Open Dial Roger W. Smith Series 2
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few weeks, you’ll know there’s been a bit of a debate on in the watch world. It started with an honest and fair question, or perhaps critique, poised by @horology_ancienne: what is the correct way to determine the RRP for the work of today’s preeminent independent watchmakers? This is cast in a particularly stark light when the secondary market returns multiples, as the watchmaker captures little beside recognition from landslide auction results. The man in original question, Dufour, has risen his ask from 50K to well above 600K CHF for a Simplicity. But it’s the same almost everywhere. In analogy, what would be the correct way to value Leonardo DaVinci’s, Jackson Pollock’s, or Pablo Picasso’s work if they were still painting today, reputations established and all? It’s a quandary which I feel is actually more revealing of a truth.
I see this market vs RRP discrepancy as less of a solvable problem, and more an admittance. I believe we can all agree that the watchmaker should capture some meaningful degree of the value his work generates. But just where that line is drawn will be a very subjective measurement extremely relative to point of view. If you’re a peasant like me, everyone will just say you’re salty that you’re not in line. If you are in line and you manage to get one, you’re getting excess value no question. But even so, there is a point at which it might feel less-than-ideal for a new customer to hand over a small fortune for a watch whose price has been heavily influenced by opinion and possibly some auction dark arts. The process should not feel like playing with Monopoly money on psilocybin, but it is starting to. Assuming there isn’t too much black magic manipulation, which I think we all should not underestimate, then the only objective truth I see here is that work from the world’s very best watchmakers is becoming accepted as something more than a watch. Or even ‘investment’, whatever that is.
I don’t derive this purely from valuation. Personally, I’ve always used this working definition for art: a creative expression of humanity that may have no purpose other than itself. At some point, a level of attention has been applied to this Series 2 that is simply more an expression of Roger’s personality than of timekeeping. Same for Dufour and early Journe, amongst others. Wristwatches have only been worn commonly for a little over 100 years. Wristwatches with this level of laborious love applied are quite a bit more recent. And the world is only just waking up to the idea that these are more than watches. A 250 GTO was a racecar until 1990. And almost in a flash, it became an artwork that happens to drive. Just look at auction results; today, few would argue the GTO isn’t art. The world wakes up to reality slowly, but gets out of bed quickly where large sums are involved. Independent watchmaking has a brighter future than it ever has. As long as there is demand for more exceptional works of art, pricing will never be accurate; it’s not a solvable problem. You can’t put a number on the strength of an emotion, which is arguably artwork’s primary function. It’s not a particularly helpful claim, but it’s the only thing I’m certain of.
This all brings me to this Series 2 Open Dial, which ACM listed somewhat ironically at the height of this debate at just over 1M in USD. No one will argue that Roger W. Smith is one of the greatest living watchmakers. All the watches he makes for the rest of his years are spoken for. There is a very long list if the price is too much for any one buyer to stomach. It’s a Daniels-inspired co-axial laid bare and one of the most captivating open dials ever, trying to bring English watchmaking in to the future with a bit of a youthful edge. It’s incredible. But should it be effectively priceless? RRP or market, I honestly have no idea.