Limited editions Nowhere else on earth
If you don’t set foot in the country, or the actual shop, where they are being sold, you have no hope of getting your hands on one of these watches. But they really are worth taking the trouble to seek out.
Watch brands have to be international. They have to be able to offer their products wherever there’s interest, and give their customers the same buying experience. Watch catalogues and new releases are generally, therefore, international. But independently of that reality, each market stocks the models it thinks will sell best, which goes some way to mitigating the global uniformity of their window displays. This is particularly the case with companies that like to produce special limited editions for specific markets, or even for specific stores with a strongly defined personality.
The idea is to make things easier for these retailers, who are important not just for sales volumes, but also for image, because they can attract attention by virtue of their fashionable status, their clientele, and the brands they offer. One example is Kronometry in France, which sells iconoclastic brands, counts several famous footballers as its customers, and has a faithful following. Given its strong association with Ulysse Nardin, it was a natural next step for the watchmaker to make some special edition pieces, which include a limited edition of eight sapphire skeleton tourbillon watches named the Royal Brown.
Another legendary retailer, whose reputation extends far beyond watch sales, is Harrods, which recently commissioned a series of eight special editions by eight different watchmakers, intended for its haute horlogerie sanctum known as the “fine watch room”. They include a Breguet Classique ref. 7337 with complete calendar and a breathtakingly beautiful deep blue guilloché dial. In London, however, the Marcus boutique is in a class of its own. Among the many one-off pieces it has commissioned, a ten-piece limited edition by Greubel Forsey in black DLC-treated platinum is particularly worthy of note. One of them, the Double Tourbillon 30° Secret, is the darkest watch Greubel has ever made.
Often, it’s just the colours that change, since this is relatively easy to achieve. Colours are strong identity markers, and may be extrapolated from company logos or cultural references. Green is very important in Islamic culture, and is often the colour of choice for special editions intended for Middle-Eastern buyers, such as the “green dial” Bulgari Lucea. Blue is a symbol of the sea, and Seiko has chosen it for the dial of its latest series of four watches created as part of its partnership with PADI. These are, however, destined for Japan, a long-standing custom of the company that annoys its fans but at the same time strengthens the brand’s appeal. And Seiko is also a beneficiary of this self-imposed scarcity in supply.
The choice of colour and market can also be completely random, or it might be the choice of the shop in question. One perfect example is the black and red RM-50-27-01 by Richard Mille, five of which are reserved for sale in the United States. The colour scheme is a result of the combination of a movement from an RM 27-01 and the case of an RM 050. With its unusual name, and the synthesis of the brand symbols that it represents, it was a logical decision to reserve this limited series for the country’s four Richard Mille boutiques.
Indeed, watch companies’ own-brand boutiques tend to be the primary destination for these limited editions. Often, customers all over the world can take advantage, since watchmakers have considerable direct sales capabilities. But sometimes, to celebrate an opening or an anniversary, one shop is singled out for its very own special edition. This is why Jaeger-LeCoultre sent 26 Reverso Ultra-Thin watches to its London boutique. In addition to the dial in British racing green (the Prophet doesn’t have a monopoly on green), the watch is engraved on the back with a depiction of the Houses of Parliament and the clock tower of Big Ben.
Partnerships between watchmakers and retailers are common, but it’s rare for retailers to supply watchmakers with materials, which gives this type of association a special significance. For many years, Panerai has been associated with British gun and rifle maker Purdey. Purdey guns are highly exclusive and extremely costly, largely because of their fine engravings. At irregular intervals, Purdey decorates limited editions of the Sealand model, which is built on a Luminor base. This model comes with a hinged, domed cover, designed to be hand-engraved. For 2016, Purdey’s craftsmen produced five models totalling 80 watches, representing Africa’s Big Five game animals. They are only available from the Purdey flagship store in Mayfair, London.
So, special editions can be driven by a strong horological focus, intended to satisfy an appetite for exclusivity that arises from the company’s reputation, as in the case of Richard Mille, or they can also rely on a kind of postcard effect. In both cases, cultural considerations are paramount. And this is a good thing, because one of the main reasons to travel is to discover other cultures. So why not let your cultural discovery come in the form of a watch, which can be found nowhere else on earth?
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