reliable enough to find longitude at sea. Harrison’s design was replicable, but the watches were so expensive that only a few naval captains were entrusted with the devices as they cost the equivalent of millions of dollars today.
On its trial voyage from England to Jamaica, Harrison’s H4 lost just 5 seconds after 81 days at sea, a level of accuracy so incredible at the time that the British Admiralty thought it must be either an error or fluke and demanded a retrial.
Today we can buy watches with much higher precision and much higher reliability than Harrison’s H4 for less than for less than $100. But unless it is being used as an essential tool, our appreciation of watches (or anything else) isn’t based on its quality but its attainability.
The same goes for cars. In 1947 Enzo Ferrari presented his first Ferrari, the 125 S. Its 12-cylinder motor produced 118 bhp (87 kw), powering the race-winning car to a top speed of around 170 km/h (110 mph). Today a sporty VW Golf has a 50 percent higher top speed, 100 percent more power, much higher reliability, much higher levels of luxury and comfort, and much better fuel economy. And it is much, much more affordable. But how many people lust over the relatively affordable modern Golf compared to the astronomically priced LaFerrari?
We want what we can’t have, that’s human nature.
And if we get what we want, we go on to setting the bar even higher and desiring something else. That’s the collector mindset, and whether you are a collector or not, there’s a bit of that in us all.
At both the 2017 SIHH and Baselworld fairs there appeared to be more and more reasonably priced watches. And that’s certainly a good thing as watch collectors and consumers should get better value for their hard-earned money.
Just don’t think that new pricing attitude will make watch collectors and aficionados any happier in the mid to long term. Unfortunately it’s just more likely to just have us all expecting (and wanting) more.
But on the plus side, with a bit of luck we should get at least a little bit more for our money.
* Note: Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees with what I have written above and it’s well worth reading the comments below. And please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts whether for or against.
Also published on Medium.