Disclaimer: Watch flipping is bad. Using dubious techniques to obtain and flip a great watch that is forever destined to be waitlisted and never to be had by countless many who’d actually wear it and cherish it has been damaging to our beloved hobby for too long. This is part of the reason why, when I had the chance to flip it, I held onto my Swatch MoonSwatch Uranus — the $250 watch I got on launch day and could have sold for $3,000 within hours. Today, over a year later, and with a new Swatch collaboration having just debuted, I am having second thoughts on whether I made the right call by not flipping what has become a ubiquitous and replaceable timepiece available at or near retail for the masses.
You see, the MoonSwatch is not at all like the precious watches I previously mentioned — the truly exceptional and desirable products made by the likes of Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and others. Those are watches people hustle for years to be able to afford, timing their purchase to mark a notable moment in their professional or personal lives, only to be told by the boutique staff that their (slim!) chances of actually acquiring said watch lies many more years in the future.
Meanwhile, folks with dubious techniques get their hands on these watches, only to list their fresh piece online days later, unworn, offering the waitlisted a chance to get their desired piece — at a cost of thousands (or tens of thousands) more than the retail price. This is what’s called “flipping,” and it is a terrible practice. The few friends I have working in the boutiques of some of these brands are actually doing their best to research their customers and minimize the chances of their freshly allocated watches getting flipped.
By contrast, the MoonSwatch is not an heirloom piece. It isn’t something people en masse aspire to own one day — a week before its launch, nobody knew it would ever come to exist, and I don’t just mean the watch but the entire concept of Swatch and one of its luxury sister brands under the Swatch Group umbrella coming together at a highly affordable price point. So, I think we can rule out the fact that flippers are ridding life-long aspirers the possibility of acquiring a watch they hope to pass down one day. The MoonSwatch was in high demand early on because of its novel concept and because of its orchestrated — and infuriating — scarcity, where Swatch launched a product that simply wasn’t available in sufficient quantities and then couldn’t, or didn’t, ramp up production quickly enough to meet demand.
The so-called developed world revolves around our addiction to instant gratification and to our belief that we not only desire but also deserve to own everything we want as quickly as it takes to tap a “Buy It Now” button. When Swatch said it would make the MoonSwatch available at just a handful of its stores worldwide, and that customers would only be allowed to buy two pieces — soon reduced to just one piece — demand soared as everyone wanted to have what others couldn’t. Before dawn, I drove to Vienna, Austria, to see how this hype would formulate and how people would behave, what expectations they would have, and how Swatch would treat its customers on such an important day. For my report, read the highly popular Queueing For Uranus: Omega Swatch MoonSwatch Watch Review.
Because Austrians are too smart to wake up at the crack of dawn to queue for a
plastic bioceramic watch (let alone spend the night on the streets outside a store!), I got lucky and was among those 100 or so people who got a MoonSwatch on day 1. As I say in my review, the reportage would not have been full without me immediately listing the watch online, this time on Chrono24, to see what would happen and to gauge how strong the demand really is. I listed the watch I had just bought for €250 for €2,770 ($3,000 at the time) and waited to see what would happen.
Before long, I got an offer from a certain Felix in Germany, offering to buy my watch. I had everything: Watch with paperwork in hand and a pending offer of what is a ridiculous amount of money for a cheap and, let’s be frank, disposable watch that will soon be produced in limitless quantities. I decided to hold onto the watch because then, as now: I hate watch flipping and what it does to our hobby.
Here is the twist: The MoonSwatch, although limited in availability at first, was always meant to be produced in enormous quantities, and so people who pay a ridiculous premium on the flipper’s market are not paying that merely to own the watch, but also to own it first. And that, in my book, makes a huge difference.
