Stupid Is As Stupid Does: Comparing Watches to Art

Last weekend we saw an example of the complete and total idiocy within watch collecting when the so-called “Bao Dai” Rolex 6062 sold for nearly $5.2 million dollars, setting a record for a Rolex watch at auction in the process. The reason for this outrageous number was because of it’s supposed rarity and provenance. Bao Dai who was the last Emperor of Vietnam, bought this watch during the Geneva Accords in 1954 not long before he abandoned his country because he realized that actually running it would interfere with his womanizing, golf, bridge, etc. As such, he took his Rolex to the south of France to frolic among other like-minded nobodies until his death in 1997.

Good for him, but for that “provenance”, someone actually paid $5 million. Of course, this did not come without criticism. Many have spoken out against the lack of common sense shown in these prices/values, citing the Bao Dai as the clearest of examples. 

As expected, however, those responsible for manipulating public opinion - auction houses, pay-for-review “experts” from watch blogs, etc. - are starting to answer back. And just as expected, their answer is weak, because what they’re trying to do is draw a parallel between watch collecting and art collecting. The idea being that there can’t really be a bubble in watch collecting if the bubble in art collecting is even bigger.

First, who said what’s happening with art is sane or justifiable? On the contrary, the situation is no different, it only started earlier. Art collecting is filled with equally corrupt dealers, auction houses, and journalists pushing total crap onto equally ignorant collectors, as there is in watch collecting. 

Second - and this is as important a point as any - art is purely subjective, watches are not. So, when someone dishes out over $5 million dollars for a watch that is not that interesting, there is a much better chance that bubble will burst, because sooner or later, it won’t be able to hold up against honest, objective analysis.

Art doesn't have this problem.

In other words, that is the typical response to this kind of critique: to turn the luxury consumption into an entire aesthetic experience. In doing so, everything from fast cars to a bespoke suit to Haute Horlogerie, etc., ceases to be easily evaluated consumer goods and instead enters the nebulous and noble tradition of artistic expression. And who'd dismiss the value of art?

But what happens if/when people look at the 6062 and see that as far as complications go, it offers nothing new at all? What happens when they also realize there isn’t nearly enough gold to be worth $5 million? And what happens when they actually look at it’s most unique feature, the moon-phase and realize it’s actually quite average?

Pop!

What these douchebags are banking on is the fact that collecting Rolex no longer requires any horological knowledge. As such, watch collecting is filled with horological ignorant people, who have more money than brains and just want a way to show off their money. And while this happens with other brands as well, it is with Rolex that it happens most. In fact, with each new record that a Rolex hits (like the various Daytonas, which are great watches, but that have a pretty standard Valjoux 72 in them found in a plethora of watches from the same era for well under $5k), this glaring lack of common sense becomes more and more obvious.

Only time will tell how long this will all last, as all those involved continue to ride this wave all the way to the bank. But I for one, am not biting! 

And neither should you!