Words and photography, Jesse Jackson IV | email@example.com
The undisturbed solitude of a pre-dawn bath. A pool of warm light in a sea of all enveloping, comforting darkness. The crispness of an unturned page between your fingers. The driving bass of Kerri Chandler’s Atmosphere reverberates in your chest as a gin and tonic swirls on your tongue. The sensual luminescence of faux vintage neon signs aglow in sparsely populated city streets. A stadium filled with an audience who, unbidden, raise their torches as one to the chords of an enchantingly familiar tune. The silent accord of two men seated at the end of the bar, an acknowledging nod all that needs to be shared. The louche drape of a set of bespoke garments. Decisions driven by aesthetic sensibility, rather than business sense. A darkened cinema screen, slowly lit by the silver coin of the Janus Films logo. A mischievous smile directed towards shaking hands reaching to grasp a prize once well beyond reach.
It is that last bit that has aroused my current fascination. In life, moments exist money cannot buy. Moments that cost nothing but attention. These occasions often require that most elusive currency of mutual respect. To intimate money does not have the power to hasten the deepening of a burgeoning relationship would be disingenuous. In fact, the exchange of time as represented by money is sometimes the only way to register genuine interest in someone’s true passion; from the process of working out how best to spend it may spring a deeper understanding of the very heart of the individuals involved, thus easing every transaction to follow. Regardless, that is not entirely the point. It is not solely as a function of money that craftspeople or stewards of luxury brands part with their most coveted goods, but rather the rapport that the exchange of time, goods, and services helps to establish. That is the most valuable part of a transaction in my mind, more so than any object associated with the interaction.
In my view, the import placed on good rapport scales exponentially with the cost of the underlying object. It would be unreasonable to expect the same level of care from a big box retailer that you expect to receive from a brand with a singular focus on their customer, the best of whom are seeking to ensure each transaction is representative of the ethos of the brand they represent. Therein lies an important distinction, perhaps best explored through the lens of authorized dealers of watches. The history and rationale behind building an authorized dealer network in the Swiss watch industry has been explored by much more authoritative authors than I, and if you are interested, dear reader, I encourage you to look into it. Suffice, for the moment, to say one needs to look no further than the history of the department store to understand the appeal such a distribution model has to both creators and supporters.
Brands can look towards a more stable balance sheet, with established buying seasons and order minimums. A better grasp of overhead expenses allows for a clear picture of production demands, which in turn enables a steady throughput on existing capacity. The offloading of the responsibility of final point of sale care of the brand, as well as after sale care, onto a set of trusted retail partners may free the brand to hone in on creative endeavors and focus on securing the future of the brand in an ever more competitive marketplace. As for the retail partners, the focus on customer experience allows for a broad view of the marketplace, and perhaps a deeper understanding of the things customers value in the brands they support. Untethered from the needs of a specific brand, the team is free to interact with a swathe of creative partners who each in their own way contribute to the brand the retailer itself is building. Specifics notwithstanding, there are many creator/retailer partnerships that have brought great renown to both parties.
In the world of watches, the names Asprey, Beyer, Gobbi, Gubelin, Serpico y Laino, or Tiffany & Co., among many others, can add multiples to the value of a Patek Philippe, Rolex, or Audemars Piguet due to the increase in desirability and rarity of watches with such provenance. Irrespective of the dollar value, what intrigues me is the implied human level relationship between the retailer and the customer. The physical object bequeathed to the customer by the sales associate is representative of the affinity between the parties involved, especially in the case of highly allocated physical objects, and that mutual fondness comes to be a part of the story of the object and why the initial purchaser may value it more dearly than the retail value would suggest.
It is the lack of human connection, implied or otherwise, in relation to limited availability allocations that turns the stomach of observers and lays bare the capitalistic realities just beneath the surface of these sorts of exchanges. First and foremost, in any sort of conversation around the luxury goods market, there must be an acknowledgement of the economic privilege shared by those able to even have such a discussion. Disposable income is a pleasure all too many do not experience, and the comparison of levels of access afforded by that income can feel gauche when faced with such a reality. That said, there are levels to all of the games we play, and rules to such games we accept. It is often the case with these highly allocated objects that a relationship between the retailer and the prospective buyer must be established. As mentioned at the outset, this is done through the transfer of energy, time, and money, and may require the purchase of comparatively less desirable goods along the way.
Perhaps there is an element of quid pro quo in these transactions, an unspoken understanding that maybe if you buy this, I’ll put you on the list for that. This subject is never broached, at least not explicitly, for fear of losing whatever sense of good will has been established between all parties involved. Thus the game is played, often for indeterminate periods of time and balanced precariously between investment and reward. Unless, of course, there is a surplus of money and perhaps a lack of scruples involved in the transaction.
Money is a magnet. It pulls all sorts towards itself. The access money provides is a neutral element, neither good or bad - the manner in which that access is exercised, however, is subject to the judgment of those able to observe it. When a potential buyer of a luxury good is able to bypass the game in its entirety by placing an unseemly amount of money on the table, the community which has formed around the marque takes note. The reaction of loyal customers who envisage themselves patrons of the brand, customers who may have been playing the game for years, is as kind as you might expect it to be. This pattern recurs ad infinitum as similar market pressures produce similar responses across market categories, with some having stronger checks and balances than others. Recently, Patek Philippe and Tiffany & co. collaborated on a final reference for the 5711 Nautilus, which has been the flagship reference for a large swathe of the watch collecting community for the past ~25 years.
