Imagine an established, Swiss watch brand, located in Geneva or the Vallée de Joux. This watchmaker has done well and diversified with good marketing network now makes 40,000 mid- to high-end watches a year. (Swiss bank Vontobel recently estimated in that Audemars Piguet makes 40,000 watches a year; Breguet, 32,000; Jaeger-LeCoultre, 75,000; Roger Dubuis with 8,000, while the number at Patek Philippe is 50,000.)
Of the 40,000 watches made by the imaginary watch company, say 20 percent are complications such as chronographs and annual calendars, but quarter of the complications output is the high-end stuff, minute repeaters, tourbillons and the like; watches with six figure price tags. So this company makes 2000 high-end complications a year. Assume a third, or 500, of those are tourbillons.
Over a decade, that would mean 20,000 high-end complications produced, 5000 of them tourbillons
by a single hypothetical company.
With 20 companies, a decade’s worth of production is 400,000 high complications, and 100,000 tourbillons.
High complications typically starting at US$100,000, being a mere millionaire is insufficient to afford one. Only ultra high net worth individuals – those fortunate individuals with over US$30m to their name – can reasonably afford such watches. Wealth-X, a research firm specializing in rich people, estimated in early 2015 that there are just over 211,000 ultra high net worth individuals around the world.
Even if every UHNW individual on the planet bought a high-end complication over the course of a decade, there will still leftover watches.
So the answer to the question in the title is obviously yes. That’s why modern complicated watches are now faring poorly in the secondary market, as evidenced by recent auction results.
What is a collector to do?
A collector should, therefore, pursue truly rare watches. Vintage watches are often the suggestion, since their supply is by definition limited. However, the vintage watch market is frothy and fraught with danger, so prudence and specialized knowledge is required.
It never not too late to seek genuinely rare watches.