Time to Call Time on the Trophy Watch?

December 10, 2013   ·   0 Comments


By Robert Waterhouse:

Is time running out for the trophy watch? An alarming – if you’re an ad sales executive on the INYT – report appeared in the November 30-December 1 edition of the paper, headlined “Skimping on haute horlogerie”.

The feature by Catherine Chapman, slotted into yet another watch supplement in the “A CUT ABOVE” series, described why Millennials or Generation Y – those born between 1980 and 2000 – no longer feel the need to buy or wear a watch.

“Ask a young person for the time and he or she will take out an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy or even a Blackberry, rather than pull up a sleeve to reveal a watch” wrote Ms Chapman, a London-based freelance and MA journalism student at Brunel University.

Note “even a Blackberry”. Most young people wouldn’t be seen dead with a Blackberry, the day-before-yesterday’s smart phone. But even a Blackberry is more acceptable than a mere watch.

“Watches have slipped in significance from being powerful projections of status and esteem to simple fashion accessories, if worn at all” adds Ms Chapman.

“Instead of wearing an extravagant watch to express a social or professional position, Millennials... signal their status with their digital presence in social media.”

Aha, so status still matters. Well of course it does, and on cue INYT’s December 3 edition carried a full page ad from none other than Samsung hinting that visual appearances may increasingly form part of the package.

The recently-launched Samsung Galaxy Note 3 + Gear is, guess what, a smart phone linked to a wrist contraption. You couldn’t really say it’s a watch, since it makes phone calls and takes photographs among other things, but its most prominent digital display feature tells the time.

The Gear (a startlingly old-fashioned term) was not particularly well-received by the technical press who, to use another démodé word, found it all rather clunky. The strap part contains rather too much technology.

No doubt that’ll be refined. But in the same article Ms Chapman spotted a reason why savvy Millennials may well look back as well as forward. Investment. She tracked down the marketing manager of Watchfinder & Co, who sell ‘pre-owned’ time-pieces.

“You spend a lot of money on a watch and it’s going to last about 100 years. If a young person buys the right watch they can actually make money. It’s a safer way to invest” Rob Blake told her.

Safer than what?  Gold? No doubt there is money to be found on the vintage watch trail, as an article by Arthur Touchot described in the November 29 “A CUT ABOVE” supplement (yes, there was one on November 29 as well as on November 30/December 1).

Forget the 2008 crash, vintage watch sales receipts at Sotheby’s went from $22.7 million in 2009 to $85.8 million last year. And a Panerai, made for – of all institutions – the Egyptian Navy, sold at Christie’s New York for $326,500 in March 2013 compared with $133,839 for something similar three years earlier at Christie’s Geneva. Quite an investment.

Collector finesse lies in finding, and backing, the unique object. Looking at today’s brand-new jewel-encrusted offerings, still flush in the “A CUT ABOVE” ad columns, it would be hard to spot the model whose value will increase inexorably over the next 100 years.

What seems unlikely, though, is a future auction craze for the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 + Gear. Digital yesterdays have little of the romantic about them. Take a look at your own collection in a far-flung loft or cellar.

Which is why the INYT is betting that time is not about to run out on the trophy watch.

The good news is that profits from supplements like “A CUT ABOVE” help keep the newsprint version alive. The bad news is that, putting it politely, information overload on watches (16 pages between the two editions mentioned above) does nothing for the paper’s overall relevance.

You had only to turn to December 3’s “THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN”, linked to a London conference, to see what can be done in eight dedicated pages. Correspondents covered a range of international women’s issues from ageism, health, gender parity, ‘sextortion’, sex tourism and abandoned baby girls. A loss leader, maybe, but sheer gold in terms of circulation building.

Robert Waterhouse is a British-born journalist who lives in France. He writes NYTX’s “International AdWatch” column.


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