The importance of brand for watch collectors
How important is the brand in your choice of a timepiece? How honest are you? How much of your timepiece choice involves your own aesthetic preferences and how much involves the image you would like to project? Oh, we are getting into some deep discussion here. These are some existential questions.
Ever since I wrote my first blog, I have been very open about my view of watches as status symbols. For me, watches have always been aspirational things, so brand image has always been very important in my mind. The question today is, “Should brand play a key role in determining your next watch purchase?” I will assume, of course, that the goal of any watch purchase is to increase your overall happiness and to provide enjoyment on your wrist. So will the brand you choose have a direct link to the enjoyment you derive from wearing your new watch? Based on my own experiences, I would say, “Yes.”
As I write this blog, I am wearing an IWC. In order to acquire this IWC, I sacrificed a watch with a far more complex and sophisticated movement. That watch had more high-end materials and actually retails for more than the IWC. It really was a phenomenal watch. So what possessed me to part with such a timepiece in exchange for a basic and simple watch? Well, the new watch is an IWC! Brand was the main factor here. I decided that I would be happier parading around Montreal in a brand new IWC than in a far “superior” model, from a lesser brand. Am I vain? Insecure? Worried about what everyone else thinks? Maybe. Or maybe I am just concerned with what I think and maybe I am not afraid to make a move when I realise that I want something different for my watch box. Whatever the real reason, I ended up with an IWC and owning a timepiece by this legendary brand is really cool. IWC has a rich and prestigious history of making tool watches as well as pieces of high horology. IWC has earned respect and admiration in the watchmaking world and any of their watches could be considered a “grail” by many men. Owning an IWC, no matter which model, was a real goal of mine. My IWC Pilot Mark XVIII is gorgeous and refined, although I gave up a much more sophisticated timepiece. Nevertheless, my collection feels like it took a step upwards with an IWC and I must admit that my satisfaction has increased merely by adding an IWC to my watch box. My IWC is a great example of how the brand behind a timepiece, along with its history and status, can have a direct impact on the enjoyment of said timepiece.
Now let’s examine a move in the opposite direction. This summer, I picked up a JeanRichard Terrascope in what I consider to being my deal of the year. As I tell Adam nearly every day, the JeanRichard is a masterpiece. The design, finishing, applied indices, build quality and style are among the best I have seen. My JeanRichard is running at about minus 3 seconds per day, which is excellent. Its stainless steel bracelet, with double deployment buckle, is the very best I have ever encountered except for Rolex. The date window on the Terrascope is just perfect, while the dial is a wonderful blend of ruggedness and sportiness. But something is missing. Despite the outstanding character of the JeanRichard, I feel something is lacking every time I wear it. And what do you think that is? Brand recognition. No matter how amazing the JeanRichard is, when I wear it to various events and meetings, I feel under-equipped. People know about my passion for timepieces and they always ask to see what I am wearing when I show up somewhere. When they see the JeanRichard, they show no reaction. Of course, that’s because many of them know nothing about watches and cannot recognise an outstanding watch unless it says Rolex on the dial. But even some more enlightened guys show no recognition when they see my JeanRichard. Deep down, this annoys me. I want to explain all the reasons why my JeanRichard is superior to their Tissot or Baume et Mercier, but what’s the point? I wish I were above such feelings, but part of me wants everyone in the room to take notice of my timepiece and acknowledge that I made a sophisticated choice. It’s like I want some payback for the time and money I put into my watch choice. Many of you will deny ever sinking to such a shallow state, but many of you must feel the same way! Deep down, many of us want the snob value attached to certain watches as much as we want their real physical attributes. If my JeanRichard said Panerai or Blancpain on the dial, I would probably say it was the greatest watch I ever owned. But instead, it leaves me wanting more despite being every bit as “good” as the many Panerai, Rolex, Tudor, Breitling, etc. that I have worn over the past few years.
Don’t deny it. I know that many of you are driving around in BMW 3-series or Mercedes-Benz CLA’s that you either leased or financed over 7 years to squeeze them into your budget. And you did this to tell the world, “I am somebody. I am above economy cars. I belong to the elite club of German luxury car owners.” You could have bought a far better car for your needs, at a far better price, with lower maintenance costs, but you desperately wanted to show the world that YOU are a BMW man. YOU are not going to be seen in a Korean econobox. YOU drive a Mercedes. Now be honest for a minute and tell me, did the logo on the hood of your car have ANYTHING to do with the choice you made? Don’t think I am criticising you, I behave in much the same way when it comes to watches! I am a marketing director’s DREAM. I am the first guy to buy into brand image and status. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, either. Just be honest with yourself. You signed up for a huge monthly payment just to park a BMW in front of your house and outdo your neighbour’s Camry. I swapped my top watch for an entry-level IWC just to silence the punks in my office. We are driven by the same desire for status.
My experience has taught me that the enjoyment from a mechanical watch involves more than the style, colours, movement and features. Brand, image and the “story” behind the watchmaker play an important role. Brand alone won’t do it- the watch has to look and feel cool. But the watch itself cannot do it alone, either. I traded away a certain Panerai (my favourite brand!) because its basic movement and outdated design left me underwhelmed. I also traded away some of the most sophisticated and complex watches I ever owned because they just had no brand appeal or snob value. You need to find a compromise between the features you desire in a watch and the brand on the dial. It’s a tricky balance. Even if you don’t care what other people perceive, YOU have to feel something for the brand or else you won’t fully enjoy your watch. When you spend a lot of money on a watch, you really have to buy into its “story.” Watches are completely unnecessary luxuries, so they should fulfil all of your shallow desires and “first world needs.”
If you crave a high-end brand, but can’t afford many of their watches, read my blog on Entry Level Luxury. You can also find some deals on the grey market or on watch forums. Focus on brands that excite you and aim high. As always, the fun is in the search…