Let’s get the disclosure out of the way: yes, this article will contain the words “pandemic” and “Tiffany,” but I’ll do my best to keep them from appearing in the same sentence again.
What a year! I think that many of us were hoping or even expecting a return to normalcy in the world of human interaction in 2021, and for one shining month in November with both the Geneva auction week and Dubai Watch Week it seemed we might just have crested the wave. But as I sit here writing during the final week of the year if anything we are in retreat once again. I’m not particularly given to fearless predictions, but I am hoping that in 2022 the world will find its way to something resembling “the before times,” at least when it comes to hanging out with watch pals.
Looking back at 2021: adding to the collection
I am the “Resident Collector” here at Quill & Pad, so please forgive me if I dive right in with the new pieces that joined my assortment during the past year.
Before I took stock, my sense was that this was a bit of a lost year for changes to my collection; but the facts suggest otherwise. I’ll include the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41 shown above as a 2021 piece as it arrived just a few days prior to the new year. But after that it was May before two quite different pieces joined it: the 1815 Rattrapante Honeygold by A. Lange & Söhne and the 2021 edition MB&F LM101 in white gold with purple dial.
When I compared the 1815 Rattrapante to the other split-second chronograph in my collection, Reference 5370P by Patek Philippe, I predicted that the 1815 would find its way onto my wrist often, and that has been the case. It’s a wearable masterpiece and even though it’s in gold the black dial and specific tone of the Honeygold alloy add a degree of stealth that one might not expect.
“Stealth” is not a word that I would associate with the Machines from MB&F, and so it is with my LM101. I had my pick between this piece and the blue-dialed steel version and just found the purple too captivating to pass up. I will use the cliché term and say that despite the height of its dome, this is a watch that easily slides under the cuff – a good thing as its dramatic look might otherwise draw unwanted attention.
At least in 2021, being an established customer of a brand had its privileges. My access to the limited-edition A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Rattrapante was one example. Later in the year, existing relationships paid off two more times with the opportunities to purchase the M.A.D.1 from Max Büsser and the Chronograph 2 from Kurono by Hajime Asaoka.
I almost missed out on the chance to buy a M.A.D.1 as I bought my LM 101 late in May, just as the eligibility window for the M.A.D.1 was closing, but managed to sneak in under the wire and received my finished watch in November. I’ll be offering a “Why I Bought It” explanation in early 2022, and I’ll confess that as I’ve only begun taking photos of the watch and dread having to clean it again for shooting, I haven’t as much as put it on my wrist. All in due time!
Another watch that hasn’t yet seen any wrist time is the Chronograph 2 by Kurono. I’ll be doing a full “Why I Bought It” on it as well, but I have to confess that I’m a bit of two minds on the watch so far. Aesthetically it’s striking, but there are no fewer than four scales (pulsometer, tachymeter, telemeter, and seconds) for the chronograph second hand alone, and without wearing it for a while I’m not yet fully convinced about the diameter-to-thickness ratio. More to come on this one, so please stay tuned.
My wife wears it, but I bought it: the delightful Klub Medio GMT by Alain Silberstein, her third Silberstein watch. I’m a bit embarrassed by the backstory on this one: a friend tipped me off that it was at auction at a very reasonable price, and I bought it before I determined that he had in fact been interested in it for himself! Luckily, he has forgiven me and seems quite happy to see it on my bride’s wrist.
November brought a watch I’d been awaiting for three years: the RRCC Chronomètre Contemporain by Rexhep Rexhepi and Akrivia. Stay tuned for a 2022 comparison article between this new masterpiece and the OG, Philippe Dufour’s Simplicity. Perhaps I’ll also put my camera to use for a group “Behind the Lens” feature on my three gold/black pieces: the RRCC in red gold, the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Rattrapante in Honeygold, and the yellow gold Patek Philippe Reference 2526 “Gobbi Milano.” For now, I’ll just say that the RRCC is getting substantial wrist time and does not disappoint.
Finally, the watch of this year or of any year! A while ago, a friend sent me a link to an app that converts a selfie into a cartoon rendering. I applied it to a photo of myself and subsequently posted it online to general derision, including a statement from Quill & Pad colleague Ian Skellern that it would be a nightmare to see that image on the face of a watch.
You can see where this is going: as quickly as you can search for “your face on a watch,” I had ordered up two examples of the piece you see below: one for Ian and one to keep. Total cost: 55 bucks.
