White Star: Is this how a trend happens? On Leo DiCaprio and trends.

If Leo buys a White Star in the woods and no one's around to hear it, did it really happen?

White Star or shooting star?

Trends have always fascinated me. Even the phrase, it went viral, hardly explains it — how did it go viral? It’s something I’ve analyzed before (tl;dr Kanye[1] wears a Cartier Crash a few times, next thing you know prices have spiked 4x because no one has any imagination). But, often trends are more organic or grassroots than that. A few passionate collectors of a particular niche keep pumping something up, peeling off a few converts with each and every Instagram.com or forum post until the snowball reaches a critical mass (or reaches the right influencer), eventually causing an avalanche of hype and high prices.

Enter White Star. Back in November, I almost featured a White Star Diagrafic offered by Antiquorum. It was a cool watch from a brand I’d never heard of, with an implementation of a date complication I hadn’t seen before (the sun at 12 o’clock that wheels around to track the date in the photo below). On top of that, it was true new old stock, with the “box, blank warranty, seal, dealer plaque, and original technical drawings from Ebauches Venus” to prove it, per Antiquorum. On an estimate of CHF 1.5-2.5k, the lot pulled in CHF 11,250.

Similarly, the next lot in that sale was an NOS White Star triple date chronograph. On an estimate of CHF 1-2k, it did CHF 5k. Not a bad pair of results for a brand no one had really cared about until then — even Antiquorum had never sold a White Star before, and far as I can tell, #whitestar on IG has more to do with the Titanic and Leo DiCaprio fanfiction than with vintage watches (the White Star Line was the company that set sail to the RMS Titanic).

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Well, now it’s 2021, and White Star is back. In Antiquorum’s January 24 auction, it’s got another Diagrafic up for auction, the third watch from the brand in as many months. Unlike the lots from November, this one’s not exactly NOS: the hands have been relumed, the strap/buckle isn’t original, and it looks like it’s definitely been worn. But hey, as G-Eazy famously said, if I hit it three times I’mma wife her.[2] So what’s going on here — is it time to wife up White Star? Is this the beginning of a trend? Is WHITE STAR the new Cartier Crash?

Another Diagrafic: Fool me twice

As far as I can tell, up to now the sequence of events has been something like this:

  • Auction house (Antiquorum) gets their hands on a couple NOS watches from a brand called White Star that no one’s ever heard of. Auction house says to itself: “self, times are good, let’s throw these in our year-end auction, slap on a low estimate, and see what sticks.”

  • Two collectors, bored at home watching Steve Kornacki in khakis and flipping through Antiquorum’s catalog, think to themselves, “self, maybe I should start collecting White Star, because hey no one else is so this could be fun.”

  • Said two collectors bid each other up, such that one spends CHF 16k to build the world’s greatest White Star collection.

  • Auction house realizes maybe there’s something here and we can take more of these White Star things on consignment instead of turning them away.

  • Some mostly irrelevant blog/newsletter writes up this third White Star (just doing my part here), and its XX million followers consume said nonsense, proceeding to register to bid in an auction because hey it’s a global pandemic and there’s nothing else to do.

  • White Star avalanche ensues.

I’d imagine the same collector bought both that Diagrafic and triple date chronograph back in November. A big congrats to this collector for now holding what must be the world’s greatest White Star collection.

In Grafic detail

White Star, king of the auctions?

So it seems the White Star is shining bright, but let’s extrapolate a few lessons from our little shooting star’s rise.

Here’s lesson one: don’t confuse a high auction price for any sort of market depth. If my assumption is correct that the same collector bought both White Stars back in November, there might only be one guy on the entire planet who really cares about White Star (okay, and the underbidder). But, this person really only care about NOS, full set White Stars. Why would they stoop to the level of this example, what with its grossly re-lumed hands?

Now that there are sales to back it up though, this less-than-perfect lot has an estimate of CHF 3-5k. And it might just get that number.

But, as J. Cole quoting George Bush quoting an old Texas saying once said: “fool me once shame on you / fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Which brings us to lesson two.

Those White Stars weren’t collectible because they were White Stars. If anything, they were collectible despite the generic name on the dial. They’re collectible because they’re watches with interesting complications in pristine, NOS condition.

Collectors get so tied up with names on dials — it makes sense, it’s an easy shortcut to perceived quality and collectibility. But, it’s just that: a shortcut. No sequence of letters printed on the dial is a substitute for a watch that’s NOS, unpolished, or otherwise in pristine condition. And figuring that out requires the hard work of researching and analyzing, combing through catalog after catalog.

This is why real, organic trends often have staying power: those collectors posting on Instagram and forums, collecting the watches no one else cares about? They’re developing the scholarship required for others to understand what’s collectible and what’s not. On the other hand, top-down trends are often hollow below, devoid of the true scholarship required for a sustainable market of collectibility.

Listen, it’s pretty unlikely that White Star is the next Cartier Crash or Supreme. The market for old-school, dressy yellow gold watches is only so big. Then again, maybe Leo Dicaprio bought that Diagrafic to commemorate his days on the White Star Lines RMS Titanic. In that case, none of this matters, and the White Star avalanche is nearly here.

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[1] So sorry to hear about the divorce, lemme know if you need a place to Crash in Chicago. And for those keeping track, I made it zero weeks into 2021 before making a Kanye reference.

[2] This newsletter is firmly team Halsey, to be clear.


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