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John Shmerler and Jack Forster.

Waiting list watches will be easier to find despite retail network shrinking in 2024

John Shmerler, US CEO for The 1916 Company, tells Jack Forster, the group’s editorial director, that he expects there will be fewer retailers trading in luxury watches by the end of 2024, but those remaining will have better inventories of new watches in addition to potential for growth in certified pre-owned pieces.

Last year was a transitional one in many respects, for both pre-owned and new watches. Prices for pre-owned timepieces corrected downwards, creating an opportunity for collectors to acquire them at significant savings over the market peak.

Some collectors chose to wait out the correction for a low point, while many who were buying primarily to re-sell at a profit exited the market. In the new-at-retail world, the year was slow in terms of innovation and the perception of willingness to innovate was affected negatively by the postponement of the Only Watch auction, normally one of the industry’s biggest showcases for thinking out of the box. 

John Shmerler predictions and wish list

The 1916 Company’s US CEO and owner of Radcliffe Jewelers, John Shmerler, feels that we will see a continuation of last year’s trends, in 2024.

An obvious major factor will be Rolex CPO. Along with this, he says that overall he expects the number of points of sale to continue to shrink.

“I think there will be a smaller number of distribution points for top tier brands, some of which will come from planned strategy changes from the brands themselves, and some from natural attrition from family jewellers who don’t have set succession plans,” he says.

“Unless it is properly managed at a brand level, I anticipate inventory levels within stores will grow.”

Finally, Mr Shmerler feels that there will be more than usual changes in watch brand leadership. “On the heels of an epic four-year run,” he remarked, “I think we will see some notable executive changes at some of the largest watch brands.”

On what he would like to see: “I would love to see the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign for the watch category,” he says, referring to the famous 1990s ad campaign, “creating a path for consumers to discover the phenomenal range of pitons, and learn what they are actually drawn to.

Perhaps there’s an over-reliance on targeted digital marketing, but we (brands and dealers) have not yet figured out a coherent strategy for marketing watches to an aspirational audience and the greater luxury consumer base.

I would like to see brands pursue and commit to the multi-brand environment. It is in this setting that the consumer truly gets to know and understand the category. And I would like to see a commitment by watch manufacturers to support the end consumer with properly aligned after-sales service, with respect to clear time frames and costs for fixing watches.”

Jack Forster predictions and wish list

My own hopes and predictions are very similar, says Jack Forster.

I think that while brands have achieved some partial success in marketing watches as lifestyle luxury products, it’s also important to remember that cosmetic changes to existing designs, can only go so far in terms of stimulating new interest and maintaining existing interest.

The industry increasingly relies on a small number of accepted designs and my hope is that after a relatively slow couple of years in terms of fresh ideas, we’ll start to see some new approaches as some current executives leave.

Novelty for novelty’s sake has a place, but it’s no substitute for watchmaking that’s driven by genuine interest in watches. Every industry goes through crises of innovation. The risk for fine watchmaking is that it will become increasingly out of reach in terms of pricing and availability.

In 2024, and in the run-up to Watches and Wonders, I’m hoping we’ll see that the inertia in design and innovation of the past few years was just that – a temporary lull in an industry which has, over the past three decades, shown no shortage of interest in watchmaking for its own sake.

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