I managed to keep the project under wraps until our group’s November trip to Geneva, during which Ian received his example with good humor, and various watchmakers we visited howled with laughter at my piece. Ian was kind – or crazy – enough to take the watch to Dubai Watch Week, where it appeared in my stead while I was back in the United States for Thanksgiving.
Travel and other adventures
It was so fantastic to have the opportunity in November to travel with friends to Geneva for a week of auctions, boutique visits, and meetings with watchmakers in town and at their ateliers. I’ve summarized the week’s events here previously, so won’t recap in detail. The very short version: didn’t win anything at auction, renewed friendships with many old friends from around the globe, made new friends, and was reminded once again that while there are watches involved, it’s all about the people!
I was very sad to miss out on Dubai Watch Week this year but followed it with admiration from afar and will hope to get back in the loop in future years. As evidenced by the 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève’s Special Jury Prize, Dubai Watch Week has become a force to be dealt with and it’s a splendid event to attend as well.
In other adventures, I minted my first watch-related NFTs based on high-resolution photographs of watches in my collection. I’m pleased to say that mine was the first-ever watch-related NFT by an independent artist to sell, and as of today I’ve sold three NFTs in total.
And for the first time I took on a freelance commercial photography assignment on behalf of a brand, capturing a prototype version of a new launch for them to share with potential buyers and at the same time establishing my commercial rate sheet for future commissions.
The year in swag
If you’re like me, you enjoy a thoughtful, small gift from time to time from a company you do business with, and though 2021 seemed in many ways to continue the downward trend in such tokens, I’m pleased to say that whether it was the Tribe hat from MB&F, the traditional Christmas Stollen from A. Lange & Söhne, a Kurono sweatshirt, or a few other items from companies I patronize, it was nice to be remembered.
One unexpected item for which I’m very grateful: the English-language version of the comprehensive photo biography of Konstantin Chaykin by Alexey Kutkovoy. I’ve long admired Chaykin’s work and of course bought the first version of his Joker watch. And while another Joker adorns the cover of this book, the interior is filled with images and descriptions of masterpieces such as the Moscow Comptus Easter Clock and the Cinema watch from this underappreciated master.
As I’ve long said, however, when it comes to these sorts of things my opinion can’t be bought, and I would never descend to associating my name or image with a brand just because, for instance, they wrote it in giant letters on the front of a sweater. Then again . . .
2021: a collector’s view of trends and happenings
I’m sure I’ll be addressing a number of these topics in upcoming articles, but here’s a rapid-fire set of observations on the year’s happenings and what they portend.
The watch market is becoming more like the art market. Focus is shifting from corporate brands to individual makers, dealers are inserting themselves into secondary market transactions and controlling available inventory, desirable pieces are being steered to influential buyers rather than being freely available, a few brands are enjoying mega-appreciation, and the market overall is becoming opaquer.
But with elements of other fashion categories. As quickly as an “existing relationship” became a criterion to gain access to the most sought-after new watches, for many brands the needle moved on to grant preference to celebrities and media figures: witness LVMH’s first few publicized allocations of the Tiffany Patek Philippe Reference 5711 (Tiffany belongs to LVMH and was the official seller of this watch).
Meanwhile, Audemars Piguet seems to be on the way to being a poor man’s Richard Mille, and other brands are hopping on the lifestyle bandwagon.
Rise of the YouTubers. Instagram was great, but now it seems that the latest wave of online watch players are using their IG presence to steer traffic to their YouTube posts. The great majority of what I’ve seen there is drivel, and as attention spans continue to shrink it’s a mystery to me why so many people will listen to a talking head droning on. But just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening or valid. And in a world where TikTok has just passed Google as the most popular web domain I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.
Clubhouse comes and goes. Clubhouse briefly seemed really cool as a virtual method for group contact among like-minded individuals, but rapidly became a place where the same few people say the same things over and over again. See “droning on,” above.
Hype watches get even hype-ier. Moaning about it will make no difference, but when a watch that I easily gained an allocation for at its release (the Stella-inspired Rolex OP 41 Turquoise) moves rapidly from obscurity to selling for triple its retail price and then goes completely nuts because its dial color looks somewhat like the Patek Philippe Tiffany Reference 5711, we are dealing with a market filled with low-information, trend-chasing buyers.
Everyone – and I mean everyone – goes sport. By the time Romain Gauthier launches a true sport watch (Continuum) and even Kari Voutilainen labels a titanium-cased piece the “28Sport” we can conclude that the era of the sport-dress watch and sport watch is absolutely upon us.
