Are watch manufacturers adapting to the accelerating news cycle of the modern watch media? We're living in the age of the internet and social media and print issued watch magazines are - if anything - nostalgic. With more and more information a single story might fade quicker from memory... at least that's my impression. Could you even name three novelties from Watches and Wonders this year? So I thought it would be perfect to take this hypothesis to the test and see if and how watch release strategies have changed throughout the last years.
September 06, 2023
Are Our Watch Media Habits Affecting New Releases?
Marcus Siems @siemswatches
Collector, Author, Data Analyst
The watch news cycle keeps getting shorter and shorter - insights are just one click away and new stories come to your feed by the hour. A couple years ago we were still relying on watch magazines arriving at our doorstep maybe once a month. But with the arrival of online first content from the likes of Hodinkee, Fratello, Monochrome, Time&Tide and countless others the face of watch media landscape changed forever.
Another result of this short-lived watch media landscape has been that now watch releases seem to pop up every day. When you scroll through the watch app of your choosing you seemingly get bombarded with novelties, new releases and innovations.
Let's play a game - can you still guess the correct launch year for the (randomly selected) watches presented in this article? Round 1: Omega Speedmaster '57 - 2015, 2017, 2019, 2022? Solutions at the bottom. Photo Courtesy of Hodinkee.
So the question is: Have watch manufacturers adapted to the increased pace of information transfer? Do we really see more releases today than we did four or eight years back? And what might be the manufacturers strategy to cope with our modern breed of novelty seeking watch nerds?
1) How many watch releases have there been the last couple of years?
Gladly you came to the site that tries to connect feelings with facts. I collected all watch releases reported by Hodinkee* between January 2015 and August 2023 - that's over eight and a half years of new watches, a total of over 2250 timepieces...
Figure 1. Distribution of watch releases from 2015 to today. Yellow rectangles denote month with major watch fairs. Asterisk denotes that for 2023 data has only been available until Aug. 31st. Source Hodinkee.
We see that throughout the last couple of years there have been between 250 to 350 press releases and thus watches published on Hodinkee. That's indeed one new watch a day or every 1.5 days on average. Moreover, this number has been relatively stable since 2017 - in the sense that there haven't been more and more such releases presented over the years. 2015 and 2016 might have been a bit of an exception as it have been the early days of Hodinkee covering such things. So this might more likely be an effect of manpower rather than actually less releases.
But we also see that the distribution is far from flat. There appear to be a lot more releases in Spring and Fall than there are in other month... And this brings us to our next section - event-related releases.
2) Novelties at watch fairs
The principle of such a fair is quite simple. An organization rents a huge convention center and watch manufacturers, fans and journalists come together to experience all the new pieces and creations. Historically, there have been about two major events per year in Switzerland. Back in the days it has been SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie) in January and Baselworld in March. Since Covid it has been Watches & Wonders (formerly SIHH) in March/April and the Geneva Watch Days in Summer. The latter we just lived through during the last August/first September week.
Round 2: TAG Heuer Carrera Bamford x Wes Lang - 2015, 2018, 2022, 2023? Photo Courtesy of Hodinkee.
Brands used these events to launch their new pieces. The advantage has been that with fixed events like these you could present the pieces to the public, gather information about their popularity and already have done a bit of market research before the watches are actually delivered months later. An additional factor is that even smaller brands can ride the wave of increased public interest in watch media during that short span. It is thus strategically very useful for watch brands but the question emerges whether such a strategy still fits our modern information and reporting landscape? After all there it can be advantageous to pop up in feeds more often and thus stay in memory, too.
Figure 2. Watches released during major watch fairs. Shown as distribution per year and example brands ordered by proportion (Seiko, Omega, IWC, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin (VC), & Rolex). Source Hodinkee.
Over the last years almost half of all watches - 42%, 46% when we leave out 2020 - have been released during or around the main watch fairs. And again that's surprisingly stable. The only real exception has been 2020, the Covid year where most fairs had to be cancelled.
But is it true that nothing changed during those last 9 years? Covid definitely shook the industry and led to rethink this entire annual schedule. Pre-Covid there have been two major competing fairs - with brands participating in one or the other - both happening early during the year. From 2021 onwards Watches & Wonders united most of the brands that were classically divided into one event and another big fair started during the summer months. So these major events virtually doubled in 2021, hence doubling the media exposure of a manufacturer.
Round 3: Seiko Steve Jobs LE - 2014, 2017, 2020, 2023? Photo Courtesy of Hodinkee.
We also observe that certain brands follow different strategies for their releases, some with more liberal, others with more strict release schedules. On the one end of the spectrum we got the more conservative ones like for example Vacheron Constantin (61%) and Rolex (82%) who really stick to the tight schedule. And on the other end we got for example Seiko (35%), which only partially launch their new models during such events and rather rely on spreading out news coverage throughout the year.
