By Arabian Watches and Jewellery Magazine. From Switzerland by Keith W. Strandberg
Limited Edition and Special Edition Watches
Today, luxury isn’t just about high prices, but rather about high quality, attention to detail and uniqueness. In fact, exclusivity could be the final frontier of luxury.
In the past, it might have been enough to have the right watch, the watch that everyone else was wearing. Now, people want something different, and this often means buying a limited or special edition.
In a world where the same stores are on the main streets of every major city in the world, the desire for something out of the ordinary is a natural reaction. Think Ed Hardy T-shirts, once unique and ahead of the trend, now ubiquitous and depassé.
“Over the past years, trends have gone even more global,” explains Manuel Emch, President, Romain Jerome. “To reflect their personality, people tend to differentiate themselves from others by wearing custom made clothes, exclusive jewels and limited editions of different kinds.”
It used to be that conformity, fitting in, was the ideal, but not anymore. “Exclusivity appeals to people,” says Philippe Merk, President of Audemars Piguet. “Our society is all about image, differentiation and that is what some consumers seek: exclusive products, brands, cars, hotels. First, limited editions are a strong way to show the values of the brand, its ambassadors and its technical innovations. Secondly, they are highly exclusive pieces, aesthetically or technically interesting. Exclusivity maintains the value of the brand."
It’s important that brands protect the idea of limited editions by keeping them truly limited. In many cases, brands use limited editions for timepieces that utilize rare skills, unique materials or sought after combinations of complications – watches that can’t feasibly fit into a brand’s normal collection.
Some companies like Van Cleef & Arpels, DeLaneau, Piaget and others are committed to keeping certain arts alive, like miniature painting, enamel, lacquer, engraving and more. Because of the difficulty of this work, by nature they are limited editions, and thus, highly coveted. The best enamel artisans, for example, can only make a handful of watches every year. They just don’t have time to make more, as these special watches cannot be done on an assembly line, but rather in an atelier. And, because they are art, they take the time they take.
Some brands have, in the past, created limited editions that weren’t really unique — limited editions of 5,000 pieces aren’t really limited. For limited editions to survive and thrive at the higher end, this can’t happen.
Recently, there have been a few timepieces with really interesting ‘hooks’, like the Son of a Gun Bullet watch from Yvan Arpa’s Artya and the Icelandic volcano ash watch from Romain Jerome. These unique qualities help these watches stand out and also enhance their cachet, making them even more desirable.
“Limited editions are very important for us,” says Carlos Rosillo, CEO, Bell & Ross. “Every year we produce several pieces that are limited editions. That means there are only 500 pieces (one per retailer since we have about 500 retailers worldwide). We have produced different types of limited editions - some are exceptional, for instance the tourbillon. These kind of high-end timepieces allow us to go beyond the normal limits in the technical and craftsmanship fields. Others are unique pieces inspired by a specific idea like the BR 01 Airborne or the BR 01 Radar which are inspired by the symbols of the military or dashboard instruments.”
Special Edition timepieces
Another way that companies can differentiate themselves from other companies is in their affiliations, which speak to customers in a different ways. These watches are often limited editions as well, but this exclusivity is based on the association as well as the unique design of the timepiece.
Take for example the Richard Mille RM027, built especially for Rafael Nadal. This ultra light tourbillon is actually worn by Rafael Nadal and made available to the public in a limited edition. One actually worn by Nadal when winning the French Open was recently auctioned for charity in Monaco’s Only Watch.
As luxury watches are often men’s toys, it’s quite natural that special edition watches are associated to the interests of men. There are diving watches linked to racecar drivers, MotoGP champions, cars (Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes, etc.), racing series (Rolex, TAG Heuer, etc.), sports teams and athletes (Hublot, Ebel, Audemars Piguet and more), charities and more.
Affiliating with a sport, an athlete, a team, a race or a charity helps the wearer stand out from the crowd, as well as it provides a story for the owner when he is asked, “What watch are you wearing?”
The Only Watch auction in Monaco is an example of a charitable effort that actually pushes the boundaries of watchmaking. All of the brands who participate in the auction produce one-of-a-kind timepieces, many of which have never been seen before. This gives the companies a chance, in the high profile environment of Only Watch, to flex their watchmaking muscles and make a big splash.
Special editions allow watch companies to work with high profile people on special designs. For example, Nadal had a hand in designing his Richard Mille tourbillon, while Usain Bolt and Dwayne Wade helping choose materials and colors for their special edition Hublot watches, and racecar driver Danica Patrick helped designer her limited edition Tissot T-Touch. These are cool collaborations and give the brands something special to promote.
In today’s world, luxury and exclusivity are walking hand in hand. Uniqueness will be valued even higher as the ranks of watch lovers grow. After all, customers don’t want to wear the same watches that everyone else is wearing. True luxury is having something that no one else has, but everyone else values.