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Related Speaker Series: Collecting Watches in the Digital Era

When everything from your phone to your computer to your microwave can tell you the time, what is the purpose of owning a finely crafted – not to mention, extraordinarily expensive – Swiss mechanical timepiece?

This was the opening question posed at our latest Related Speaker Series with Watches of Switzerland on "The Art of Collecting Watches in the Digital Age." A curious and engaged crowd of residents sipped Glenmorangie and Ardbeg whisky and gathered around the fireplace in the penthouse lounge at One Hudson Yards to hear an esteemed panel of watch experts – Damian Otwinowski, Vice President at Watches of Switzerland, James Lamdin, founder of the vintage watch site Analog/Shift, Gibran Khan, Store Director of Watches of Switzerland in Hudson Yards, and Carlos Cruz,  Senior Sales Executive at Watches of Switzerland – discuss why timepieces still have value and are so fervently collected now more than ever.

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The panel, from left: Damian Otwinowski, James Lamdin, Carlos Cruz and Gibran Khan

Indeed, after a period of sluggish growth from 2015-2017 – due in large part to the launch of the Apple Watch, which debuted in 2014 – the luxury timepiece market has bounced back, rising from a $5.6 billion industry in 2015, to $6.9 billion in 2018. As Otwinowski put it, "It's our Renaissance at the moment."

The reason for that growth? For one thing, the panelists actually credited the popularity of the Apple Watch itself, which was once feared to spell doom for mechanical timepieces.

"People are becoming more and more open to the concept of wearing watches, and that’s brought a lot of vision and impact to our industry, because people who are normally not wearing watches are now wearing watches," said Khan, "These people are now looking for variety." And so, they turn to the complex world of mechanical timepieces, which not only provide basic information (i.e. the time), but also carry a story and a connection to a rich history and tradition of Swiss watch-making.

"The art of a watch lies in its ability to take a bunch of pieces, a bunch of components and fit them together so nicely that they bring together the cosmos on your wrist," said Cruz.

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The crowd listening

Social media has played a role as well, making it easier for those around the world to access information and images of unique and rare timepieces that are available for purchase. "Many clients who come through our doors now are so much more educated" thanks to social media, Cruz noted. Instagram has allowed vintage watch dealers like Lamdin the opportunity to reach a wider audience, many of whom are looking not for the popular staples, but rare, unusual pieces.

"It's thrill of the chase for a lot of clients," Khan noted, "People go hunting for their Rolex Daytonas, their unicorn pieces."

Not to mention, watches are a good investment; rare vintage watches are often sold for multiple times their original price tags; the most famous example being Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona, which sold for $17.8 million in 2017 ( Joanne Woodward bought it for her husband for just $250 in the late 1960s).

"When these watches start getting very significant in terms of value, you have to factor their financial value into your decision," said Lamdin, "It's important think about where you are putting your money and if there is there a market for it."

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Guests at the event review the watches.

And yet, those in the audience who shared why they collect watches all had a very simple, very pure reason for doing so – they just love them. "The reason I buy watches is because there’s something permanent about them in a way that a lot of the objects we own are not," said one guest, who is also a collector, "For me, it’s emotional. It’s not an investment piece, I bought it with my heart."

The panelists all noted that this behavior is consistent with what they've observed among their customers, "the emotional purchase of buying a watch means a lot to our clients," said Otwinowski, with Lamdin adding, "There is a romanticism to this mechanical item, that is – to be fair – entirely obsolete. But it does have a value, and a history and a story. How cool is that?"

After the talk, everyone admired the timepieces that Watches of Switzerland and Analog/Shift brought to the event. Among the pieces Watches of Switzerland brought were a Patek Phillipe Twenty~4 Automatic, an IWC Spitfire and a Vacheron Constantin Historiques American, while Analog/Shift brought vintage pieces including a 1940s Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Moonphase Chronograph, a 1970s Breitling Navigier Cosmonaute, a 1960s Omega Speedmaster ‘Ed White,' a 1940s DOXA Gilt Dial, a 1970s Rolex Day-Date for Tiffany & Co and a 1970s Heuer Autavia ‘Jo Siffert’ Chronograph.

The rarest and most valuable timepiece at the event was a minute repeater from Jaeger LeCoultre; the thinnest piece ever made by the company, it is one of only 75 in the world and holds a value of $370,000.

To see more timepieces up close, visit Watches of Switzerland's location at Hudson Yards, where you can find watches from brands like Omega, Patek Philippe and Rolex. Right now, you can find an installation from IWC in the store window, and soon, Hublot will take over the space with a "Hublot Loves Art" campaign.

The Related Life is written and produced by Related Luxury Rentals. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest events, news and announcements in your area, and tag us for a chance to be featured @therelatedlife and #therelatedlife.