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Sustainability in Watch Collecting
Exploring cultural factors that influence the state of the watch market
The strength of the vintage watch community has proven itself over decades of continued growth. In contrast to other hobbies that include some aspect of monetary value, this genre of collecting considers additional elements such as artistry, history, and technological innovation.
In the age of information, and market exploitation, vintage watch collecting continues to differentiate itself while simultaneously riding the waves of market volatility. In short, this is not a fad, but a culture that’s set in stone.
As this hobby continues to reflect adaptations in consumer values, the word sustainability holds more than one meaning (especially in the luxury space). Today, we explore the watch community’s definition of this term through a snapshot of this dynamic market.
Often the most expensive purchases are the greatest victims of value depreciation. In the luxury sector, this remains a considerable aspect for the consumer. In the watch community, some of the most significant decisions lead with this factor in mind.
There is, however, a unique phenomenon that occurs when collecting watches (primarily vintage); that is, many luxury timepieces can be bought, worn, and enjoyed on a daily basis without worry of consequential devaluation. As the market of those interested in vintage timepieces continues to expand, this concept of value retention has been brought to the forefront of buyer decision.
As we begin to explore this idea of value retention, note that this is one of the most heavily debated topics in the watch community. Some are rather bullish, and view watches as alternative investments; others take the approach that watches are expensive toys for enjoyment first and foremost. Regardless of whether a watch gains or depreciates, it’s important to note that virtually all timepieces retain some form of value. For example, even if your Rolex experiences a $3,000 loss while in your possession, it is still worth thousands of dollars.
Considering this characteristic of luxury watches, those who regularly buy and sell most notably benefit from this experience. Overall, this is often attributed to intelligent decisions made prior to any exchange of wealth. That being said, some collectors solely prioritize buying historically valuable pieces, and others procure just what they enjoy. Balancing one’s wants, and the potential monetary retention of a specific timepiece is unique to this industry, and ultimately lends itself to the sustainable nature of wealth in watches.
The idea of environmentalism has crept into many nontraditional industries, and the watch community is no different. Brands have begun to market specific references as environmentally friendly; this includes portions of sales being donated to charity, the incorporation of ethical gold, or even incorporating recyclable materials into watch design. In a sense, younger generations are more adept in this form of conscious consumption, especially in a world driven by fast fashion and disposable goods.
Watches, especially those that utilize precious materials, are products of a deeply rooted global economy predicated on industries such as mining, shipping, and labor. Using a vintage ‘stone dial’ Piaget as an example, the solid gold case and precious dial were likely sourced by multinational gold conglomerates like AngloGold (where mining is most often in the African continent), refined and constructed in Switzerland, and then shipped through a network of global distributors for sale to the consumer.
Additionally, there is a growing sentiment that longevity is an asset when considering a luxury purchase. In the case of vintage timepieces, even the name of this community implies some form of durability, or the watch’s ability to withstand the test of time. In the words of New York based vintage watch dealer Danny Matatov:
“These watches were here before us and will certainly be around after.”
Along these lines of cultural factors that shape the vintage watch market, an additional aspect of accessibility continues to leave a lasting impact. In this sense, online platforms allow for the trade of goods on an international scale, which contrasts the traditional brick and mortar watch experience. This is truly one of the factors that sustains the growth of the watch community
To summarize these points, avid collectors may not consider sustainability when purchasing a timepiece, but with vintage, the sheer longevity of these watches (predicated on their construction) speaks to an aspect of sustainability. Coupled with an increasingly conscientious base in regards to environmental impact, this shifting attitude is difficult to ignore in the current state of the market.
Many of the factors currently affecting the watch market are tied to this idea of sustainability and its multiple interpretations. From a purely monetary mindset, to one focused on environmental impact, the watch community continues to be a product of the larger market at play.
Considering these aspects of the consumer mindset, one can assume that this is a dynamic market subject to constant change. Many enthusiasts predict market prosperity, while others attribute watch popularity with times of economic growth.
Overall, as this space continues to mature, one can only predict what factors will influence this market in both the near and distant future.
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