If you love watches and their classic appeal, you want to invest in a decent timepiece. But being wise with your money means you have to make sure what you’re getting won’t lose its value anytime soon. Given that it is technically possible to go your entire life without owning a watch, it is reasonable to wonder whether watches are irrelevant.
Watches are not obsolete because they satisfy the timeless human need to look good physically and in status. While watches meant for time-keeping only are not needed anymore, the ones worn as a style statement or to communicate one’s purchasing power are still in demand.
This post expands on the state of the watch market, the pillars that dictate the demand in the space, and how technological evolution ties to timepieces as style statements. By the end of this post, you’ll know whether you should get a mechanical watch, a brand-name battery-powered watch, or a smartwatch.
Are Watches Going Out of Style?
Asking whether watches are going out of style is like wondering whether clothes are going out of fashion. Watches aren’t a monolith and feature a wide range of products geared towards different goals.
Some watches are bought for their ability to hold value over a long period. Others are bought for convenience. But regardless of the kind of watch one gets, there’s always a style component. And that’s the one coming into question lately.
Watches are not going out of style anytime soon because they signal status, wealth, and taste. The global luxury watch market is valued at $6.93 billion, and its largest stakeholders have enough marketing dollars to keep watches relevant despite their time-keeping function becoming obsolete.
That said, specific types of watches might easily go in and out of style depending on what the tastemakers are wearing or promoting. Mechanical watches vanished from the mass market for a while before making their comeback in the late 2010s. This might happen with smartwatches.
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Ultimately, status is more about exclusivity, which makes popular watches less appealing to the influential few. And while style isn’t as much about exclusivity, it is about standing out, at least for the tastemakers.
This results in a cat-and-mouse game of influencers adopting watches that aren’t already everywhere and their followers buying similar watches until they are everywhere. What this means for you is that any watch you buy might go out of style for a while but is sure to make its comeback within a few years. Invest in watches you can keep for at least 10 years.
Are Watch Sales Declining?
Watch sales are not declining anymore but experienced a sharp dip in 2020, where the overall sales fell by 40%, with the Swiss luxury watch sales falling by over 20%. Since then, the sales have been picking up, indicating that the decline was related to economic anxieties and not being out of style.
Multiple brands have experienced unprecedented growth in this decade. MVMT (pronounced movement) is one of the first watch brands to make high-quality timepieces available at affordable prices. The company set out with the belief that “style should not break the bank,” positioning its watches as style statements more than status symbols.
JBW, on the other hand, is a watch brand that blends diamond jewelry and watches to produce pieces that aren’t as mechanically magnificent as luxury watches but qualify as luxury jewelry, albeit at an affordable price. Both JBW and MVMT have experienced net growth since their inception, which speaks to specific types of watches having higher demand.
However, if an MVMT watch sells 1000 more units in a year and Hublot sells 3 units less than its previous year, the watch market overall will see a dip in the dollar value of sales. Well-established high-end watches are experiencing a growth crisis in the short term, and that makes watches as a whole look like they’re going out of style.
Are Mechanical Watches Obsolete?
Mechanical watches are obsolete as time-keeping devices but are relevant as status symbols and signifiers of classic taste. Wearing a mechanical watch from a new brand might be a style risk since the brand name of the mechanical watch and its history matter as much as its working principle.
While mechanical watches no longer have mass appeal, they aren’t in any way irrelevant. In fact, they are as relevant as ever among the ultra-high-net-worth individuals. While mass-market luxury watches feature quartz movement and a fashion brand name slapped on a machine-made watch, true luxury watches are almost always mechanical and handmade.
Are Luxury Watches Still in Demand?
Luxury watches are in demand to the point of having a thriving secondary market. But purchase trends are not rising as quickly anymore. This is because the largest manufacturers like AP and Patek Phillipe control their supply to keep it from outgrowing their demand.
There are two tiers of luxury watches, though: The top-tier luxury watches that cost a year of an average middle-class earner’s savings and ones that can be bought for over a thousand dollars. The former’s demand has dipped but hasn’t lost intensity.
Watch collectors who like Pateks like them enough to pay for them at or above their retail value. The second tier of luxury watches fall squarely in the fashion category and lose their value over time. Any specific model of second-tier luxury watches can’t maintain its demand over the long term.
Smart Watches – The New Era?
Smartwatch sales increased with the introduction of the Apple Watch. Just like Apple has revived concepts like touchscreen phones, video music players, and computer tablets, the company seems to have breathed new life into the smartwatch market. Its higher price point allowed other smartphone brands like Huawei and Samsung to launch their watches at a significant markup.
Smartwatches combine style, status, and reusability to beat second-tier luxury watches like Armani, Guess, and Gucci.
Which Watch Should You Get?
Watches aren’t irrelevant and aren’t on track to become obsolete. From top-tier handmade watches to the most affordable stylish ones, all timepieces have their place in the overall watch market. If you want to get a watch that shows off status and style but do not want to cycle different pieces, you can get an Apple watch.
In case you want to lean into a style more than status, you can opt for 3 timepieces from 3 different fashion brands like Armani, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. Finally, if you want to signal high net worth while maintaining investment value, you can opt for a handmade watch from a high-end watchmaker like Patek Phillipe or Audemars Piguet.