The characteristics of the watch itself and the context in which it launched, while interesting, are ultimately beside the point. This release triggered a strong reaction in the collecting community, both for the speculative nature of a limited release and the perceived motivations behind creating it. The most interesting and informative reaction, to my mind, actually lies with those who believe they have a realistic chance of being allocated the watch, whether they number in the hundreds or thousands. There is a fantasy created by a great retail experience, especially over the course of multiple visits and numerous transactions. If the maison is doing its job well, the customer begins to believe they matter to the salespeople handling their experience. The folks working remember your name, the things you like or would prefer to see - over time, there is a sense that you have a real kinship, perhaps even friendship, with the individuals with whom you interact. In some cases, possibly more than one may expect, this can be true. Nonetheless, there is an order to be upheld. Being made to understand where you sit in such an order can be a bitter pill, a glacial torrent of water washing away all romance and leaving naught but cold, capitalistic reality in its wake.
There is a good underlying rationale behind the skepticism brands can have towards buyers, especially buyers with whom there is no long standing relationship, especially over the last few years. The increase in access to information and each other has created a scenario in which it has become exponentially easier to resell luxury goods. This is a behavior that is perhaps most prominently associated with the streetwear community, due to relatively low prices linked to highly coveted objects. The ability to make an outsize return on a pair of sneakers rather quickly turned what was once a utilitarian good into an asset class that mirrors the history and market behavior of other commodified items. The temptation of making a quick dollar on the secondary market invites a consumer that, for better or worse, is buying goods with intention that may be in opposition to the values the brand wants displayed by their customers.
Additionally, while brands may benefit from the halo effect of having their product reach multiples of its suggested retail value on the secondary market, they do not themselves see the dollars associated with the sale. They are therefore incentivized to curb this flipping behavior, and do so in various ways. The specifics of the manner in which brands crack down on flipping are somewhat opaque, for good reason, and not necessarily cogent to this specific conversation. Resellers are vilified in almost every market in which they operate, especially those who leverage automated buying systems in order to essentially corner releases and then demand a premium from the casual consumer. In a zero sum system, taking issue with the way in which one party wins over another can feel a touch naïve. With all of that said, there is another side to the equation. The side which emerges from the game victorious, precious allocation in hand, by hook or by crook. Even keeping in mind the various and sundry motivations at play in a transaction of this nature, the possibility of a human level connection in the maelstrom of brand politics remains. Perhaps the surest way to achieve that connection is to establish it prior to access being granted; that way, there is less question of motivation. A genuine desire to see people do well, and helping them along the way with no ulterior motive, is rewarded primarily with a richness of spirit. Giving begets giving, and sometimes, in very surprising ways.
I recently had the most unexpected pleasure of receiving an allocation for a watch I never expected to own, a watch from Rolex that is, in my opinion, second only to the Presidential Day-Date in terms of cache; a no date Submariner rendered in steel. I recognize, of course, the argument to be made in favor of the Daytona, which has far surpassed the Submariner in internet mind share; however, relative to the competition at the manufacturer’s suggested retail value, the Submariner stands head and shoulders above its competition in a way that it could be argued the Daytona does not. This, of course, is a purely subjective take on a matter of personal taste.
The design and technical merit of the Rolex Submariner have been extolled by the horological literati in much greater breadth and depth than I would ever attempt; thankfully, that is not the aim of this missive. My point is simply this: my allocation did not arise from any insistence on my importance, or a log of transactions numbering the tens of thousands of dollars, though I certainly came close. The allocation was a result of genuine camaraderie and the desire to see a friend do well. It is the goodwill that resulted in the transaction that deserves commemoration, and it is for that reason I would see the retailer's mark on the dial, in celebration of the beauty of the human connection forged. The stories imbued in these objects, and the manner in which those stories relate to the collectibility of those objects, place all manner of extraordinary things into a digestible human context. The sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi can be viewed through the lens of its astronomical hammer price, as a store of value cum investment vehicle, or as an extraordinary artistic achievement linked through provenance to some of history’s most remarkable individuals. Viewed through the former lens, it is grossly capitalistic; through the latter, the desire to add your own name to that chain of curators becomes much more understandable.
The transmission of the personal meaning imbued in an object, and the acceptance of that meaning by an audience, has at the core the impetus behind all artistic expression. The desire to make an audience feel as you felt, to see what you saw, perhaps even to see beyond what you saw and to add a deeper understanding - that is a universal desire, one perhaps felt more deeply by the artist, but shared by all. It is for this reason that the idea of engraving my Submariner and my Datejust took hold, and why I ultimately decided in favor of it - diminishment of market value be damned. Engraving such pieces signals not only a decision to hold on to them for a longer time horizon, but a desire to create, to become, someone for whom those personal engravings become provenance that adds mystique and allure to the time pieces.
Such an idea is applicable to the entirety of the objects accrued over the course of a lifetime - to imbue all you have with all you are, and to leave an enviable estate. Meaningful materialism, evidence of a lush life lived in terribly interesting times and left to season the next.