The Ultimate Watch Hunt: Inside the World of Discontinued Timepieces

Andy Freeman, a New York watch collector, shares a close call he experienced while pursuing discontinued watches. These quests are infamous for their unpredictability, as watches can suddenly become rare when brands stop making them without warning. Freeman's target on this occasion was a platinum Rolex Daytona with an ice blue dial and baguettes.

“I got mine from an AD two weeks before Watches & Wonders 2023 when it was discontinued,” Freeman recounts. “I thought I had hit the jackpot, only to find out Rolex launched a brand new platinum Daytona later that day with an open caseback.”

This encapsulates the ups and downs of watch collecting. “Collectors, like myself, are always on the hunt for elusive pieces. We’re attracted by the exclusivity and prestige. When a desired reference is discontinued, it raises the stakes. It becomes rarer, harder to obtain, and even more coveted,” says Freeman.

But why would a brand discontinue its most popular model? “We saw this in 2021 with the discontinuation of the stainless steel Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711,” Freeman notes, referring to the highly sought-after Patek model that surged in value between 2018-2022. “It’s usually due to manufacturing reasons, maintaining limited supply, or refreshing a line or collection. For Patek, perhaps the 5711 had become too popular, and they wanted to shift attention back to other references.”

So, is it just for drama and hype? Would discontinuing the Tudor Black Bay 58 make it more popular? “In general, all watch models will eventually be discontinued, as the industry thrives on constant product innovation,” says Pierre-Yves Donzé, a business history professor at Osaka University’s Graduate School of Economics and an expert on the Swiss watch industry. “The exception is continuous production rather than discontinuation.”

However, ‘discontinued’ can mean different things. “A brand might simply change an aesthetic feature, like the dial color of certain Rolex Oyster Perpetual models, or discontinue an entire collection like the Patek Philippe Nautilus,” explains Donzé.

This increases their desirability. “The value of certain discontinued models on the second-hand market reflects scarcity management, attracting collectors and customers to these brands,” Donzé warns, “but only a few prestigious brands benefit from this effect.” Think Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Richard Mille. “This was also true for Swatch in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and possibly again with the MoonSwatch.”

Still, the thrill of hunting a soon-to-be discontinued timepiece is often the best part of collecting. “Predicting discontinuations has become a major aspect of the game for collectors and influencers. Earlier this year, there were rumors that Rolex would discontinue the Pepsi GMT due to issues with bezel coloring,” Freeman says.

Ultimately, Rolex discontinued the white gold, open caseback Daytona Le Mans 100th anniversary piece instead. With a production run of just six months, it’s one of the shortest for any Rolex. This highlights the delightful unpredictability of collecting discontinued watches. 

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