‘Cover Watches’ and Accessibility of Ideas in the Watch World
The power of Cover Watches, adjacent marketing, and accessibility for new collectors
[Ed. note: Friend of Rescapement Agaki sent in this essay back in January. Coincidentally, I finally got around to editing it this week, just before Swatch and Omega broke the internet with the MoonSwatch. So while it doesn’t directly reference the MoonSwatch, it’s kind of about the MoonSwatch, as you’ll see.]
The power of Cover Watches, adjacent marketing, and accessibility for new collectors
By: Agaki (@agakistuff)
Once in a while, an exceptional cover song is exalted into a status equal to or greater than the original. Johnny Cash’s, ‘Hurt’ or Amy Winehouse’s, ‘Valerie’. Jazz and blues standards and immortal songs make their way into the music lexicon like the re-telling of a fairytale. Sample-based songs transpose from one context to another. Christmas songs follow a vague set of rules that nobody can really define but we all just, ‘know’. (Please listen to ’Christmas in Harlem’ and ’Lights On’, Christmas Hip-Hop for the family). Covers and re-interpretations are at the very core of modern music. This concept of carrying ideas is something worth exploring in other fields.
From Breguet to Benzinger: A Bridge to Something New
Jaeger-Benzinger is an independent brand that hails from Baden-Baden, Germany. If you relate geographical locations by proximity to sports teams as I do, Baden-Baden is nearest to Karlsruher SC (notable for producing Oliver Kahn) and VfB Stuttgart (notable for that one time I helped a bunch of tourists in Stuttgart kits catch the train and being Bundesliga Champions in 2006-7). The Jaeger-Benzinger Edition 3.3 Vintage is a 38mm watch with a repurposed FHF 96 movement, hence the “vintage” in the name. The guilloche dial and engraved movement come courtesy of master engraver Jochen Benzinger.
For the description of the 3.3 Vintage Jaeger-Benzinger states the following:
“Jaeger & Benzinger have always been vocal about their love of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s style and, whereas with their other Editions this has been tempered with modern touches, this limited-edition Edition 3 Vintage is their unabashed take on this look.”
Is Jaeger-Benzinger an exceptional alternative to a Breguet? Yes. It’s a high-value proposition, hand-engraved independent watch. There’s nothing like it in this price range. For fun and at a little extra cost I had my initials engraved onto the movement. This increases resale value for people with the initials, ‘AB’. Or people with the rare AB blood-type. Or start-of-alphabet enthusiasts. Gotta think long term about my investment here right?
What’s more important than the watch is reflecting on why buying a watch like this is an essential step in building a watch collection. Especially to those early on in the lifetime journey of collecting watches.
Over a year ago a few things allowed me to finally dive into the Mariana Trench of watch collecting. I’d reached a comfortable place in my other collecting hobbies where I could pass on most things that came my way. The process of shedding my raggedy high school clothes and refreshing my wardrobe into some semblance of an adult was almost complete yet lacked... icing. A watch. I knew this was a rabbit hole. Yet, armed with a recent bump up in my pay I, as the kids say, yeeted myself into the world of watches.
The mission was to wholly upgrade my unbranded street-stall quartz watches. Maybe gain a fun new research-heavy hobby. But where does somebody with no real prior reference go? I don’t have a story about my grandfather’s father’s son’s military Patek/Rolex that survived the second Captain America: Civil War. My mom bought me cheap fake gold watches when I was a teenager because I liked gold, wearing things on my wrist and because she just thought they were neat. So to cross a bridge into something new, you have to find the bridge first right?
Unintentionally the greatest single piece of modern watch advertising
Contemporary fashion and celebrities are the path toward a watch addiction for a layman. What’s this ‘Patek’ thing I keep hearing in these bars? That watch that Nadal is wearing during a match is crazy, right? Young people need a modern icon to relate watches to. A ‘Nadal’ Richard Mille or ‘Federer’ Rolex is relatable. This “adjacent’” marketing is the quickest way to someone’s heart. The LVMH group are masters of this and you can read these choice words straight out of Jean-Claude Biver’s mouth.
There’s a weird resistance to modern celebrity in watch circles. What if Hiroshi Fujiwara is to me what Paul Newman is to older collectors? As a brand, recontextualizing can expand your demographic even if your current core audience doesn’t appreciate it. You might not remember the Zenith x Lupin the Third collaboration series, an obscure collab to most but this was Zenith as a brand speaking my language. The first, unique example sold at auction for CHF189,000, so somebody else must speak my language too! Rolex has known this for an eternity. The entirety of Hublot marketing is built around this recontextualization idea with a lot of help from outside sources mixed in: ‘NEW WATCH ALERT, HUBLOTS.’ These bridge-building tactics (or, “gimmicks” if you’re a cynical no-fun type) are a way into a brand.