3) The novelty aspect of "Limited Editions"
You can't infinitely increase the number of models and designs you throw at the market - it's simply not feasible or profitable. But you still want your audience to perceive that you as a manufacturer are coming up with new pieces all the time. Your brand shall stay visible and prominent. Limited editions** are an interesting way of doing so for various reasons.
Round 4: Omega MoonSwatch Mission to Moon - 1st half, 2nd half 2021, 1st half 2022, 2nd half 2022?
First, you don't have to reinvent the wheel to launch a new limited edition. A little tweak to the original design is enough and won't interfere too much with your production routine. The best and worst example for that has been the MoonSwatch. Second, you can expand your customer base to the audience of for example athletes and sporting events bringing your brand in touch with people you would otherwise not reach. Third, anticipating production priorities becomes a lot easier if production is limited from the beginning.
And this last part is actually what matters if you'd want to announce new pieces throughout the year, outside a fixed schedule. If you don't have to look at waiting lists and AD orders to rearrange your production line your strategy becomes a whole lot easier.
Figure 3. Distribution of Limited Edition releases between 2015 and 2023. Source Hodinkee.
And this is indeed where we observe the strongest changes over the last couple of years. The proportion of limited editions seemingly increased while the catalogues themselves stayed at the same thickness. While just about 10% of released watches have been limited production six to eight years ago this ratio steadily seemed to increase towards 28% in 2023 so far. This particularly spiked also in 2020 (Covid made everything change it seems) when for the first time limited edition launches*** eclipsed 20% for the first time.
So after looking at the numbers what did change over the last couple of years for watch releases. (A) The gross number of releases didn't really increase since 2017, at least not noticable. I must say it is generally still a small sample size and nuances like what brands were covered might have played a role here as well but for the major Swiss watchmakers there seems to be no difference (data not shown).
Round 5: Tudor Pelagos LHD - 2016, 2018, 2020, 2022? Photo Courtesy of Hodinkee.
(B) Big events like Watches & Wonders and Geneva Watch Days still play an important role in the scheduling of watch launches. However, it seems the structure of these events themselves has changed too... From two competing events to start the year until 2019 to biannual events for everyone from 2021 onwards. This move basically halves the cycle between release weeks.
(C) It seems that on top of my initial hypothesis not only our consumption of watch media has led to these changes but Covid might as well. Don't get me wrong there's probably been turmoil and lust for transformations in the industry before but this cataclysmic global event may have been a tipping point that led to many perceivable changes. It's not only the influx of cash or time people spent during the pandemic but a revolution of approaches in a rather conservative industry.
Round 6: Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon - 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019? Photo Courtesy of Hodinkee.
(D) Limited editions can lead to almost unlimited renditions of established designs. I'm still on the fence how I feel about this but at least I (think I) can understand why and how the increase of limited edition production is to some extent owing to the faster news cycle.
So the inevitable question is: What comes next? You can't make everything a limited edition (or can you Omega?). But the other angle I want to address is what might happen to watch fairs? Are they still contemporary or will the landscape slowly but steadily move away from them? It appears that particularly established brands still rely on this traditional schedule while younger (more affordable?) brands seem more flexible. But tradition is generally a tough thing to break with****.
Round 7: Rolex OP Colorful Dial Versions - 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022? You must have seen those before... Photo Courtesy of Hodinkee.
But for me the question is for how much longer can we bear the new release overload during these weeks. I get the point that logistically it makes sense - also for journalists - but from a consumers perspective it's smears most of the novelties into one faint impression. And can we still decidedly say what true innovations look like in a heap of dozens of press releases? Do we even want to? I don't have the perfect solution to make everybody happy but at least I could do without the circus. It might become as anachronistic as watches themselves.
* This is a story about watch releases not news outlets publishing those. It's not really meant to bash or compliment anyone. It's simply the world we live in and Hodinkee probably has a rather complete library over this long time frame.
** Interestingly, less and less limited editions are called that way. If you look closer you'll see that more often now they come as "special editions" related to a person/location/event.
*** With the varying naming and the vast amount of related articles my scraping may have missed a few LEs.
**** In the end, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is also still a thing (fyi it was originally meant to cover the one month when all major American sport leagues were in offseason)
 Hodinkee - Section "Introducing" - Product Launches;
Round 1: Omega Speedmaster '57 2015
Round 2: TAG Heuer Carrera Bamford x Wes Lang 2023
Round 3: Seiko Steve Jobs LE 2017
Round 4: MoonSwatch Mission to Moon 1st half 2022
Round 5: Tudor Pelagos LHD 2016
Round 6: VC Overseas Tourbillon 2019
Round 7: Rolex OP Rainbow Colors 2020
All Rights on the text and graphics reserved to the Author.