Musical chairs, with some early results. It seemed that even more watch company executives changed jobs this year: notables included Guido Terreni heading from Bulgari to Parmigiani; Davide Cerrato attempting a revival at HYT; and Antonio Calce stepping into the top seat at Greubel Forsey. At least so far, I like what I’m seeing at Parmigiani and Greubel Forsey with an emphasis on the Toric line and improved aesthetics at the former (in line with what I recommended for the brand a number of years ago) and a tiered product strategy at the latter that will be interesting to see unfold.
Most boats rise with the tide. The boom in the watch market overall and the newfound interest in independents has been a tonic for many makers. Formerly endangered indies like De Bethune and Laurent Ferrier now seem on the mend, and secondary market prices for great-but-underappreciated brands including A. Lange & Söhne are showing signs of strength.
Some vintage prices remain strong. Select vintage pieces did extremely well at auction this year, but to my eye there seemed to be a shift in auction buyers’ preferences to small-production recent references and even pieces like the A. Lange & Söhne Pour le Mérite Tourbillon and Vianney Halter Antiqua in the creatively named “neo-vintage” class. If it keeps raining here in California, I’ll sit down with the 2021 auction results and do some deeper analysis, but for now I’m relying on my sense of the market.
Collaborate, baby. In both watch creation and watch promotion it looks as if collaborative efforts are here to stay, from Massena Lab’s pieces with Ming and Luca Soprana to Habring’s multiple collaborations with retailers and web media.
Safety concerns: Safety out in public while wearing nice watches has been a concern for a while now, but the number of horror stories about robberies seemed to hit a new peak this past year. Stay safe out there!
Micro brands on the march. Throughout the year, we saw appealing designs and appearances in venues including Only Watch and the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève from Baltic, anOrdain, and many other design-centric, reasonably priced brands.
It remains a mystery to me why so many, including folks I respect, seem drawn to the blatant imitation (down to the brown duo-fold presentation box) of a vintage Patek Philippe that is Furlan Marri, but there you have it. Right now, I’d hate to be a small independent packaging up an insourced movement and trying to sell the resulting watch in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.
Strapping it on. Is it just me or does it seem that putting “new shoes” on watches went to another level this year? One enabler: the ready availability of custom straps in an immense variety of materials and colors and at very reasonable prices, from fast-turnaround shops such as Handdn in DaNang, Vietnam, makers of the strap shown on my Greubel Forsey Invention Piece 1 below.
Focused-purpose watch events win, omnibus fairs lose. One of the few bits of business advice that is true virtually without exception: focus and win! Baselworld is in the tank, and if the pandemic leads to the cancellation of an in-person Watches and Wonders Geneva in 2022 we may see it go the way of the dodo as well. Meanwhile, Dubai Watch Week with its tight focus on education and new-customer recruitment and Only Watch with its charitable mission move from victory to victory.
Hard earned, easy go. Rising tide or not, today’s sweetheart can be tomorrow’s victim. For instance, the Ming team had a rough go in 2021 with website ordering problems, customer service complaints, and movement glitches in its Massena collaboration piece, knocking some of the gloss off this former highflyer.
Just in the past few days, customers received an announcement that in the future Ming’s customer service would not be attempting to handle communications through social media and that all queries should come through email only. I happen to like using email, but then again I’m three or four decades older than the ideal target demographic for a brand like Ming – when the complaint is “you don’t respond to my requests on social media,” the response shouldn’t be “and we’re not going to!” Pro tip: study carefully what Kurono has done and take some lessons.
It’s a golden age for watchmaking and for collectors. Ups and downs, ins and outs aside, can you believe how great things are for watch lovers these days? The variety of great pieces at all price points is amazing, established masters including Kari Voutilainen, Vianney Halter, Greubel Forsey, F.P. Journe, and even Philippe Dufour are still active, a whole new generation of young masters including Rexhep Rexhepi, Romain Gauthier, and Petermann Bédat have come to the fore, and for those with the means to pay some of the greatest vintage watches of all time are regularly coming to market. What’s not to like?
Next time out, I’ll take a look at my favorites from my watch photos taken in 2021, including many that have not appeared previously on Quill & Pad. I hope you’ll tune in for that. In the meantime, happy wearing!
For more information on the Konstantin Chaykin book or to order directly, please visit chaykin.ru/shop/en/product/konstantin-chaykin-haute-horlogerie-with-russian-soul.