Examining the Time-Only Hype

I have been increasingly drawn to time-only watches. And I don’t think I am alone.

Complicated watches have always been held in high regard. Les Grande Complications is still the apex of haute horlogerie to many collectors. Indeed, for most of the 20th century, the desirability of a watch directly correlated with its complications. The default assumption was: more complicated = higher price and value.

However, the vast majority of watches were (and continue to be) time-only.

Historically, the average consumer did not need a perpetual calendar. Even if the desire was there, it was simply unaffordable. Time-only (perhaps a triple calendar) would have to suffice. This is not to say that all uncomplicated watches were always the result of compromise. But if money was no object, I doubt many collectors would have historically chosen time-only watches.

And yet, an unusual phenomenon has occurred recently. Time-only watches are no longer, in part, the result of limited budgets, but rather a specific choice made by many.

When one takes a step back, it is truly absurd that there is a market for time-only watches well over US$30,000. Even more so, it’s remarkable because there are many complicated watches (particularly pre-owned) at this same price range. From Patek Philippe to Audemars Piguet, many brands have secondary market perpetual calendar watches trading well below time-only timepieces.

Here are a few examples I can think of; both big brand and independent (for impact and effect, I will include watches with a date-complication under this time-only category. That means 3 hands and a date. I realise that not everyone will agree with this):

  • Philippe Dufour’s Simplicity
  • Hajime Asaoka’s Tsunami
  • F.P. Journe’s Chronomètre Bleu
  • Rexhepi Rexhepi’s Chronomètre Contemporain
  • Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo

Another example, I have to include is the success of the minimalist fashion-watch Daniel Wellington. Yes, I can see you cringe at this comparison but please bear with me. What’s fascinating about DW’s success is its appeal among younger generations – a group that we’ve all largely dismissed as lost to smartwatches. DW’s minimalist and simple design has been a huge factor in that. You could also draw parallels with what Nomos is doing when it comes to this minimal design approach.

I should say that I do appreciate time-only pieces. As Dufour proved with the Simplicity concept, there will always be an exceptional degree of elegance in simplicity. It’s also easier on the mind and eye. Owners of time-only watches never suffer from legibility issues, or require that little extra processing power to read time.

We live in a time where nobody needs to wear a mechanical watch.  The watch has since taken on a much greater role in conveying something about yourself.  As a result, the watch we choose to wear is a reflection of how we perceive ourselves and how we want others to perceive us.

So, why do we have ultra-expensive, time-only watches? And why now?

Is it because we subconsciously crave simplicity in such chaotic times? For now, I can only guess…

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