NOTHING MAKES A WATCH COLLECTOR SIT UP AND PAY ATTENTION more immediately than the words ‘limited edition’. For some of us, it’s a perpetual fear of missing out while others just don’t want to let another golden opportunity slip away.
Either way, the prospect of adding a limited edition timepiece to one’s collection should always be carefully considered: is it actually worth the premium or is it just another gimmick? With watch companies getting increasingly creative with marketing these days, it can be quite hard to see the difference, even as watch buyers become more sophisticated and less easily impressed.
Many brands routinely produce limited editions. At the most exclusive end of the spectrum, said watch would have been co-created with a high-profile external partner and made in very small numbers. Something like Richard Mille’s RM 056 made to celebrate Jean Todt’s 50-year career in motorsports comes to mind.
Its sapphire crystal case took 40 days to machine and only three people in the world will ever come to own it first-hand. Just to get a sense of the collectability of ultra-rare Richard Milles, a similar model recently exchanged hands at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong for more than S$2.4 million.
While rarity certainly is a key factor, the absolute number is not the only consideration in a limited edition because what’s ‘limited’ for one brand can be completely unrealistic for another. Omega for instance releases limited edition models by the thousands simply because its production numbers and market share is so much larger. When it launched the Speedmaster “Speedy Tuesday” Limited Edition earlier in the year on Instagram, all 2,012 units were snapped up in a record four hours and 15 minutes.
Clearly, being one of 2,012 people to own this watch isn’t the draw here. What had caused legions of watch enthusiasts to go “Shut up and take my money!” is the fact that this timepiece hits the horological sweet spot where iconic status, great design, and an accessible price point meet. Everybody knows and loves the Moonwatch; reverse panda chronographs are back in vogue; and the $8,400 list price is actually affordable.
Likewise, the 1,970-piece Speedmaster Moonwatch Apollo 13 Silver Snoopy Award was a mega hit in 2015. Possibly one of the most sought after Moonwatches, it retailed for $9,500 and was sold out in a matter of days, but is worth more than $20,000 today.
Limited edition Moonwatches are practically a tradition at Omega, with new ones presented every year without fail, but collectors remain happy to indulge. This happy rule does not apply in all cases though, and the appetite for limited editions is not bottomless, as in the case for Audemars Piguet. From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, when people were snapping up luxury mechanical watches like there was no tomorrow, Audemars Piguet was churning out limited edition Royal Oak Offshores with gusto.
There were special pieces made for friends of the brand, commemorative events and partnerships, even an entire series made for wherever there were Audemars Piguet boutiques – yes, there was a Royal Oak Offshore Orchard Road limited edition.
It got to a point where there were more limited edition Royal Oak Offshores than non-limited edition ones. You could almost hear the collective eye-roll that came with each new launch. Thankfully, the company has since cut back on these models, focusing instead on good old-fashioned watchmaking and creative R&D.
Picking up from where Audemars Piguet left off, Hublot is still big on the limited edition game and has managed to eke out a niche just on special timepieces alone. Possibly the brand with the highest number of partnerships and ambassadors, Hublot has been involved with everything from sports, cigars, and motor racing to art, music, and fashion. But what makes its limited edition watches stand out is the creative input from its partners.
Not satisfied with mere cursory aesthetic features, Hublot insists on fusing the DNA of both parties in each limited edition watch. The watch made for Manchester United had actual grass from Old Trafford in the numerals; the watch made for Ferrari was designed by the Ferrari design team; the watch made for and sold exclusively at Cheval Blanc Randheli has a dial made of sand taken from the resort’s beach. Every limited edition Hublot is well and truly special.
Which is why many collectors today won’t settle for anything less than true exclusivity. For its 45th anniversary in 2017, Cortina Watch commissioned two special Panerai Luminor Due models, PAM751 in steel (45 pieces) and PAM752 in red gold (10 pieces). Apart from the “Cortina Watch 45th Anniversary” engraved on the back, the watches are exactly the same as the non-limited edition models, giving collectors little incentive to buy them at a premium, however small.
Harrods, too, has just commissioned a special Tudor Black Bay to be retailed exclusively at its Fine Watch Room. Not limited to any specific quantity, this piece has its bezel cast in the department store’s trademark shade of green and word on the street is that the waiting list is long – as in long, to the extent that Harrods has already stopped accepting new orders. Being priced no different from the other Black Bays makes this one all the more irresistible, and with Tudor being on top of every collector’s hotlist now – thanks in part to the record-breaking CHF375,000 Black Bay Bronze at Only Watch – this is probably the most limited non-limited edition watch to try and own for 2017, showing that for a brand that never makes limited editions, Tudor sure has a firm handle on the game.