The quiet luxury trend is still in swing. The latest category to embrace understated designs — after handbags, ready-to-wear and, most recently, sneakers — is the luxury watch industry.
Tim Stracke, CEO of the watch marketplace Chrono24, said a number of factors are contributing to the growth of brands like Patek Philippe and Richard Mille, which are known for their elegant and understated watches.
“The quiet luxury trend reflects a desire for certain brands that aren’t flashy or don’t have the same name recognition,” Stracke said, calling out Grand Seiko as a strong example. “They have similar esteem among collectors to Rolex but a lot fewer people know it. If you aren’t in the watch world, you might see a Grand Seiko and have no idea how expensive or well-made it is, but a connoisseur would be able to tell right away.”
Patek Philippe saw its sales jump by 80% last year, while Richard Mille has seen sales up 15% this year on top of the 15% growth from 2022. These brands are also doing well as investments, with quiet luxury watches appreciating in value by up to 40% within their first five years, according to watch consultancy The Hour Markers. The company defined “quiet luxury watches” as watches by brands including A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe and Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Part of the growth in desire for quiet luxury watches can be put down simply to changes in trends. For a while, watch cases — the part that contains the face, dial and movement — were getting bigger and more flamboyant every year, with some getting as large as 60 millimeters. For reference, a traditional standard men’s watch case is around 40mm. Smaller watches, some as small as 36mm, were dominant at this year’s Watches & Wonders showcase, for example.
Stracke said watch case size has been trending down for the last year as larger watches fall out of favor. But another element driving demand for understated watches can be found in the economy.
“At a time when people can’t afford their energy bill, when there are wars going on around the world, when things are unstable, that’s when our customers seek out less flashy brands,” Stracke said.
Chrono24, at 20 years old this year, is one of the biggest global watch marketplaces. It was valued at $1 billion at the beginning of last year, and in July, soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo became an investor.
The idea that flaunting wealth becomes less appealing in times of desperation is a well-known driver of quiet luxury spending. The last time stealth wealth was in vogue was in the late 2000s and coincided with the global recession, launching quiet luxury brands like Celine and The Row into prominence.
Jeff Fowler, CEO of watch marketplace Hodinkee, told Glossy in April that crime, or at least the fear of it, can also be a motivating factor in wanting an understated watch.
“If you wear a Rolex GMT, which is like $10,000, you could get jumped for that watch,” Fowler said. “Meanwhile, I know a guy who wears a Patek Philippe 2499 everywhere he goes and doesn’t feel worried about it at all, even though it’s 70 times the price of the Rolex, because most people don’t even recognize it.”
And just as quiet luxury in clothing and accessories has go-to names like Phoebe Philo-era Celine or Brunello Cucinelli, Fowler said brands like Patek Philippe and Parmigiani Fleurier are doing the same for watches.
“Brands like that and they are basically the Zegna or the Loro Piana of watches,” Fowler said.