Exactly one month ago, HODINKEE announced they were now an Authorized Distributor (retailer) of new watches. This is significant because the world's most prominent watch news and content provider now had (even more) skin in the game. It was no secret they were already receiving ad revenue from many watch brands they wrote about, but this just made things all the more interesting. Enough so that good friend of mine and occasional contributor to meticulist.net, Nat Coghlan, and I exchanged a few emails discussing Hodinkee's move and the watch industry in general from our humble perspective(s).
So Hodinkee is now an e-AD. I don’t blame them, as they are arguably the most trusted voice in watches. But I’ve got to wonder if this really undermines whatever journalistic integrity that they have. Granted Ressance and Vacheron aren’t something Joe Watchblog is going to be simply talked into buying, but they have a vested interest in certain brands now.
They always wore their affinities for current production on their sleeves: loved Rolex, Patek, and Nomos, Lange and Journe are gifts from heaven to lowly mortals, not overly excited about Panerai, Tissot and Frederique Constant are fine if you’re poor, Hublot is a joke, etc. But even with add revenue coming in from some of those very companies, I never considered it to influence their coverage. The local AD in Indy where I picked up a few things has a publication featuring seemingly objective articles about the new Tag, or Panerai’s history, or how you can use the Yatchmaster II to time your wife taking the kids and leaving you because you banged the babysitter, yet I don’t think anyone thinks of them as anything other than long-form advertisements. Of course with Hodinkee the journalistic chicken came before the retail egg, so there is some difference, but I’m not sure how long it will maintain.
Lastly, no one has a hard time getting any of those brands save for Ressance. Hell, you can buy a Nomos from their own website. And the only thing stopping anyone from getting a Vacheron is their income.
I think it’s a smart move on their behalf, but I’m not sure I’m totally on board. Interested to get your thoughts.
I went back and forth on it, especially while reading Ben's letter or announcement. On one hand I'm happy for him, he built something pretty freakin' cool. Whether or not you agree with what he did, he has created something with a big enough influence that has us writing long emails back and forth discussing. And I certainly can't blame the guy for making money.
Would I ever buy a watch from them, probably not. But you are exactly right, the same guy that knows he wants a "cool watch" but has no clue otherwise is happy to pay Hodinkee or Analog Shift or Menta whatever they want to charge so he doesn't need to think about it. That somewhat irritates me because that's not the point and so much is lost in that process, but then I realize not everyone wants the hunt, or not everyone wants to know the history of a watch. They just feel that they need a watch to fit in, represent a milestone, whatever, and this has some assurance that what they're buying is good or cool, I guess? And for that guy, this absolutely make sense. You don't have to worry about dealing with Jomashop, you don't have to figure out how to use forums or wire money, you just yell at Alexa to order you a Tangente. Especially for people our age (early 30's), this model certainly seems much more in line than going to the mall to visit an AD (Authorized Distributor) and get the slimey jewelry store experience.
What's interesting is that I imagine brick and mortar stores have the most to loose. I believe there is some wiggle room off the MSRP at an AD or boutique, but using Nomos as an example, Hodinkee is selling those for the same amount you can buy them from Nomos, and you get the extra year of warranty, and I'm sure Hodinkee is happy to assist in suggestive selling you some additional straps and a spring bar tool in the process. I suppose if I were to buy a brand new watch and had to pay MSRP, I too would go through Hodinkee for nothing other than the additional warranty protection.
How this will influence their content will be interesting, though it's been no secret that they have been receiving advertising dollars from many manufacturers for awhile now. My guess is that it's like policy change or new bills that get passed, you look at them through jaded lenses and are somewhat skeptical at first but then after months of your daily life going unchanged due to slow, but subtle changes on their end, it becomes familiar and fine again until one day you wake up and realize it's completely different and you don't know how you got there.
Maybe the most interesting or disheartening point of it all from a personal level is that the more I get into the depths and current events of the watch industry, the more disenfranchised I get. Like anything else, it's all about the money. Yes, there are plenty of passionate people on the forums, but even after the big auctions all of the talk is about the money, and that's easy to get caught up in, thinking that a $675 watch is basically free money. That's kind of the weird aspect of it all, that sometimes I step back and am just like, "whoa, what the hell am I doing here, and why do I need to spend $5000 on a watch?" I guess what makes it all okay at the end of the day is that it's not all about the money for me when I'm just staring at my watch, and I get excited when I'm in the car or a meeting and I catch it at a good angle. Nobody sees that but us, and if that makes you happy, then...
