A Few Predictions (or Hopes) For 2021

Burning sage into the new year, with some meta meditations on Cartier, Journe, Watch Anish, and the ghost of collectings past, with a resolution to go deep in 2021.

Rejuvenated and back from a couple weeks of mailing it in with best of lists to recap the clusterf*** called 2020 and some Kyrie-like sage burning to ward off any lingering bad vibes, I’ve got one more meta meditation before we get back into the nitty-gritty of watches. Rescapement’s only 2021 New Year’s resolution is to go f*cking deeper. But before we get there, some predictions as useful as the paper this digitized newsletter is printed on.

In recapping our favorite articles of 2020, I said if there was a common theme tying together Rescapement last year (a generous assumption, to be sure), it was this: many watch collections look the same, with too many “collectors” chasing the same few watches. Independent thought and individualism are sorely lacking. Watches are meant to be an escape from the monotony, a chance to pursue what we’re truly down with — the fun, the obscure, the idiosyncratic.

Now that 2021 is here, what themes will tie the year together? I get the sense that many who dedicate (too much) time to watches are similarly tired of the monotony, so my prediction/hope is that some of it will dissipate.

With that, a few modest predictions — or perhaps, hopes — for the coming year.

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1. More of the same.

As mentioned, 2020 was defined by a sameness among collectors and collections: everyone wanted the same new watches, bid up the same vintage (hello, Cartier Crash) or independent (hello, FP Journe) models at auctions, and even talking about these same trends on forums and Zoom calls felt routine. While I do think some of this might subside (see next point), it won’t be immediate. Look at Journe’s results from last month’s Phillips Racing Pulse and you’ll see collectors’ pulses still get racing for an early brass Journe.

Much of this is driven by trends beyond the watch industry: stocks, homes, BTC and other assets are booming, and (rich) people, bored at home with that $35k BTC burning a hole in their pockets, are looking for something to do/buy. Turns out, watches fill that void (as does day trading on Robinhood, porn, etc. So, could be worse). This will continue, at least for awhile, in 2021. People are still stuck at home, Bitcoin charts are screeching ever higher like a Marian Carey riff, and with more people getting into or learning about watches, interest and prices are only going to increase, especially for the most popular models.

This also means more Zoom calls, virtual get-togethers, and awkwardly holding up your wrist for fuzzy (both in the hairy and pixelated sense) wristies. With no physical fairs, brands will continue to experiment with virtual launches and shows (will there be more local/domestic shows this year?), and there will be more online auctions. Tbh, I enjoyed connecting with people virtually in 2020 and look forward to doing the same in the first half of 2021 until I get shot up with that vaccine.

But oh man, when I do get shot up with the juice, it’s gonna be a Watch Anish, spin the RM-69-level party. And I know I’m not the only one. As vaxxes are distributed, businesses opened, and competent world leaders inaugurated, it’s gonna be a Richard Mille “I lust to devour you tonight”-type party across the world, and everyone’s gonna be wearing a watch to the revelry. All that to say: if you think last year was debaucherous, wait until Anish gets his eyes on this balance cock.

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The second half of 2021 might be wild, and with that consumers are going to look beyond the mainstream hits for the deep cuts.

2. Less of the same.

There are little saplings of hope that we might see less monoculture in 2021, as people get bored of the monotony and sameness. A lot of people really got into watches for the first time in 2020. Naturally, this led to an initial interest in Rolex, the Royal Oak, unbearable wrist rolls, you know the drill. But as these people (hopefully) go deeper, their interests and focus will too. If 2020 was the year of unbridled interest in watches, 2021 will be the year of discerning interest. Pop in the monocles, because people are going to get serious about their collections: quality and condition are everything. No more erotic gimmicks (looking at you, RM-69 🍆) to sell watches.

In vintage, we’ve already seen increased interest in lesser-known brands like Enicar, Nivada Grenchen, even Grand Seiko. Expect this to continue. Arguably, vintage is where it takes the most time to heat up, and if collectors dove into vintage in 2020 (to be clear: they did), some of them are probably just coming up for air from the Rescapement archives now, bank routing numbers in hand and ready to spend some ducats.

In independents, there’s been a small but loud contingent supporting smaller operations like Petermann Bédat, Dornblueth & Sohn, and Hajime Asaoka. For example, it might feel like Asaoka’s Kurono Tokyo Green is everywhere, but a mere 280 watches sold, a relative drop in the bucket when Rolex probably spits out 280 Oyster cases a minute (and that was one of 2020’s independent launches designed to have the broadest reach).