My way in as a streetwear-inclined guy originated from an image of a watch posted on the account of tastemaker @hidden.ny. Stopping my infinite feed scrolling and seeing an octagonal looking shiny thing I thought, ‘Hey this looks really really cool, this’ll be like $5,000 or something right? Guess I’ll save up.’ Google-fu led to this article on GQ, where I learned how “[streetwear brand] Alyx transformed the Royal Oak” and this shiny octagonal “Royal Oak” cost way more than $5,000. Sure, I didn’t know anything about Audemars Piguet, but I was somewhat familiar with Alyx. This led me down my first watch-related rabbit hole, eventually asking perhaps the most common question of a new watch collector: “This is great, but how can I not sell my kidney to get this?” The core of the classic newbie struggle planted the seed of a concept I’d like to dub the Cover Watch™.
The Cover Watch™
There’s a big difference between something that’s made to look like another thing – and something that’s a take on another thing. Plenty of watch brands offer cheaper alternatives to their more expensive counterparts. Where a watch brand can excel is providing its own take on an established idea or design language. This is the Cover watch™. The cover watch is a unique watch that is riffing on the language of another watch, like a cover song. To buy a cover watch is to buy into an idea and way of thinking about design.
This brings us to the greatest strength of the cover watch for a new collector. Accessibility of ideas. I wanted to have a piece of the Genta Royal Oak design language on my wrist. There were a lot of “alternatives” presented to me that didn’t quite scratch the itch. A lot of “Top 10 CHEAP Royal Oak Alternatives” articles and videos.
Let’s frame it this way: I have an urge to listen to “Fly Me To The Moon”. Then you tell me to listen to “My Way” instead. Yeah, we’re kinda close, but no! I want “Fly Me To The Moon” whether it’s Sinatra or Buble or some person in their bedroom. If I want an octagon-y watch case, why am I presented with all these things that just… aren’t an octagon? This conundrum drives many laymen to fake watches because there aren’t any decent alternatives. The true Cover Watch is the antidote. The Cover Watch retains the vibes. It’s a shameless celebration of the elements of design that make you fall in love with the stuff that’s just inaccessible sometimes. Like a movie remake, companies even cover their own watches from time to time. The Longines Tuxedos, the Omega Seamaster 1948. The Massena Lab Uni-Racer is a cover watch too [Ed. note: Of course, so is the MoonSwatch]. When done right these watches are a celebration for the collector. An accessible way for people to get into a subsection of watches they enjoy without selling an organ.
Done right, much like an iconic cover song, cover watches can even carve out their own place amongst the collective watch sphere, as the CasiOak did (even if Casio says the watch actually wasn’t inspired by the Royal Oak). It’s quite the paradox, a remix of something becoming inherently unique. The primary appeal of these watches is accessibility. The enjoyable part of the cover watch is the reinterpretation itself. The CasiOak, while sharing design language with the Royal Oak, is clearly still a G-Shock. When a core idea is taken through a unique filter a different yet familiar product is born. That’s what makes re-interpretations so fun (and is also why they keep making James Bond films).
I’ve amassed a small spattering of what can be deemed Cover Watches (or, ‘-ish’ watches). From the CasiOaks, to my vintage Zenith (Calatrava-ish) and the Hodinkee X Timex Q (Polar Explorer-ish). These have all stemmed from an initial want of the original. Then settling for an alternative. And finally an appreciation of what the alternative brings to the point of preferring it over what I had originally wanted. Would I have just straight up bought a vintage Calatrava initially if I could? Of course! Did I find something more interesting due to the fact that I couldn’t? Hell yeah. That’s the fun.
Choosing the Mood (and the Cover Watch)
There's a certain charm in choosing a mood of watch and seeing where your own personal hunt takes you. I wanted a Breguet. A Breguet is not possible for me at the moment, so I looked to scratch that itch in another way. These are the ideas of Breguet filtered through the lens of Jaeger-Benzinger. It’s not a one-to-one of a Breguet but the spirit is carried over and presented as something new at a price point that is more than accommodating.
Instead of idolizing specific watches we should instead sanctify ideas and design languages. That might make the collecting hivemind a bit more interesting. You can hold the original song in the utmost esteem but why not listen to a cover? You might find that it's just as special.
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