I read Ben's launch essay as an honest explanation of the history of Hodinkee and its future. There was also a bit of "the lady doth protest too much, methinks" against accusations of well, more or less my comments. One thing they are absolutely correct about is that 99% of the time, buying a watch totally sucks. I had a young salesman pitch me a Patek 5980 because in his mind that was the logical next step from my Tudor sub. I had one guy insist on showing me everything Breitling had come out with that year. And one of my favorites was a guy who took the liberty to special order me the BB36 because I had mentioned I liked it. And maybe in one instance did I ever feel like I was talking to someone who knew as much as I did. And I don't say that to shame the salespeople of Tourneau or Shreve, Crump & Low. Knowing about watches is hard, there's tons of them with tons of history. And after the quartz boom (I refuse to call it a crisis. Hurricane Katrina resulting in a crisis, not batteries in watches) mechanical rebranded hard as a luxury good and it was really about conspicuous wealth and the trappings therein. I was looking at a Lange Saxonia when a saleswoman said to me "doesn't it just ooze luxury?" I wanted my brain to ooze out of my ear. Even the independent vintage sellers, while generally way more knowledgeable, aren't necessarily building community. I appreciate that there is no luxury pretense, but it is usually more along the lines of "buy this now so I don't have to bust out my caseback tool".
Which segues into the topic you brought up. The essence of watch collecting. What is it? Can it be multiple things to different people? Who gets the definitive say, and why, if there is a definitive say at all. I'm sure there is a guy with five Richard Milles who has as much knowledge of watchmaking and its history as the guy with five Parnises (man, there has to be better plural for that. Parni?) I've always been rankled by watch collecting simply being code for "having a bunch of money" and the congratulations regarding someone winning an auction or purchasing a piece unique as a very thinly veiled way of saying "good job being rich". And to exhaust the point when was the last time someone was referred to as a "serious collector" who wasn't approaching Scrooge McDuck levels of wealth.
On the other hand, I love snagging a killer deal, I love bullshitting about watches, love trying to live vicariously through others' purchasing power, and I love getting to try on something you just acquired or have you get to take my new acquisitions for a spin. And I'm going to be stoked to put on the (vintage) Kon Tiki, go get Mai Tais and Zombies at a Tiki bar, and bore my girlfriend to tears about the 1947 expedition of Thor Heyerdahl on the Kon-Tiki raft and subsequent voyages to Rapa Nui/Easter Island.
CT Closing Comment
Nat's last point regarding how crappy what buying generally might be what all this boils down to. And from that perspective, Hodinkee has probably just given the archaic practices of watch commerce the shove into the modern world it needed. This really rang home when I recently inquired about buying a neo-vintage / pre-owned "major brand" watch from one of the top / larger more reputable "watch dealers" in the nation.
Characteristically, the watch I was seeking was a specific year, and needed to have the "right" combination of condition, originality, and price. It's not a rare watch by any stretch, but I still wanted to find that "right" one meeting that criteria. Upon seeing one listed at this well known dealer, I inquired, immediately asking about the watch's originality and history. I was promptly and politely informed that it was all original, running well, but they did not have service history, which is fine. I then requested additional photos of the watch in natural lighting, and under a UV light, as well as asked how firm they were on the price, stating that I had been monitoring the market for this watch for about the past 8 months, and this one seemed about $1,000 - $1,200 above market value. The gentleman promptly replied asking me what I was willing to pay.
Before I could even respond with the price I would be interested in buying he replied, "I'm glad you asked for that UV shot, you were right. It does appear the hands are newer (luminova) replacements." I requested the UV shot because the hands did seem a bit lighter than the shade of the lume on the dial. Although it is common for the hands to age to a different shade than the dial lume (for Tritium watches, as this one was), it is also common for this prominent brand's watches to receive replacement parts. Being that the watch in question was the last of the Tritium dialed versions, this was a deal breaker for me.
So I got to thinking, what if I hadn't asked for that picture under UV light and took his word that it was all original? And what do most other people do if they don't know to ask that question or if they are new to watch buying and don't press for that picture because he said it was all original? And would the dealer adjust the price or change the listing on this watch to disclose this new discovery? Then I got frustrated, thinking no other industry operates like this, until the old negative portrayal of a sleazy used car salesman popped into my head, and I realized that buying a pre-owned watch is just like buying a pre-owned car from one of those types. That it's really up to the buyer to do their due diligence, to know what to look for and what questions to ask, and/or to know someone else to get a second opinion from.
And that's really the most disheartening part of this whole thing. That unless you've hung around the forums and other knowledgeable watch people, you don't even know who you can trust. And it's from that standpoint, I can only hope that HODINKEE's move will only push to better this process, these practices, and the watch industry.
What are your thoughts? What is the path forward, how can this all be bettered? Please feel free to leave your comments or start a discussion below. As always, thanks for reading my (our) ramblings, and be sure to be safe and ask the questions.