— Writing for Scottish Business Insider Claire McBain delves into masterpieces of micro-mechanical engineering
Whether you are hoping to acquire your first luxury timepiece or add to a diverse collection of high-end wrist wear there is a lot to consider as you enter the opulent and fascinating world of deluxe watches.
From iconic brands to household names, a luxury replica watch is an aspirational piece and reasons behind each and every purchase are diverse.
It may be a treasured heirloom investment; a tangible asset that gains value as you enjoy it, a hobbyist or collector’s prized item, a sign of exclusivity, status and professionalism or, quite simply, an aesthetically pleasing piece of jewellery.
Joe Walsh is the managing director at Laings of Glasgow, a prestigious family business spanning more than 175 years.
He says: “A watch is very important when it comes to a gentleman’s overall outfit and look.
“It can bring style and sophistication, often defining a man’s personality.”
But there is absolutely no such thing as a ‘typical luxury replica watch owner,’ particularly with interest free credit making purchases with high price tags accessible to more people than ever before.
A £100 watch over five years on credit, for example, would amount to less than £170 per month, making it immediately appealing, and available, to a varied client base.
Collectors do, however, make up a good proportion of those with their eye on the replica watch market; either high wealth individuals fortunate enough to regularly add to their magnificent accumulation – one for every personality perhaps? – or those who hunt down particular models and to build up an enviable selection over many years.
Greg Kelly is brand and marketing director at JV Watchmakers, which services luxury replica watches for consumers and retailers, as well as specialising in vintage watches.
He explains: “Collectors, in my experience, tend to be those who see it as an investment and those who do it purely for the love of the watches.
“I have one customer who has a collection worth around £250,000 and views it as his pension pot, taking more pleasure in buying and trading vintage replica watches than having the money sit in a savings account.”
On the flip side, another of Kelly’s’s customers fell in love with the German brand A Lange & Sohne and now only buys from their collection.
Related, pre-owned watches remain a vital aspect of business for retailers with customers perhaps trading in one model for another or gifting a timepiece with a memorable date for a birthday or anniversary.
Kelly continues: “This allows people to make savings, perhaps starting with a lower priced model and continuing to ‘trade up’ until they secure a more expensive piece.”
Other purchasers will be buying a ‘daily wearer’ that can be passed down to a child when they are old enough to understand the concept; a welcome contrast for some to today’s largely throw-away culture where there is little expectation of anything lasting for a lifetime.
Edinburgh-based Hamilton & Inches founded their business on this sentimental principal whilst Swiss replica watchmaker Patek Phillipe coined their marketing campaign on the very concept: “You never actually own a replica Patek Philipe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”
Matthew Finnie is the watch specialist within the management team at Finnies the Jeweller, which has serviced the Aberdeen market for almost 60 years.
He says: “For me, a watch is one of the most personal possessions anyone can have and I know many of our customers feel the same.
“The concept of passing on a fake watch, something that’s been part of your life day in and day out, is something to be cherished.”
The global high-end watch market has certainly grown over the years with some brands disappearing as quickly as they arrived whilst classic, traditional watchmakers – trusted brands such as replica Rolex and Patek Philipe – have remained at the front line, despite market challenges and increased competition.
“Production is limited so the global economy is very important,” explains Walsh.
“The craftsmanship required to make each piece requires an exceptional skill set, as well as time, effort and availability of the correct production facilities, which are expensive to build.
“For example, the growth of the Chinese economy brought a raft of new buyers into the market and replica watchmakers struggled to keep up with demand.
“The high import taxes into China led to Chinese travellers buying heavily in Europe, propping up the market during the downturn.
“But the tightening of rules on corruption in China, as well as their economic slow-down, has reduced this market significantly and, in turn strengthened the UK and European market.”
Many coveted brands are based in Europe with the Swiss market still the heartland.
Industry experts in Switzerland are using clever techniques developed and fine-tuned over generations, the best quality materials and the most up-to-date equipment – with some pieces completely handmade from start to finish.
