In the last few years, the watch community has seen a huge shift in the way we find and purchase watches. Traditionally of course, like anything else, one would simply walk into a watch retailer of a brand that we like, find the model that we want, buy it, and leave happily. That sadly cannot be said these days as the increase in people buying on the used markets from dealers like me is largely to do with the impossibility of buying a new watch from a retailer. Today, while there are plenty of other watches that you can still buy new, if someone wants a watch that is popular such a Rolex sport model, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak or of course, a Patek Philippe Nautilus, ‘dream on’ would be the first words that comes to mind. It is not that the waitlist is long, as patience will get you nothing, it’s that in order to qualify to buy these pieces, you have to do a song and dance for your retailer, jump through hoops and buy many other watches from them that are slow movers and generally undesirable.
As a result, the used market has boomed with prices for these watches trading at 2-3x their retail price. As retailers see this price increase, they make it even harder to get, making sure the losses you make on the other pieces ensures that even if you do flip your shiny sport watch, you do not make it. I am sure you are seeing a vicious ouroboric cycle here.
While we are used to multiples of sport models trading, there has been one watch that blew up and trades on the used market for 10 times the retail – the 2021 Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711A with the olive-green dial. When news broke that the production model 5711A with a blue dial was being discontinued, prices surged, and it was announced there’d be one final iteration. Sure, the green dial is nice, and I like the Nautilus a lot, but even for the most die-hard fans, this seemed like pure insanity.
What compounded the issue was when Antiquorum sold a sealed 5711A with a green dial quickly after its release and managed to get close to half a million dollars for it. The whole watch community was up in flames, trying to figure out who this ‘Gregory Pau’ was who had his name on the certificate. I am sure there are opinions on both side that are valid, but for me personally, I think it is not right to vilify the consumer. If I got something for 10 dollars and someone offered me 100 for it, do I be the purist, passionate watch loving guy who holds on to it despite the temptation, or do I be the logical guy who says, hey! This is insane and I can make some money?
One thing is for sure, I hate to see the market so crazily inflated, but the problem lies higher up the chain. I understand that Patek simply can’t make as many Nautiluses as they want, as no one will buy it and defeats the whole purpose of a Veblen good, but I do think there is a balance between pure insanity and making more pieces. Will we see a return to normalcy ever? Who knows…?