From limited series to special editions, rare watches
Whether they are new or old, limited series watches have one thing in common: their rarity, admittedly to varying degrees. For enthusiasts, buying a limited edition watch is pure pleasure, the feeling of having what someone else will not. It almost brings us back to the time when master watchmakers made exclusive pieces for the great ones of this world, then symbols of political or economic power.
If watches made in a limited number of copies have become widely democratized, and multiplied, purists define a true limited series as "an original watch produced in a specific number of copies". Models such as the Patek Philippe Aquanaut watch (500 pieces), the Longines Hydroconquest Edition exclusive to France (500 numbered pieces) or the IWC Grand Aviator Watch in a left-handed model (250 pieces) are among these limited series.
How many pieces are produced in the limited series? That is simply at the discretion of the manufacturer. A Pangea Date 40 mm watch from Munich-based MeisterSinger has only 35 pieces.
Often, watch houses match the number of watches to an anniversary date. The Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage, for example, has 1883 pieces, which corresponds to the year the Swiss Watchmakers' Corporation was founded by Gottlieb Hauser, the father of the brand.
Today, limited series are confused with special editions, event watches. One of the most famous in this field, although not so rare as produced in 6969 pieces, is the Omega Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Moonshine Limited Edition. It was launched on the 50th anniversary of man's first steps on the moon, where astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin wore Omega Speedmaster watches.
The sporting events are also an opportunity to produce limited series, like the Tudor Black Bay Chrono Dark: the first limited series of the daughter-brand of Rolex, which nevertheless exists since 1926, it is a tribute to the All Blacks on the occasion of the Rugby World Cup held in Japan in 2019. The watch was produced in 1181 pieces, which is precisely the number of players who have defended the New Zealand colors since 1903.
The example of the Tag Heuer Carrera and its limited series
As we can see, there are thus dozens of reasons for big watch brands to produce limited series and special editions.
If we take the example of the famous Tag Heuer Carrera, limited series have been issued on the occasion of exceptional events. This was the case in 2008, for example, when the Swiss brand inaugurated its museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds to trace its 150-year history. A Carrera Calibre 1 Vintage watch (6,000 pieces) housed the model's first hand-wound mechanical movement, with the added bonus of a Clous de Paris decoration to celebrate the great watchmaking tradition. A Grand Carrera Calibre 17RS2 displayed a grade 2 titanium chassis, the collection's signature chronograph and a cote de Genève decoration.
But the brand also produced vastly more limited editions of its 1963 racetrack-born collection: 1860 pieces (the year the watchmaker was founded) for the Silver Dial edition and its silver dial, 1000 pieces for a watch in the colors of Manchester City soccer club or the 160-year Carrera Montreal merging two important watches Tag Heuer... Just recently, the Swiss brand presented a limited edition of 500 pieces, the Carrera Green, a chronograph with a 39 mm steel case and a "Teal" dial, a very rare shade of green.
Intentionally limited series to send a message
In the world of limited series, some brands have chosen to take a different route and follow a more "green" philosophy. So when Oris produces two Carysfort Reef limited editions, including one with a blue-matted solid gold case in only 50 pieces, it's by recalling (in engraving on the back) that the manufacture's environmental commitment has enabled the replanting of 30,000 corals off the Florida coast.
For independent manufacturers, offering limited series is also a way to fight against overproduction and globalization. Watches made in 500 or 1000 pieces become a message. Beaubleu Paris thus voluntarily confines its automatic watch Brio Rouge Vermillon, with its circular hands sliding on a curved dial, to 500 numbered pieces.
This model, and a few others, also demonstrate a reality: it is possible to get a limited edition watch at an affordable price, this one being sold for €790 new. Another French brand, Maxime Herbelin (founded in 1947 in Haut-Doubs), is positioned in the same movement. The 1,000 pieces of its 1970s-inspired Newport Heritage cost no more than €1,290.
Will affordable luxury be as successful as the legendary models? Will the watches increase in value over time? Only collectors will be able to answer this question.