Even in modern watches from the big guys, there have been some releases that might spread the love. The Omega Speedmaster Caliber 321 ‘Ed White’ and ‘Silver Snoopy Award’ 50th Anniversary are veritable bangers that might get collectors new and old thinking that a Daytona isn’t the alpha and the omega of modern chronographs.[1] Even Rolex’s brightly colored new Oyster Perpetual line made people momentarily forget that they’re supposed to want a Pepsi. And I haven’t even gotten to exciting releases from Breitling, IWC, and Zenith.[2] By the way, a bunch of brands are going to fail due to the pandemic’s fallout. If you’re not dropping killer releases, your future is in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, it does feel like a broader move towards individualization and personalization is afoot. I mean, if Grand Seiko can make a dial for each of the four seasons, they might as well throw in one more specifically for me. Similarly, there’s a new collaboration or limited edition pretty much every day of the week: if you don’t like this week’s Massena Lab x Unimatic, there’s always next week’s Worn & Wound x Baltic. I’m not sure we’ll ever reach full-on customized-t-shirts-for-your-bachelorette-party-in-Nashville level with watches, but there are going to be more high-quality releases to choose from.[3] Which brings me to a final point.

3. Disruption in watch media.

Now for the self-serving portion of today’s program. In watch media, 2020 seemed to be defined by online watch publications either partnering up or doubling down on e-commerce efforts. Think Hodinkee and the Hodinkee Shop’s fundraise, Revolution teaming up with Watchfinder, along with increased e-shop focus from Worn & Wound, Fratello, etc. With ad revenue drying up more than Panerai’s sales, the moves all made sense.[4]

In a similar way, watch YouTubers have gained sometimes large followings (judging by view counts, at least), also often monetizing via online shops. The watch industry is (at least) a few years behind the broader media space, so this is an act we’ve seen play out before. There’s only so much of an appetite for this before consumers start looking elsewhere for what they perceive as independent, honest content.

Just last week, one baby-faced YouTuber found himself in trouble for making a sexist video. He proceeded to post a classic non-apology apology (“if I offended anyone, I’m SoO sorry, plz don’t unsubscribe”), but the larger point is this: as long as ‘Tubers (and other content producers) are incentivized by the quantity of clicks instead of the quality of their content, they’ll continue to post clickbaity videos until the natural end point when they find themselves creating “5 watches that are CHEAPER but BETTeR THAN ROLEX!?” vids from “suicide forest” in pursuit of the next click. Likewise, there’s only so much content-meets-commerce we can take before screaming enough objets d’art! and throwing up notre mains.

This will begin to change in 2021. A few years ago, large media publications like the New York Times re-focused on subscriptions instead of ad revenue, and they’ve got tremendous growth to show for it. On the other side of the spectrum, newsletters have popped up to cover every conceivable niche (👋), with the writers of some of these making a tidy little living for themselves. I’m not entirely sure what this will look like in watch media, but I’m skeptical that any of the current players are well-positioned to fully deliver the in-depth, independent content that consumers crave. At least, their business models aren’t necessarily aligned with this as the end goal.

Listen, the number of slippery grey dealers on the internet still vastly outnumbers the sum of authorized dealers, so it’s good that some publications are perfecting ecommerce. It’s kind of like the good old days of Cartier-stamped Pateks and Tiffany-dial Rolexes, with retailers and brands delivering legit Diplo-like mash-ups. But as content becomes commerce (and vice versa), there will be openings for people producing high-quality content to fill the gaps left behind by the old guard.

Magnificent mile

Skipping down Michigan Ave. in Chicago last weekend, I saw lines outside of probably a dozen luxury stores, people waiting in below-freezing temps for some socially-distant flexing: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Moncler, Montblanc (f*cking Montblanc!). Then, I got to Rolex. No one outside. No one, save for the lonely sales reps, inside (and of course, no sports watches inside either).

In moments like this, I fear for the future of the watch industry, the same way I might when dickering with an unscrupulous dealer or bickering in Instagram comments. There are certain existential threats to the watch industry: Apple, other luxury products that are doing online/social better, a “community” that can seem inaccessible, if not inhospitable to newcomers, and landmines around every corner just waiting to burn some bewildered buyer.

That said, the overwhelming majority of my interactions with watches and watch people were positive in 2020. Much as I hate the term, the community is the most exciting, different thing about watches. There’s not — to my knowledge, at least — a community celebrating the intricacies of Gucci belts. As such, It’s incumbent upon us to figure out ways to make it more welcoming to newcomers, while also encouraging individuality among noobs and old dogs alike. Otherwise, we’re doomed to see a few Kyries leave the community, burning sage on their way out to ward off the bad vibes and Watch Anishes of watch collectings past.

[1] Yea, yea, these things aren’t easy to get either, but that’s kind of the point — people are lining up for a chronograph that isn’t a Daytona! And that’s not to mention the new Speedies announced as this newsletter went to print.

[2] Not name-dropping to get ad dollar$, but hey it’s the beginning of the year and those marketing budgets look succulent

[3] Wait, we already have, once, twice, thrice?

[4] Will take ads from you too, Panerai! Only > 44mm though.


2020 Year in Review Summary: Favorite articles of 2020 | Jealousy List 2020 (the best articles Rescapement did not write) | Watches we wore the most in 2020 | Rap and watches in 2020: All the best song references

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Rescapement will be back to its regularly scheduled programming this Sunday. Okay ciao! -Tony

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