January Update: An Opportunity Wasted; A Collector's Guide To The Piaget Polo
And maybe it was the best thing we could've possibly done. Also, why is everything so ugly?
A few thoughts on watches before links to a few Hodinkee articles I wrote in January.
I’ve been holding two contradictory thoughts about the watch industry recently: It may have accidentally wasted a huge opportunity, and this may also have been the best thing it could’ve possibly done.
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Here’s what I mean.
Watches saw unprecedented growth over the past few years, measured by any semi-objective metric: Sales, Google Trends, watch crime, anecdotal tales of “my non-watch friend is asking for a watch rec,” etc. Watches are a part of the culture now. This increased cultural awareness offered a massive opportunity, and money flowed in.1
But when I look around at what we, the collective watch industry (as much as I may or may not be a part of it), did with this opportunity, I wonder what we have to show for it all. Higher prices. Consolidating retailers that are investing in the same old bricks and mortar. A few new influencers and dealers who may or may not stick around. A lot of new online companies trying to sell me a pre-owned Breitling Endurance by shoving Instagram ads onto my screen.
Meanwhile, brands and watch media are equally confused by what, how, and where to communicate.
Some business blowhard has one theory that I think he gets right: good companies are started in the bad times, not the good ones. In the good times, easy money is a hallucinogen for actual success.
But now it’s the bad times; or at least, the Less Good Times. Watches, except for the really good ones, take longer to sell. Watch media constantly catches the ire of enthusiasts – sometimes warranted, others not. And the struggles of watch media are nothing when you zoom out and remember that pretty much every publication not named the New York Times has announced layoffs in the past two months. For now, at least, many legacy watch publications remain propped up by legacy advertisers, churning out undifferentiated content.
The other day,asked, “is this the year everyone gets tired of watches?”
Frankly, I feel the opposite is more true. The last few years were absolutely exhausting. The most tired I ever got of watches was after The Tiffany Auction, December 2021.2 Sure, it felt exhilarating being in the room at the time. Bacs shouting “this is what watch collecting is all about!” as he brought down the hammer, selling a steel watch with a bright blue dial for six million bucks.
But it was all so speculative. Now that we’re in the Less Good Times, we’re seeing what has real staying power.
In 2024, there are still green shoots of excitement in small corners of the collecting world. It’s not all sports watches all the time anymore, and even the interest that remains in sports watches feels more sustainable. There’s room for more tastes in watch collecting than even just a few years ago, which feels most exciting.
I’m certainly not tired of watches, are you?
Articles of the Month
A few favorite articles I wrote this month, including a deep dive on the Piaget Polo, vintage Audemars Piguet watches that aren’t the Royal Oak, and my favorite new release of the month from Zenith.
1/ If you actually want a long read
This year marks Piaget's 150th anniversary, and it couldn't have come at a better time, as interest in vintage Piaget has picked up among collectors in the past few years. From stone dials to ultra-thin watchmaking, Piaget was a pioneer in the mid-20th century. But one watch stands apart from the rest: the Polo.
So I put together a Collector’s Guide on the original Polo, introduced in 1979. Production numbers, the references to collect, the grail Polos. It’s all in there. There’s a lot of excitement around the Polo but still not a lot of documented information; hopefully this article helps a bit. Summarized on Instagram here.
2/ If you just want to look at photos
The best vintage watches from the Miami Beach Antique Show, what people are actually buying, and a recap of the panel I hosted with a few friends.
3/ If you care about new releases
38mm, combining two classic complications, and a reference to an obscure prototype from 1970? Well done, Zenith.
Kendrick Lamar wore a beautiful vintage AP, and some big auction results made me want to write this article reminding everyone, including myself: vintage Audemars Piguet is full of shapes and complications just waiting to be discovered.
Why is everything so ugly? at N+1 Magazine
“We live in undeniably ugly times,” this article begins as it bemoans the mid in mid-century modern. It runs through a list of ugly things: buildings, furniture, movies, probiotic soda. To that list, I’d propose – with exceptions, of course – one more: watches.
This entire newsletter may have been mostly an excuse for me to recommend this live T-Pain performance featuring some great covers.
Thanks for reading and see you next month,
Not to mention Taylor Swift’s neck, as this newsletter goes to press.
I could never actually quit.