Normally, we would take the time to tell you something about a new watch or a collector. Maybe an innovation or an event, but none of this will be the subject of this article. Well, technically there’s an event involved, but it is not our main concern in this story. Anyhow, let me tell you the reason for me to write this article and give you some insights on the subject: Tourbillons.
I hear you thinking ‘why tourbillons again?’ and I agree. Boring, same old same old but it’s not exactly true. You see, saturday we went to the Salon0024 event in Amsterdam. An event organized by 0024Watchworld and some of Holland’s leading jewellers. This event had its debut at the Intercontinental Hotel in Amsterdam – a stunning location – and we have to admit, it was a refreshing concept and for us personally a success. The atmosphere was classy and personal. There were brands like Parmigiani, Nomos, Perrelet, Lange&Sohne and Pequignet. The fact that they chose brands that do not pop-up on each standard wish list pleased our watch minded vision. Not to be forgotten, there was a special place for the Dutch watch brands too. Since we are Dutch ourselves, we really liked the fact that we had the chance to see watches from Christiaan van der Klaauw, TWCO, VandenBerg, Roland Oostwegel and Van der Gang watches. After all, it’s not only the Swiss man that knows how to make watches. Besides all these watches, there were some very nice pieces of jewellery to be seen and Mr. Teun van Heerebeek shined an artistic light on the event with some of his ‘Watches & Pencils’ creations featured on Fratello Watches. As I said, we really liked the concept and hope for a second edition next year.
Now, on to the point of matter. In the afternoon, chief editor of 0024Watchworld Lex Stolk took his time to tell us something about the timepieces that won in the European Watch of the year 2015 competition and the different masterpieces displayed at the event. Besides the fact that I really like Lange, and the brand won in two categories – the one from prices ranging from €25.000 – €100.000 and the category above €100.000 – there were some stunning pieces to be seen. For instance, the Chopard L.U.C. Tourbillon Fairmined, famous for its fair gold – like fair-trade coffee. We were hoping to see the Moser & Cie. Venturer Small Second too, but this watch missed the bus to Amsterdam I believe.
However, we did see some of the best pieces from last year and with the introduction of the eight winning watches, Mr. Stolk made something very clear. You see, we all know that the watch industry has some kind of artificial way of keeping things in balance. The leading brands can do things without having to explain why they do it and the whole world watches and accepts it. This is not bad, it’s something we saw coming and we gladly accepted because all lovers across the globe do not want anything to happen to their hobby and lifestyle. After all, watches are one of our most beloved subjects and we wouldn’t know what to do without these tiny pieces of craftsmanship.
Now, as I said, Mr. Stolk talked to us about the eight winners of the 2015 European watch awards. You can discuss the winners and pick your own, but that’s not what really matters. What matters is the fact that when he arrived at number 7 – the Chopard L.U.C. Tourbillon Fairmined – he confirmed something we already thought. In the past, we did an article here about watches that were way too expensive and that’s something that keeps me up at night. When we talked about that particular Chopard, we came to the conclusion of a painful point I want to describe as ‘Turbulent Tourbillon Times’. How original is that for a problem name? Triple T is happening!
Let’s start this subject with agreeing that a Tourbillon was a legendary and incredibly difficult complication for a long time. Watchmakers that were able to create a watch with a Tourbillon were like magicians and brands could do with such watches what they wanted, because Tourbillon. You get my point? Now, to excuse myself for any criticism, creating a Tourbillon is still something that’s very difficult and mastered by few, but it’s an upcoming sight in Haute Horlogerie. That’s where the problem kicks in. Not really a problem, but something that shows how random some decisions are and logic has been abandoned years ago. Each time a watch brand discovers a novelty, other brands are doing their utmost best to make sure they can reproduce that same thing for half the price. Not bad, after all we all like it when a premium watch becomes cheaper.
Now, the same thing is happening with the Tourbillon watches. Buying a tourbillon for around €100.000 or €200.000 isn’t uncommon, it was the standard for this complication for a long, very looooooong time. But then came brands like Montblanc and Tag Heuer. What do they do? Well, they are playing Jenga with the whole Tourbillon-pricing-tower. Montblanc for instance created the Timewalker Exotourbillon Minute Chronographe. A very cool Tourbillon if you ask me with high-quality standards and innovations. A power reserve of 50 hours, energy saving of a stunning 30% because of balance wheel placement and a case made of titanium and carbon-fibre. The funny part of all of this? It costs less than 50k, to be exact: €39.500. To keep it in ‘Jenga terms’, Montblanc just pulled out a few blocks and made the tower very wobbly. You see, Mr. Stolk said it himself, how can a jeweller sell you a Tourbillon watch for €200.000 and sell your best friend one for €39.500 the very next day? Would you buy it because it’s all in finishing and name? A difference of about 160k?
