A $12,900 Watch Will Be One of the Hardest To Find This Year

Today, the term “limited edition” has lost much of its meaning in the watch world. A timepiece isn’t actually that limited if it’s only the dial color that is new, so what, then, is truly limited?

The answer lies in retail. Shops can produce boutique-exclusive timepieces available only in their own, standalone boutiques, or special editions for one market. But for true collectors, this is hardly rare enough. 

This is how co-branded watches are finding their moment. These collaborations are typically stamped with the retailer’s logo on the dial and can feature special colors, design details, complications, or finishings that are exclusive to that timepiece. 

Wempe, a watch retailer and jeweler with boutiques in Germany and New York, commissions co-branded timepieces to celebrate notable events and anniversaries. In 2003, it worked with a number of brands for the 125th anniversary of the company, including Patek Philippe, Breitling, and Jaeger-LeCoultre. In 2005, for the 100th anniversary of the Wempe Chronometer Manufactory, the company partnered with Audemars Piguet and A. Lange & Soehne. 

This year, the company marks the 40th anniversary of its Fifth Avenue boutique with theChopard Alpine Eagle Wempe 5th Avenue Edition. The collaboration began in early 2020 between Kim-Eva Wempe, chief executive officer and owner of Wempe, and Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, co-President of Chopard, who wanted to honor their long business relationship, close personal friendship, and shared values as family-owned companies. 

The original Alpine Eagle began in 2019 and is a modern interpretation of Chopard’s St. Moritz collection. It’s an elegant sport watch with an integrated bracelet made from a new material, Lucent Steel A223, that is 50% harder than typical steel and has strong reflective properties, which make it look more like a precious metal. Inside, it has the Chopard 01.01-C in-house automatic movement, which is certified by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (the official Swiss chronometer-testing institute), so it’s incredibly accurate and has a 60-hour power reserve.

The two companies added unique design elements to the Alpine Eagle that are exclusive to Wempe. The dial is Vals gray, a steely color named for a Swiss mountain village, and it has blued Roman numerals, indexes, and hands. The caseback is engraved with “5th Avenue,” which also appeared on the back of the co-branded watch that Chopard created for the opening of Wempe’s New York boutique in 1980. 

For collectors, these details make all the difference. It presents a dilemma for the retailer, though. These watches create a splash, so new clients want to purchase them, but since so few are produced, those available are typically reserved for existing clients. Ruediger Albers, U.S. President at Wempe, says: “Sometimes, you wish you would have made more to make more customers happy, but I guess a true limited edition is when some people don’t get one. If there’s 10 on the shelf a year later, then it wasn’t really a limited edition.” 

The most famous—and elusive—co-brand is a Patek Philippe Nautilus with a Tiffany & Co. stamped dial. Collectors carefully tend to their relationship with Tiffany & Co.’s Patek Phillippe salon so they can one day have the chance to acquire one. It’s not just one of the ultimate holy grail watches; the words “Tiffany & Co.” on the dial exponentially raise its value. The watches seldom come up at auction, but when they do, they blow past estimates.

This summer, a Tiffany-stamped pink gold Ref. 5980/1R well exceeded its high estimate at Phillips’s Geneva Auction, selling for 250,000 Swiss francs. There are only a few—legend has it that only five exist—Tiffany-stamped Pateks up for purchase each year, so the chance of getting one is even slimmer than for the Chopard collaboration with Wempe. 

It’s not easy to persuade a watch brand to make an exclusive watch. Creating new dial colors and changing design elements takes time and money and slows down production. A collaboration needs to be significant enough to make financial sense while being sufficiently unique to make collectors want to buy it.

Such small production also leads to higher prices on the secondary market—and watches that retain their value for a long time. Albers notes that some of its 125th-anniversary timepieces still sell for more than they originally did. After their release, the price of the Patek Philippe collaboration tripled.

Despite Covid-19 and lockdowns, Albers says business in autumn was on par with last year, making it different from the financial crisis of 2008. Because his clients are working from home, have kept their jobs, and are not eating out or traveling, they have more money to spend on watches—and more time to research them before coming into the store.

TheAlpine Eagle Wempe 5th Avenue Edition is limited to 40 pieces and retails for $12,900.

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