As 2015 draws to a close, we thought we’d take a few moments to briefly highlight some of the most significant occurrences during the year. We wish all of you and your families a Happy New Year and are looking forward to 2016!
2015 was an awesome year for this publication. We had 383(!) articles for you in 2015, compared to ‘just’ 205 in 2014. Besides our weekly recurring Speedy Tuesday, we added Throwback-Thursday for our weekly doses of vintage coverage, a monthly feature of Watch Strap Review to give you some suggestions on ‘new shoes’ for your watch(es), Watches & Pencils to unleash the creativity in us to discuss certain definitions or market trends. We also refrained even more from publishing, or better-said, re-writing press releases from the brands as we feel this is not something you want to read on Fratello Watches. Instead, we published even more hands-on reviews in 2015 than we did previously. In 2015 we also received a lot of new advertisers (which are necessary to keep our operation running) that acknowledge our reach and the quality of our readership. We hope that we do this in the best way possible, without harassing you too much (we still feel it is far worse in printed magazines where you have more ads than content these days). In fact, you even clicked the banners and showed interest in their brand and watches on our main page.
We would like to thank you, our readers, for sticking with us or for starting reading us in 2015. You almost doubled in numbers in 2015 compared to 2014, and 2014 was a very good year already! Our team now consists of Bert, RJ, Blaise, Michael, Gerard, George and Teun who are delivering high quality content to Fratello Watches. All watch enthusiasts either by trade or by passion, nevertheless a very knowledgeable team that does great research before they publish and are very approachable for you, our readers, to ask questions about watches. So, please, feel free to drop us a line to ask a question, add a comment (can also be done through our Disqus comment system) or just say Hi.
We listened to your comments in our annual survey and will work hard to make Fratello Watches even better in 2016.
We published it already in our guest column by professor Jan Adriaanse in 2014, long before the Apple Watch was released, that the smartwatch is a great opportunity when it comes to functionality. Is it a threat to the Swiss watch industry? Hardly. What we did notice is that a lot of mechanical watch aficionados who bought an Apple Watch, started to wear it on the other wrist and use it for the specific apps or functionality (incoming messages, phone calls etc.) rather than leaving their precious mechanical timepiece in the safe and only wear the smartwatch. We also noticed some scared Swiss watch manufactured quickly trying to come up with some countervailing power to those electronic devices. Frederique Constant, Alpina, TAG Heuer, IWC and Montblanc showed watches (or devices, as IWC and Montblanc have a ‘smartstrap’) that offers some functionality as well. But let’s be brutally honest here: If you want to buy a nice timepiece because you love watches, you buy a nice (mechanical) watch and if you love gadgets or simply want to have a smartwatch, you buy an Apple Watch or Samsung Gear or whatever is available. Creating some hybrid solution to please the real watch passionate people and those who are interested in functionality and ‘being connected’ is not going to work out in the end, mark our words.
Traditional watch brands should use the smartwatch to get a new generation of clients their way. TAG Heuer makes an effort by offering customers of their Connected Watch to trade up to a mechanical Carrera after two years of ownership. A lot of other brands just seem to be waiting till it is over. Like they did (or some still do) with this thing called ‘internet’. Grow some balls and come up with a solid vision and strategy.
That said, we did a thorough write-up on the Apple Watch here, after a longer period of wearing it (and still doing so).
The Watch Market in 2015
2015 started a bit awkward as the Swiss Franc was ‘disconnected’ from the Euro, just before the SIHH 2015 started. This left us puzzled about what the consequences would be for the Euro market as prices increased suddenly with +20% because of this decision. During the SIHH, brand representatives were clearly instructed not to give any comments on this, so it was a very unusual week in Geneva, not knowing what would hit us (financially) with the new timepieces introduced there. On top of that, some brands also announced their usual annual price increase anyway. Funny, as most consumers who have an average (or perhaps more than that) but good income are on the 0-line with their salary for the last couple of years while brands keep increasing their prices for un-transparent reasons with percentages that would make most people very happy if that would be their annual salary increase.
