When you submerge yourself into the wonderful world of watchmaking it is normal to think that you are holding something special when it is a limited edition. Turning over a watch and reading that you are holding No.5 of 25 pieces ever made, does have its appeal, especially when the watch in question differs significantly from its non-limited counterpart, either in appearance or mechanics.

Recent times however, have shown that watch brands have a somewhat dubious definition of the term “limited edition”. Let’s start with the word limited, which means that only a specific amount, usually predetermined, will be made of a certain watch. The word limited is often associated with something exclusive. This exclusivity often appeals to people, who are often willing to pay a higher price for the watch.

The truth is that limited editions can run from single digits (ideally) to sometimes numbers that seem to call into question the “limited edition” status of the watch. We’ve seen for example some limited editions running to well over 10,000 watches. A large brand that makes such a high number of limited editions may consider 10,000 watches to be a small part of their overall production, but it makes the “limited edition” quite common. The same goes with smaller brands who perhaps make limited editions in far less quantity, but still relevantly high in relation to their overall production.

Very elaborate limited edition by Richard Mille dedicated to Jackie Chan. With 36 pieces quite limited, even for a low volume brand like Richard Mille

Very elaborate limited edition by Richard Mille dedicated to Jackie Chan. With 36 pieces quite limited, even for a low volume brand like Richard Mille

A joke amongst watch connoisseurs is that with some watch models the most limited model is the regular edition. This might seem like an exaggeration, but there is a certain truth to this statement. Certain watches have been introduced in such a wide variety of limited editions, that the common, non-limited edition that formed the basis for all these other watches, can become relatively rare. When we look at the history of watches, the most desired, most valuable watches are often not the limited editions, but the watches that have/had a limited production. In those cases the brands limited production because they simply couldn’t make more, or would like to add some exclusivity to a watch without limiting themselves to an exact amount.

Very elaborate limited edition case back by Linde Werdelin

Very elaborate limited edition case back by Linde Werdelin

Perhaps an even larger problem is that limited editions often look too much like the regular watch. Some might argue that a pvd-coated case is enough difference from the regular model to justify a limited edition, while others may feel that this is too slight a detail. In most cases, limited editions tweak the basic look slightly, perhaps with different colors for the dial, bezel, hands, strap and numerals, and sometimes with a case-back marking the occasion to which the limited edition is dedicated. More rarely, brands go the extra mile and incorporate additional complications or a different movement in the watch.

Meticulous craftsmanship in Vacheron Constantin's limited edition to commemorate the beginning of the Year of the Horse

Meticulous craftsmanship in Vacheron Constantin’s limited edition to commemorate the beginning of the Year of the Horse

Most limited editions are created to mark an event or a date. A good example is the Chinese New Year, that this year, sparked an array of limited editions from Panerai to Arnold & Son. Usually, and especially in the case of these two watches, this event sparks the imagination of many brands who come out with very creative limited editions that show elaborate modification in regard to the base model they are derived from. Most of the time, a limited edition comes with a higher price than the regular model of the watch so it is important that there is added value to justify this. It varies from watch to watch, and especially from collector to collector if this requirement is met sufficiently, but it is clear what has to be done. The term “limited edition” has been used too freely, and the market would greatly benefit from more restraint in quantity and a more generous approach towards unique quality!

So how do you feel about limited editions? Keep them coming or too much of a good thing?

Martin Green
Eclectic taste in Haute Horlogerie, passion for diamond set watches, loves the classics

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