It’s these kind of things that put question marks all around me when studying the industry and listening to the stories as they are told by brands. The fact that we were in the Intercontinental Hotel at that very moment, listening to the Tourbillon stories and me and a dozen other watch enthusiasts had a very strange expression on their face says it all. We are all at the side-line looking at that giant tower of wooden blocks, waiting for it to collapse. So as we were waiting, last February, Tag Heuer decided to show the world the true quality of that tower. Welcome Tag Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T, a Tourbillon with a price that’s as low as the average bag of groceries in a soccer mom’s car: a mere €13.923. Oh my daisy, that cannot be true. Tag Heuer is fooling us, they’re lying! No sorry boys, they aren’t lying. Of course a soccer mom doesn’t do groceries for that amount of money, but we have to keep in mind we are talking about a Tourbillon watch here. The holy grail of all complications can be found at the shopping mall around the corner.
You see, this is what bothers me and a lot of other watch enthusiasts. The fact that Lex Stolk – editor-in-chief of Europe’s biggest watch magazine – doesn’t have a legit explanation for the crazy price differences underlines my point. We have (once again) reached a point of exaggeration. A point that shines a light on the dark caves in watch making world. A point where brands put each other’s houses on fire because they want to tell the world the truth behind the story. Or they just want their share of the pie. The fact that we as watch lovers had to get a new mortgage to be able to buy a gravity-proof watch and the only thing we have to do now is sell our car, is a huge difference. Thank you Switzerland. Thanks for emptying our pockets all those years before showing us that we paid way too much for a certain complication.
Or is this whole story a bit too much of me and am I exaggerating? Let’s shine a light on the other side of the story. Switzerland has a reputation of being neutral so I’m not worried about picking a fight with them, I just want to create an honest opinion. Since the existence of mechanical watches, we’ve admired the work behind these pieces and the fact that it wasn’t for everyone. There was a time where you bought a Rolex for as little as €100 and still, that was very expensive at that time. However, when we take that brand as an example – sorry, Rolex just knows how the cookie crumbles – we come to the conclusion that astronomical prices aren’t necessary at all. Rolex is known for creating everything under own supervision and delivering leading quality. Still, if a normal man is prepared to pay a fair amount of money, he can buy himself a Rolex and have quality that lasts for generations to come. There are other brands, brands that are younger and have far less history to go for them, that create watches with quality and great complications for a price that buys you a neat house. Nobody ever complained about that fact. Nobody complains about a hand-wound Richard Mille costing 500k. It’s not the materials that do the trick, of course there are very durable and expensive materials used in most of these Haute Horlogerie watches, but they don’t make that price. It was the moment that money became the influence in the industry (as always). Watch enthusiasts had a moment in time which they could use to take a stand. A moment we all had to decide the brands went too far. Show them that we do not buy this crap and ridiculous prices. But we didn’t.. All we did was talk about how expensive some pieces were and move on with our everyday lives. Now, the money decides how crazy some timepieces can become and that’s about it.
In my opinion the most expensive watches of this world aren’t necessarily the best. That’s what explains these crazy rollercoaster rides in this industry. The public, the buyers, all these groups can be divided in the ones that carry with them a specific amount of knowledge when it comes to watchmaking and the ones that carry with them a big bag of money and the option to change the game with that bag. The way I see it, the last group has too much influence. That’s a bit of a bold statement, but it’s true. However, this goes for almost everything in life, not only the watch industry. After all, with money comes power. So to be honest, we are way too late with being critical about this development. We had our chance a long time ago and we did nothing. Now, watches are overpriced and brands are playing strange games with each other. This situation is irreversible. The thing that makes this situation funny is the fact that the industry has fought to overcome the ‘quartz-crisis’, is still fighting a far less threatening battle with smartwatches and besides all of that, wants to raise the difficulty by doing such stupid things like this. I mean, can’t we all agree that the fact there’s a price difference of around 160k or more between Tourbillons is just a big comedy?
‘Oh yes sir, indeed you paid an enormous amount of money for something that could be a lot cheaper, but it’s all in the finishing’, said no jeweller ever. Anyhow, you’ve read my opinion. You can agree or not, but you have to admit, the whole watch world is a crazy circus sometimes. I am wondering how long these kind of acts are loved by the public. Let’s just sit back, relax, enjoy the show and wait for what’s to come. Amen.