However, brands seemed happy with the orders they received from retailers. BaselWorld was no different, even though some prices were corrected and kept ‘rational’ for the Euro market. Patek Philippe decided even to decrease some of the prices, in the US even with 7%. Retailers weren’t too pleased, as this also meant that their existing stock decreased with 7%, let alone the angry customers they had to answer why the watch they bought the week before was suddenly a couple of thousands cheaper now. So, we could summarize that it was a somewhat ‘unclear’ year for brands, retailers and customers when it comes to pricing.
The pre-owned market flourished because of this. Even though the prices of pre-owned pieces also increased because of the every rising prices on new watches, the pre-owned market made it possible for customers to still buy the watch they were after but who suddenly couldn’t afford to buy it new. The success of on-line market places like Chrono24 was unstoppable in 2015. It might also be one of the very good reasons for people to have a look at the vintage watch market, our own Michael Stockton gives you a periodical update on that.
Since we have our Speedy Tuesday feature, since 2012, we were following Christie’s Speedmaster 50 Auction with great interest last month. Our in-depth report about that auction and what the consequences for the Speedmaster market could be, can be read here.
What we found very interesting to witness, is that some brands turned the financial uncertainty into something powerful. Oris was and still is, the talk of the town with their Divers Sixty-Five watch for ‘just’ 1700 Euro.
Another brand that you, our valued reader, showed a lot of interest in this year was Seiko. Not only their high-end (Grand) Seiko pieces, but also in the very affordable and vintage range. We reckon this also has to do with the fact that they offer a lot of bang for the buck.
In the end, it gets more difficult to find interesting and good pieces in the < €3000 Euro range, where this wasn’t a problem a couple of years ago. Let’s hope some brands will offer something nice in 2016 in that range as well as landing a bit more with their feet on the ground generally speaking.
The Vintage Market in 2015
In the world of vintage, we think that 2015 will truly be remembered as the year that the market came of age. When we say this, we continue to talk about the fact sports watches aside from Rolex increased mightily in price. Furthermore, demand for good 1960’s sports watches, especially chronographs, has increased to the point where eBay is starting to become a barren wasteland. For dealers, finding stock has become difficult but when they do land a great piece, they’re often sold instantly via a platform such as Instagram before they are even advertised on a traditional website.
As far as brands, we’ve mentioned this before, but 2015 was the year for Heuer. Early vintage Heuer chronographs such as the Autavia and Carrera caught fire earlier this year and their dramatic demand and price rises have shown no signs of slowing. Credit great looks, a true racing tie-in, and movements that are often nearly identical to the famed Rolex Daytona for the increase in interest. Looking back on it now, it almost seems predictable, as interest in Heuer hasn’t exactly been quiet for the past 10 years.
Speaking of predictable, we knew it would happen, but when was the real question. With this, we’re talking about interest in the vintage Omega Speedmaster. Things have certainly been on the upswing over the past year, but the prices of these once ubiquitous pieces took a sharp ascent upwards and cemented their status as blue chip pieces when looking at the results of the aforementioned Speedmaster 50 auction at Christie’s. To me, it was no surprise that “pre-moon” Speedmaster equipped with the column-wheel 321 movements took off, as this was long overdue. Try finding anything halfway decent under $6,000 and you’ll now struggle – even for the fairly common 145.012.
The biggest surprise, to me, though, has been the interest in the early “transitional” Speedmasters equipped with the 861. Prior to this auction, these transitionals, and even those that followed for the next couple years into the early 70’s, were always examples of great, and inexpensive value. Now, however, these have climbed into the $5,000+ range and are tough to find in great condition. We certainly weren’t clairvoyant, but we did state that vintage Speedmasters were good places to sink money back when we published a Summer Vintage Market Update.
All in all, the vintage market continues to be exciting with new discoveries made almost weekly about who wore what and about odd transitional cases or dials. It’s an exciting part of the hobby and you can bet that we’ll do our best to cover it in the year ahead.
As Robert-Jan mentioned, thanks very much to you, our readers, for making 2015 our best year on record – and that’s saying something because we’ve been around since 2004. We look forward to the year ahead. As always, feel free to reach out to us with questions, comments, story ideas, etc. We’ll do our best to get back to you quickly!