The world of fine watches is a benighted place. Strange hang-ups masquerading as tradition are the norm and historically watch companies have looked at every new improvement to their business with trepidation. Consider the quartz movement, for example. Texas Instruments approached a number of Swiss companies when they first created the miniaturized quartz watch but no one wanted it – it was beneath them. China and Japan, however, bought the movements by the truckload and ate old horology’s lunch.
For years, watch companies have only allowed their wares to be sold through authorized dealers. This meant you had to go into a frou-frou shop, get talked down to by a snooty salesperson, and then pay over retail for a watch that was worth, in terms of parts and materials, about half of its sticker price. Pretty nice scam, huh?
The Internet came along and those authorized dealers hit on a nice scam. They’d “sell” their watches to real people – shills, usually – and those real people would resell them online. Swatch Group, for example, is currently fighting this grey market in the Supreme Court. However, another part of the Swatch Group, Longines, is taking to the Internet like a duck to duck sauce.
Longines has just opened their first official online shop. This is important for a few reasons but it is primarily groundbreaking because it offers an official outlet for popular watches at prices that are actually more than reasonable. Consider this watch, for example. That’s a $2,800 price tag on a surprisingly complex watch sourced from a trusted dealer. Granted you can get this watch more cheaply but buying it straight from Longines ensures warranty support and authenticity.
The biggest issue manufacturers had with the grey market is that counterfeits would end up being sold as real watches. While this was rare – and absolutely not common enough to rate the wholesale shut-down of the grey market – it was still a real concern for the beginning collector.
Granted it’s not like Longines is doing us any favors with their pricing. However, their tentative embrace of e-selling is an important first step in the eventual move to online sales and the sad decline of the authorized reseller.