Are watch collectors the future of the world economy?

Are watch collectors the future of the world economy?

O
ver the week end I had the pleasure of having dinner with a well known economist and our discussions inevidently turned to the current state of the world economy and to sum up his ideas the issue is economical, social and ecological.

Making drastic shortcuts in what he was saying his position was globally that today people just want to buy things...too many things they don't need and too many cheap things which are then made in China which leads to the western world giving up on industry focusing too much on services and untangible goods.

Its would be too long to get into details but for him our societies need to rediscover the beauty of the hand, crafts and artisans and it is by recognizing the importance of the hand work and human touch that things could change. He gave the example of the Italian textile industry which is made of thousands of small or medium sized ateliers but which are not completely robotized and where the human factor is still quite important and which today plays an extremely important role in the Italian economy.

Interestingly I also stumbles on the following article published on Monocle http://www.monocle.com/monocolumn/2012/07/16/6772/

Quality not quantity  

July 16, 2012 — France
Writer: Andrew Tuck

 

Luxury is a good thing. There, I’ve said it. I know in these straightened times it gets a bad rap – who, people ask, really needs a sleek high-end car, a bag made by artisans in an Italian village or champagne at their parties?

France, the home to many of the world’s leading luxury brands, is even having its doubts. Well, at the Elysée Palace they are. President François Hollande has decreed that costs must be cut and a clear break made from the easy-with-the-euros reputation of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. So it seems the champagne will remain in the cellars and instead Muscadet is the order of the day at receptions. Ministers have been told to get smaller cars – one has even opted for a bicycle.

Now here’s a very different story. But stick with me, they are going to segway rather nicely. Affordable fashion – aka fast fashion – brands such as H&M, Uniqlo, Topshop and Zara have become so skilled at turning out clothes that look just right for a few weeks, and are cheap enough to throwaway after the same time span, that they have changed the way a whole generation shops.

In her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth Cline says that the average American buys roughly 64 items of clothing in a year. Much of it is consigned to the bin or rag bank within weeks. Now we all like a bargain but look beyond the price and focus on the business models at play.

What’s really more acceptable: making clothes and leather goods by hand in an atelier that the buyer will treasure for years, or creating a pile of throwaway garments?

As we look at how to create new sustainable models, the world of luxury offers some surprisingly appealing snapshots. Hermès, for example, will repair any bag that you have bought from one of its stores – it doesn’t matter if you have owned it for decades. But further down the food chain the instinct to repair, or even cherish longevity, has all but vanished. Who, for example, even thinks of getting anything electronic mended when it goes on the blink?

Or how about this: 60 per cent of Porsches ever made are still on the road. Not many mainstream auto brands can compete with that. I recently took part in a panel discussion hosted by Volvo and they posited the idea that brands such as theirs were considering how you created a car that could be upgraded when new tech became available, extending the life of the chassis and body. But then Volvo is a company with an eye on the growing market for sustainable luxury.

Then there’s the way people value experiences when they involve a touch of luxury. I wonder what a visitor would value and remember more if invited to sup with President Hollande – a lone glass of champagne or a few glasses of Muscadet?

Luxury brands are also good at using skilled workers and paying them proper salaries, they don’t waste their raw materials and are increasingly scrutinised to make sure they are living up to the ideals they seem to represent.

So let’s hear it for a little luxury and a little less disposable style. I’ll raise a glass of Krug to that.

Andrew Tuck is Monocle’s editor


What's your take on this?
"Sustainable luxury"
08/22/2012 - 20:58
I like that phrase and its inherent philosophy a lot.  I cannot really assess the economic argument here, but I have used a similar argument to justify purchases of watches (as well as shoes, clothes, cooking tools, etc.).  I would rather spend more money on fewer things that will last a lifetime than buy many more cheaper items that will need frequent replacements.  Hence, I would rather own just this... ...than 100 other watches that I might enjoy less or that might not last a lifetime -- and I am taking into consideration my confidence that VC will continue to be able and willing to service this product even when I am no longer serviceable myself. Best, Robert
nice jacket, shirt and watch ;-)
08/23/2012 - 11:30
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Re: Are watch collectors the future of the world economy?
08/23/2012 - 21:41
Alex, could not agree with this article more. It is so true. We live in a world where companies waste natural resources to produce and sell (almost) disposable rubbish. And I love what Respo said - that he rather own fewer high quality things than vice-versa. VC's and similar luxury products will outlive us all.
Re: Are watch collectors the future of the world economy? Hell NO!
08/24/2012 - 07:55
Hi Alex, I think the arguments put forward are extremely simple if not simple-minded. And while some people treasure objects for long periods and indeed pass them down to their heirs, they may not be "luxury" goods at all. On the other hand, those that can afford it may spend lavishly to acquire rarities of all kinds but it their possession and the owners obsession that are motivating factors. As a very brief example, one may speak of watches and how they are manufactured. The design component is in the hands of artists and artisans and in some cases part of the manufacture as well. But a good deal of that manufacturing is machine made, CNC and robotics. Vacheron himself strove to do better he would have welcomed 20-21st century innovation to produce a better watch. And even here design is aided by technologies. The manufacture of custom-made items, which by the way only a very small portion of the population can or will ever be able to afford has nothing to do with the economy. The arguments made by by Andrew Tuck are specious and so general to be bordering on nonsensical. Try arguing his way with the majority of people who can only afford the basics. To them its arrogant BS. Of course luxury brands are good for the same reason that non-luxury ones are. They help the economy, they put people to work, they give some pick a motivation to do better, to succeed and move up the "food chain". And just a few items from Mr. Monocles argument: Does he not know its cheaper to throw away some electonics (not all) than to fix them! Thank heavens we now recycle so many things and others can be donated to those less fortunate. I also know of a lot of Chevy's and Fords on the road for decades, especially in ares where they don't rust. Cars or anything else last because people look after them. Some cars are indeed crap (Yugo), but check out modern auto manufacturing facilities and the main difference will be who made their robots, the Japanese, Koreans, Swiss or Germans! Luxury autos use better-made parts, usually, and do more hand assembly but that doen't guareantee their longevity or even their proper functioning. They are also expensive because fewer are made, but if they're treated like shit, shit is what you will get. The argument has some truth to but the idea that we in North America have given up manufacturing because people want cheap goods is only part of the reason. Companies wnat to increase their margin, and profit for themselves and their shareholders so they move their manufacturing offshore where labour is cheap and they can cut costs on material. And then they get the advertising industry to convince people that their cheaply made product is really what's desirable. Its rather more complicated than Mr Monocle argues. I don't have the time nor inclination to develop this argument further (its late) and I've only skimmed the first layer (a few molecules thick) of it. But the equation of luxury goods with value is a subjective one. Just my brief rant!
Re: Are watch collectors the future of the world economy?
08/25/2012 - 02:06
Muscadet can be excellent too, sometimes!