Closer to home, the UK has an impressive and solid history in crafting timepieces and is currently enjoying a resurgence. In fact, one of the world’s forerunners in high-end timekeeping technology is based in Henley-on-Thames.
But, what denotes ‘luxury?’
Generally, a high-end watch can be defined by price, production and technology.
They fall into the price bracket of £1,000 and above (with some made-to-order pieces costing around £500,000), are not mass-produced and are mechanical.
This means no batteries – they depend on being wound up manually, automatically by movement of the wearer or by light, a technology pioneered by Citizen 40 years ago.
“As a term, luxury is overused,” says Stuart McDowell, head of replica watches uk at Edinburgh-based Hamilton & Inches.
“The finest watch brands begin with a product created to be perfect. Budget is secondary.”
Finnie, who enthusiastically travels the world to source the best brands, agrees: “A large price tag is certainly not a guarantee of quality.
“A high price can reflect many aspects, from the features and materials to the exclusivity, and whilst a significant advertising budget can raise the profile of a specific manufacturer there is no substitute for quality.
“Replica Watch buyers are very often a sophisticated and knowledgeable group and, with our help, can cut through clever marketing to ensure they’re spending wisely.”
Unsurprisingly, a major purchase such as this is rarely spur of the moment and most clients will have done their research, going into a store with a brands and questions in mind.
“Customers may covert a particular brand or piece for a long time before they’re in a position to purchase it or may work their way up to their ideal timepiece, says McDowell.
“A good watch should last a lifetime so don’t rush the decision.”
This is when the retailer’s role is crucial, particularly for clients new to the market or seeking help in the selection process.
Visiting a long-established, trusted and authorised vendor is the best way to get premium advice and education from those who have seen the watch making process up close and know the differences of each model down to the finest detail.
Some dedicated and passionate watch specialists have even taken clients to manufacturers to emphasise the hard work that goes into the production process, bringing a whole new appreciation to the art of watch making.
Moreover, liaising with the most reputable retailers is the only way to guarantee authenticity and secure a manufacturer’s warranty.
An increasing number of people want something that nobody else will have so, for some of the world’s most elite, the top watchmakers will very occasionally produce bespoke replica watches.
Patek Philippe, for example, will take years to make a unique piece and it is believed that the customer has to be vetted by the watchmaker first.
But limited editions and limited production, a factor of every watch brand, appear to be where real consumer interest lies, underlining the desire for exclusivity as opposed to jumping on a trendy bandwagon.
The Rolex steel Daytona, made in very small numbers, is extremely sought-after, boasting a very extensive waiting list.
However, according to Finnie, although styles and fashion change, quality prestige pieces, with their classic and elegant design, will never date: “Nothing can quite compare with the skill that goes into creating a fantastic, luxury watch; made and polished by a human.
“It’s a masterpiece of micro-mechanical engineering.”
Therefore, made-for-a-lifetime styles prevail and, probably, always will with a few tweaks here and there.
For example, traditional leather straps, favoured by the likes of Patek Philippe replica, reigned supreme for many years but modern sports replica watches, which tend to be on a bracelet, are the predominant offering from replica Rolex.
Moreover, watchmakers have expanded their ranges and technologies over time to suit interests and pursuits. If you are in aviation, there is a timepiece for you and the same is true for divers.
Likewise, styles can change over the years and craftsmanship, to some extent, will reflect these innovations.
Recent years have seen an increase in larger watches, popularity of vintage replica watches and a boost in use of and demand for rose gold.
Of course, men are not the only clients for luxurious wrist wear: “We can separate luxury replica watches into two groups,” explains Finnie.
“Those that are technologically interesting masterpieces of micro-engineering and the others, predominantly for ladies.”
These tend to be precious metal and gem sets and, although they are usually adorned with diamonds and jewels, the value still lies in the watch itself, underpinning the simple ethos of the beautifully and lovely made timepiece.