A Rolex is still a Rolex

President Biden's Datejust serves as a reminder of the virtues of moderation and the dangers of extremes

More commentary than deep dive today. If you want in-depth watch stuff, check out our article on FDR’s watches from Wednesday. We’ve also got in-depth articles on the Tank Cintrée, Gallet, coin watches, and more coming soon.

Sometimes we have our collective head so far up Hans Wilsdorf’s Oyster case that we forget: any Rolex is still a Rolex.

One of the reasons I enjoy watches is because they help my minuscule brain process the oddities of this world. Two of the most important events of the last decade or so — events that impact everything around us — are (1) Facebook’s introduction of the algorithmic newsfeed and (2) super-low interest rates that make money cheap. Within the cold comfort of that Oyster case our heads are stuck in, we think that the oddities of the watch industry — namely surging asset prices and the hyper-popularity of a few models — are somehow unique to watches. But really, these are trends caused by two events that affect pretty much everything around us.

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Understand watches, understand the world

Let’s take a quick look at these two seminal events.

Cheap money. Back in 2008, the U.S. Federal Reserve (and other central banks) started pursuing zero interest rate policies in response to the financial crisis, pushing interest rates to 0 percent. Digging up some old notes from my college macroeconomics classes, the basic idea of these policies is to spur growth by encouraging low-cost borrowing and cheap access to money. Rates have stayed pretty low ever since, dropping to 0 percent again in response to the pandemic last March. The result of this is tons of cheap money sloshing around, falling into the hands of ever-less-competent “investors” (Ashton Kutcher) chasing ever-riskier investments, reaching a natural endpoint with scooter startups raising hundreds of millions of dollars to “disrupt transportation” and toss e-scooters all over the sidewalks of every major city.

The algorithm. Around the same time, Facebook introduced the algorithmic newsfeed. Other social media platforms soon followed, marking the beginning of the ad-driven, attention-seeking algorithms becoming the mediators of our media intake and online experiences. Suddenly, it paid to be loud and controversial, with the algorithm pushing its subjects to the extremes to keep them engaged. A decade and an insurrection later, we all know how that’s going.

Together, these two forces have fueled the trends we like to complain about in watches. Cheap money means that a lot of (rich) people are swimming in cash, looking for ever-riskier investments to park it in to get better returns. Bitcoin is booming, so is art. A few bored guys on Reddit made GameStop stock shoot so high on Friday it had to halt trading. And of course, our beloved watch market. But what watch to buy with that cash you’re sitting on? Well, look no further than your Instagram feed for some hot “investment” tips.

Much like the broader world, this can lead to extremes. No longer is it enough to have a Rolex. It’s got to be a Daytona. And not just any Daytona, but a vintage one, and a Paul Newman at that. It’s a trend that’s not unique to watches, but watches do serve to illustrate what’s happening in society more broadly.

Biden my time

You may have heard that President Joe Biden wore a Rolex Datejust 41 on his Inauguration Day, a watch he seems to have recently purchased to celebrate…being elected f**king President of the United States. Maybe the President got it for himself, maybe Dr. Jill got it for him — it’s not that important. The guy got a nice watch to celebrate a major life event. If you’re reading this newsletter, you’ve probably done the same.

Eventually, the story made its way to the New York Times, proceeding to trend on Twitter where Tweeters dropped a lot of hot takes about golden toilets, how the NYT should only cover ‘real news’, and how a Datejust never killed 400k Americans.

Listen, my main complaint when the Lamestream Media covers watches is the laziness of it all. The “story” tends to be about the price tag of the watch in question, instead of some actual substance. I don’t need to defend the President — he’s got nukes for that now — but it’s not like Biden was a rich guy until very recently. Back in 2007, he ranked as the least wealthy senator, having a negative net worth. Only after his vice-presidential stint did he start pulling down a nice eight-figure annual income. So who cares if he wants to drop a fraction of his old speaking fee on a Rolex?

I like that a well-known watch guy went out and bought a nice watch to celebrate becoming the Leader of the Free World, just because he wanted to. That’s more relatable than the disingenuous move you see so many politicians make when they step into the national spotlight and swap out their nice watch for the everyman’s watch that seems to have polled and tested best in focus groups.

A Rolex is still a Rolex

Which brings me back to how I started this newsletter: a Rolex is still a Rolex. To the broader public (i.e. the New York Times), the story wasn’t that Biden was wearing a Datejust, it was that he was wearing a Rolex (that cost $7,000), full stop. It would’ve been the same story had he worn a new Submariner or GMT-Master II. But all things considered, the Datejust is a decidedly un-extreme watch.

Thanks to the twin forces of cheap money and social media, cash and attention have poured into watches over the past decade, directed primarily at a handful of sports watches and sending prices for those models ever higher. We focus on those, forgetting that for the wider public, even a Rolex Datejust is something to strive for to symbolize a lifetime of achievement — nevermind a Daytona or Submariner. The nature of social media drives us to chase extremes — in watches, this means the belief that there’s always another watch, and then another one after that. But, no matter how much the money flows or what the algorithm tells you, there’s virtue in moderation too, in knowing when to stop; recognizing that a Datejust is more than enough.

If the President of the United States, quite publicly, signals that it’s okay to spend a few thousand bucks to celebrate a life event, maybe it’ll bring more people into watches, realizing it’s okay to celebrate with a watch. More importantly, if a guy can celebrate becoming the President of the United States by buying a “humble Datejust” (NYT’s words, not mine), perhaps it’ll serve as a useful reminder to the more delusional among us that no one “needs” a ceramic Daytona. Chasing extremes can be dangerous.

On January 6, we saw what can happen when we chase those extremes to their (il)logical conclusion. Just two weeks later, on Inauguration Day, we were reminded what happens when moderation prevails. And this was celebrated by the man at the center of it with a Datejust on his wrist. A Rolex is still a Rolex.

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