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Collab Chronometers: Increased Accessibility or Cash Grab?

Treading in the footsteps of their banks, Swiss watchmakers like Rolex and Patek Phillippe have been notoriously discreet about their high-coveted timepieces, only surfacing from time to time to satisfy their loyal customers with perpetually limited-edition releases. So when Omega released a Speedmaster (the first watch to make it to the moon) with Swatch, or when TAG Heuer dropped Mario-themed Formula 1 Chronographs, I couldn’t help but excitedly wonder: Are luxury watches becoming more accessible?

One clear sign that horological powerhouses may be ‘opening up’ to a wider audience is the type of brands they are collaborating with. Omega’s mythological reputation comes from a storied relationship with James Bond and the Speedmaster, among other things (think a George Clooney cosign and being the official timekeeper of the Olympics); this reputation has placed Omega in the upper echelon of watchmakers, whereas Swatch resides in the more consumer-friendly realm of watches. So in blending Omega’s rather intimidating image with a brand whose watches fit children and adults alike, Omega is not only reaching a younger audience, but also catering to a wider audience from Swatch customers to more casual consumers. Additionally, when the original Speedmaster could set you back anywhere from $2,500 to $12,000, the Moonswatch (the official name of the collaborative Speedmaster) retails for only $260, offering a much more affordable entry point. And with most stores selling out of all 11 unique colorways, and the secondary market boasting markups over twofold the retail price, it seems that Omega’s strategy has worked.

However, with the trend of collaborations now permeating beyond the fashion world, it begs the question whether these are just limited edition cash grabs masquerading as meaningful collaborations. Most recently and more notoriously, TAG Heuer’s Mario-adorned Chronographs and Patek Phillippe’s latest Tiffany and Co. collaboration come to mind. In both cases, price points are far less friendly than the Moonswatch’s, with the Tiffany and Co. Patek’s Nautilus 5711 model retailing at $52,635, if you are even lucky enough to purchase it at that price; TAG Heuer’s two Chronographs also retail at $4,300 and $25,600 respectively. While both collaborations reach a wider audience, whether it be Tiffany and Co.’s loyal customers or Mario fans, it seems their accessibility stops there.

But at the same time, seeing that Patek and Tiffany have a historic relationship and that TAG Heuer and Nintendo have collaborated in the past, the question of whether these collaborations are simply cash grabs becomes all the more complicated. Furthermore, seeing that price points are pivotal to watchmakers’ status and position in the horological world, are prices dipping below the thousands simply impossible? Are these as accessible as luxury watches are going to be?

Even if 2021 and 2022 have seen a massive upsurge in horological collaborations–with Audemars Piguet x Marvel and Seiko x Rowing Blazers as other notable collaborations, among a slew of others–the question of accessibility remains. With Omega and Swatch’s Moonswatch being at the forefront of this increased accessibility, what may be more pressing and possibly more foreseeable is the emergence of a new, more collaborative era in watchmaking. In other words, there is zest in the air, where accessible icons meet brands that aren’t–where these relationships are breeding original, innovative creations backed by the investment of Swiss watchmakers. Simply put: It’s exciting.

Written by Lucas Sumartha

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