Alpina Alpina’s rediscovered heritage
Alpina, which was founded in 1883, is (re)building its heritage, completing its historical collections and opening a museum. The prices of watches from the 1940s to the 1970s are skyrocketing, and timepieces dating back to the beginning of the relaunch (early 2000s) are also surfing a wave of popularity. We take stock with brand manager Oliver van Lanschot Hubrecht.
Watchmaking and astrophysics have at least one thing in common: a dying star burns far more brightly than a star being born. The moment of the collapse (of a star... or a watch brand!) creates a great deal of noise and spectacle, and draws endless commentary. Conversely, it’s very hard to spot a star being born (and a lot less ink is spilled). But that’s exactly what is happening with Alpina.
Between 1982 and 2002 the brand dropped off the radar, surviving as something of an indistinct dwarf in the immense watchmaking cosmos. It was barely perceptible and scarcely visible. But when it was bought in 2002, Alpina was infused with the energy of the Frédérique Constant group, and benefited from the nurturing support of Switzerland’s favourite Dutch entrepreneurs, Peter and Aletta Stas.
Since then, Alpina has rediscovered its foundations (Alpiner), conquered new territories (AlpinerX) and found its price segment (average price less than CHF 1000). The foundations are sound, and the brand can now contemplate its future with serenity.
Extension to their new joint manufacture © Alpina
On 5 June, alongside Frédérique Constant, the brand inaugurated an extension to their new joint manufacture, which will add 3000 square metres to the 3200 square metres they already have. Alpina produced over 20,000 pieces in 2018 (sold in 53 countries), and is preparing for steady future growth. In 2018, the brand grew by 35%. By doubling its production capacity, Alpina is looking forward to enjoying a similar dynamic over the coming years.
Return to the past
This period of optimism is also a good time to contemplate the past. The inauguration of the new manufacture coincides with the opening of the world’s first Alpina museum, “A superb opportunity,” as Oliver van Lanschot Hubrecht, Alpina’s brand director, points out. “We’ll have around 40 watches on display, as well as catalogues and POS materials. We continue to learn more every day, thanks to the support of collectors and some of our markets, such as Germany and the Netherlands, where Alpina has historically been strong.”
Historical pocket watch © Alpina
Vintage prices skyrocket
In the museum, the birth of Alpina’s star becomes more apparent. The brand has an unparalleled heritage dating back to 1883. And yet, even today, the market for historical Alpina watches is extremely undervalued, particularly given the rich heritage of this venerable brand. It’s still possible to pick up pieces from the 1950s, in perfect condition, for 500 francs. They may be rare, but they’re affordable (perhaps the exception that proves the oft-repeated rule that rare is synonymous with expensive). It’s a paradox that could prove profitable for savvy collectors.
Historical watch from 1940 © Alpina
But it won’t last. “For the time being, we’re making the most of it. We’re buying historical pieces to complete our archives,” continues Oliver van Lanschot Hubrecht. “We already have one piece that dates back to before 1900, and I personally follow many sales. I’m convinced, however, that this undervaluation won’t last. The prices of our vintage pieces are climbing every day. More and more collectors are approaching us. Some of them have sensed the wind changing, and they are driving some pretty hard bargains.”
Historical watch © Alpina
Alpina presents an unusual case. At the same time as vintage prices are increasing, so are those of watches from the early days of its modern incarnation (2002–2012). The regulators, the tourbillon, the Avalanche collection and the early manufacture Startimers are also increasingly sought after. And, as always, there is a particularly strong appetite for the famous “new old stock”; new off-collection watches, with boxes and papers, only a few dozen of which are left.