So, here is what’s been grinding my gears for too long. First, in every field of life, if you want to own or do something sooner than others, you’ll have to pay a premium for that privilege. From first-class mail to flying as opposed to taking the bus, we have come to accept the concept of paying more to save time. I have to stress that there is a difference between spending over retail for a MoonSwatch and spending over retail for a waitlisted Rolex because the former you certainly will be able to acquire, whereas you might be on a waiting list for the Rolex you want forever — a watch that others will manage to get.
This is to say that, in my eyes, flipping a MoonSwatch is different from flipping a waitlisted luxury watch because, with the MoonSwatch, one is not paying any premium at all to ensure ownership of the watch at any point in time but simply to own it before others. And in today’s world of influencers and the thin-skinned “what you own is who you are” universe of social media, spending $2,750 to rock the turquoise watch of the moment is a no-brainer for many — while others, to follow up on my previous example, will just take the bus and arrive a bit later to the party.
Second, you don’t need a six-figure purchase history to buy a MoonSwatch. Yes, the number of Stores was very heavily limited — a practice we have criticized many times here on aBlogtoWatch and in the aBlogtoWatch Weekly Podcast — and I do feel bad for those who either didn’t live reasonably close to a Swatch store or who, for personal reasons, couldn’t participate in the ridiculous action of queueing for a consumer product. On the flip side, however, many dedicated their time to make a long journey and to camp outside a store, and if you want a watch they acquired in that way, then you’ll have to pay however much they are asking for their “service.” I had friends say that those who couldn’t make this journey for reasons out of their control shouldn’t have to pay a premium on the gray market but be able to buy one at retail, to which I say, the issue of resolving that falls entirely on Swatch and not on those who got an item of (temporarily) limited availability in an open market.
The conundrum lies in that it is easy to argue that those who queue outside a Swatch store on launch day do so to profit from those who stayed at home, but the option of doing so is open to anyone who has free time that day and is willing to make a trip (at times like queuers did, traveling hundreds of miles). And if that sounds too much of a sacrifice, you can always pay somebody else to do it for you, which is largely what happened on the gray market in those early days of the MoonSwatch — and will certainly happen with the Swatch Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watches.
I will close with the following thoughts: First, nobody needs to own an overhyped and overpriced watch that everyone else can soon also have — but if they want to, then they should pay a premium. Second, joining the pack of those who think they do means that you have to adapt to their mindset, which, in this case, means spending hundreds or even thousands over the inherent value of a product just for the privilege of flaunting it first. Third, the joy and value you get out of acquiring a mass-produced item “first” you’ll likely find as fleeting as the memory of your 100th Michelin-star dinner. Fourth, I look at heavily overpriced disposable consumer products — which, make no mistake, every flipper-sold bioceramic watch is — as a tax on the rich. It is a redistribution of wealth from the stupid-rich (and stupid rich) directly to someone lower down on the financial food chain whose option to make money on the side is to set up camp outside a Swatch store. Shouldn’t those with common sense celebrate that redistribution and then just go and buy a MoonSwatch at retail a few months later?
I should also add: Long-term appreciation is a different issue. Owning a watch for several years or more and selling it at market value, I think, is fair game, even if such possibilities are created by the inflated prices coming from the flipper’s market. Making the right calls in terms of which brand or watchmaker to support (and I’m not saying that buying a Rolex is investment genius but rather am pointing at the many incredible value-appreciation stories like those of Konstantin Chaykin, Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein, MB&F, and many others) and then profiting on that decision. Selling such a watch for significantly more than one paid for it is not equal to flipping it — but only if one sourced that watch in legitimate ways and has owned it for several years.
I am sure we can all agree that watch flipping is bad, but I wonder, isn’t the case of the MoonSwatch (and Swatch Fifty Fathoms) different? I think it is because it is solely fueled by people who are willing to spend thousands of dollars over retail just to flaunt a mass-produced watch everyone else will soon also have access to. Shouldn’t those with more sense than money be able to profit off those with more money than sense? That’s the question that’s been grinding my gears, and I look forward to reading your take in the comments below.