Why collectors eye roll at a lot of limited edition watches

I’ve noticed that limited edition watches are a polarizing topic in the watch community – non-collectors give a thumbs up, whereas seasoned collectors often give two thumbs down.

Now, there are exceptions to every rule — some limited editions are warmly welcomed by collectors like the recent 50th Anniversary Gold Speedmaster. That said, the more common response to limited editions by passionate collectors is the eye roll. Some of this is obviously because we collectors are more sensitive and critical of our surroundings in the watchmaking world. Beyond that depth of knowledge, I believe, there’s a very particular reason why most limited editions do not speak powerfully to the collector spirit, and it has to do with stories.

Limited editions aren’t just about scarcity or collaborations, nor is it just another buzzword. They serve a very tactical marketing purpose for many companies. Limited editions are often the easiest way for a brand to create a story around a product. Connecting a watch to a potential consumer’s favorite artist, sports team, or fashion brand is a “quick and dirty” way to establish both a raison d’être and emotional connection with its audience.

Jean-Claude Biver speaks to this marketing philosophy behind Hublot and its prolific partnerships when he says, “Wherever our customer goes, he must meet Hublot. It is our goal to make the customer feel that we belong to his world, to his lifestyle, to his emotions and to his dreams.” For companies that have heavily utilized limited editions, like Hublot, the end result is a brand that attempts to speak to everyone. That’s the hang-up for collectors.

“If you try to speak to everyone, you end up speaking to no one.”

— Marketing Proverb

We’re the first to realize a company or product that tries to connect with everyone comes across as gimmicky – it’s trying too hard to speak to us. The other thing is, our appreciation and draw to watches often has more to do with history and the development of the watchmaking craft. I can think of three examples of this using both the stories around an individual timepiece as well as those around entire companies. The F.P. Journe Historical Anniversary Tourbillon (Ref. T-30), Stepan Sarpaneva’s K0 Daredevil, and the company philosophy behind MB&F are all examples of limited editions that connect with passionate collector audiences. They speak to history, spirit, and horological collaboration – all stories behind limited editions that I believe hold great appeal to collectors.

Here’s a brief overview of what I mean by this using each of these three examples:

FP Journe’s Historical Anniversary Tourbillon (Ref. T-30) – History

Limited to 99 watches, the T-30 is the ultimate homage to FP Journe’s origins. The T-30’s movement architecture resembles Journe’s first watch, a tourbillon pocket watch he made by hand created in 1983. For those that know, this is a limited edition that speaks strongly to collectors as it links back to the origins of the modern watchmaking legend. In this instance, the 99 piece limited run provides the collector with the ability to own a piece of the watchmaker’s origins, something previously only possible for the owner of the original pocket watch.

Stepan Sarpaneva’s K0 Daredevil – Spirit

Limited to 20 watches, the K0 Daredevil ties together the aesthetics of daredevil Evel Knievel with the risk-taking story of the Stepan Sarpaneva himself. The watchmaker sold his motorcycle to launch his own company, a sacrifice and a risk that paid dividends over the last 15 years of hard work. This watch, both in the aesthetics and what it represents, speaks strongly to the spirit of risk-taking that every entrepreneur, innovator, and adventurer must embrace to establish him- or herself.

MB&F – Horological Collaboration

Max Büsser & Friends – there couldn’t have been a more representative name for the company. Max has built a business around the spirit of collaboration amongst friends, pulling together watchmakers, designers, and artists and setting the task of building marvels of horological engineering. Collaborations, such as those amongst infamous watchmakers like Kari Voutilainen, Eric Coudray, Stepan Sarpaneva to name only a few, make it clear that the only thing better than one good watchmaker on a project is two (or three or four…). The rarity of seeing these collaborations manifest in limited edition watches drives many collectors to appreciate the creative process. It’s clear these are creatively intense, high effort limited editions.

Taking a step back, these three stories speak to passionate collectors because the stories created the watch instead of the story being created for the watch. With that, each feels less gimmicky than a limited edition collaboration with a fashion brand or sports team. I’m sure there are other ways limited editions can connect with collectors – this is by no means an exhaustive list of examples. As you can probably see, the three above are all tied to independent watches and brands. This is for no other reason than I know that space the best. I’m sure the reasons that command collector attention with certain modern watches and any number of vintage watches can be best elaborated on by those who feel the attraction the strongest! We just need better than average stories, that’s what it boils down to.

Another day with the beast,

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