I recently asked members of our facebook group to help me with some ideas for topics, and this one seriously stood out against the crowd. Most of us WIS understand and appreciate the value of a well crafted timepiece and can easily differentiate complete junk versus something of quality.
I’ll call it “the fashion epidemic” but we could lump several genres of watches into this category. Basically From the perspective of a WIS anything that is basically unthoughtful, not unique, uses Chinese movements, and is “disrupting the market” is junk. Unfortunately most consumers do not see this, and it is a detriment; it creates a false sense of value. At one point in time, a nice watch celebrated something, it signified an event, or was passed down from Father to Son. Flip through one of my favorite books, and you’ll read unique stories of watches from many different price points, but the one thing each story has in common is that each piece represented carries a level of horological significance. We may strive and work to acquire our next purchase of a fine watch, or some of you have worked your entire life to be able to buy the watches you buy. Regardless of our stories there is a journey behind the acquisition of a WIS vs a “consumer”.
Head back to 2014-15; Kickstarter was in its prime, and one of the most synonymous fashion brands has taken consumers by storm. The Filippo Loreti founders stumble upon an amazing statistic, high-end watches were being sold at a 1000% percent markup over production cost. Whether that is true or not is very debatable, and probably another topic for another day. That fact is horse shit. Of course Rolex sells their watches for more than cost, and so does every other manufacture. Apple sells their phones at more than cost, and in fact a staggering profit. But we still buy them….every year. The difference between a high-end manufacture and an upstart really lies on reputation and history. Most of our favorite well crafted brands carry generations of history, innovation, and track records of quality. None of that comes free.
The Fashion Epidemic plays to the emotions of those looking for instant gratification and those that feel like they’ve somehow beaten the odds of buying a “high end” watch from some smooth talking young guns claiming to have cut out the middle man. It is a classic marketing scheme and you see it in countless other avenues; direct to consumer. In the case of Filippo Loreti and others of similar provenance; they are simply selling false dreams. There are a handful of companies that can build a $200 watch that has a level of quality; and it is not an upstart that is outsourcing parts and labor. But a quick browse of their website will have you thinking differently. The rise of the fashion brands is a perfectly executed marketing scheme of selling snake oil to the uninformed.
There are countless other brands today that have “disrupted the market” but in my opinion F.L. got the ball rolling. None of them have disrupted anything; they’ve simply outsourced and sold hard.
Another genre of the epidemic comes from what we call “mushroom brands”. They may be even worse than the crap the Fashionistas produce. Mushrooms usually produce watches with a fake provenance, or have some absolutely laughable MSRP. Long and drawn out historical stories that are complete bullshit usually accompany a mushroom brand. You’ll see them advertised on Facebook, Instagram, eBay, and Amazon. Always touting a four figure MSRP, but somehow…right now, you can own one of these marvels for pennies on the dollar. Yet again to the uniformed they create a false sense of value to a watch buyer hoping to score something fantastic for nothing. A mushroom that I am familiar with is called Earnshaw. Looking over their website they boast of much history and essentially claim the pedigree and works of Thomas Earnshaw. Thomas Earnshaw was indeed an incredible watchmaker and his impact on horology was important. But the Earnshaw brand of today has absolutely positively nothing to do with THE Thomas Earnshaw. In fact if you do a bit of digging you’ll find out who they really are. Not surprisingly, Dartmouth Brands sells several brands we’ve heard of. Avi-8, Spinnaker James McCabe….all of which are a “Dartmouth Brand”. But there is more smoke and mirrors to this brand – they’ve in fact sent us watches to review; their shipping origin: Solar Time Ltd – China. The UK origins and history; is all fake. Mushroom brands are indeed worse than the fashionistas. Not only do they sell “high end” watches direct to the consumer at an “incredible savings”, they sell false history. Mushrooms target the hopeful new watch enthusiast.
There are many other brands that the general population look at as a “nice watch” and we could probably discuss them….forever. The underlying issue with this “epidemic” is so clear to a WIS – there is little to no value offered by these companies; though to the uninformed they scream value, provenance, sophistication, and amazing value.
General consumers understand a small portion of this hobby, most think its just an expensive one.. There truly is something of real quality for everyone, but you must look and educate yourself. There are mainstream manufactures that offer exceptional value, there are small micro-brands that produce fantastic watches, powered by excellent movements that are obtainable for most budgets and will indeed last a lifetime. Factor in some of the homage brands that honestly build a solid product at a fair price; one can obtain the look they want within the budget they set if they simply educate themselves. At the end of the day, the Fashion epidemic rose to it current heights because of the uberization of attainment. It is mainstream today to be instantly gratified (whether legitimately or pseudo). Fashion and Mushroom brands play to that simple human trait. Consumers do not want to learn, they simply want to ascend. There may be a small portion of watch enthusiasts that came to the hobby via an experience with one of these watches; but in hindsight the fashion brands cheapen the hobby.