Like everything else in the world, the watch industry was in constant flux this year. Trade shows have been canceled, releases have been removed from the calendar (only to be discontinued months later), and any event worth wearing a watch did not meet CDC regulations. The lack of award shows and chichi parties has greatly suppressed the volume of watches that got on our radar this year.
But the watches were still worn. And surprisingly, our accounting for the watches we discovered this year reflects very closely what we saw in 2019. While total numbers fell across the board, so did many of the same watches and brands that topped the list in 2019, and again in 2020.Maybe that shouldn’t come as a shock: watch collectors are a fanatical bunch. An April thread on the Rolex Forum asked, “Do you wear your watch at home while it is locked?” I know a collector who wears one watch at normal times during the day and then puts on another at home to relax. (He would sleep with the second.) Celebrities with watches are not much different. Take Chris Pine, for example. Last year, he may have worn his gold Rolex Day-Date to Comic-Con or on vacation by the sea. He doesn’t just put his watch on hold because these events were torn from life by Thanos. The context only changes: now he wears the same watch on a masked coffee run. And as you will see, Pine was just one of many to keep going this year.
The most popular watches of the year
Far and wide, and for the second year in a row, the watch celebrities most wore the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The watch sits comfortably in the middle of the Venn diagram between elegant and casual, is signature style with its iconic bezel in the shape of a stop sign (ironic for a piece that makes celebs go, go, go to their local dealer) and maybe the Most importantly, there are many flavors. If you scan the 20 different Royal Oaks worn by celebrities this year, you’ll find the model in vintage gold, black ceramic, with a delicious grape dial set with a rainbow of diamonds and built with tourbillons. AP has flooded the zone with the Royal Oak and the results speak for themselves.
The second most popular watch was (again) the Patek Philippe Nautilus. While the watch has a notoriously long waiting list, if you looked at celebrity wrists, you wouldn’t know. The only change between this year’s top 3 and last year is third place. To take the place of the Rolex Daytona in the ranking is the… Rolex Day-Date. (It’s hard to change.) We traded one classic for another – but something might be happening here. The Daytona has been on fire for years, but trends are changing in every industry that revolves around what we put on our bodies. Could the Daytona have peaked? Could we see the beginnings of a slight but noticeable shift towards more elegant watches versus super sporty ones? After years of stainless steel tyranny, could collectors really be interested in watches made from fine metals like gold? Could be. Or maybe this is just another anomaly in a year full of them.
The most popular brand of the year
As in the previous year, Rolex achieved an overwhelming victory in this category. In fact, celebrities wore the crown almost twice as often as any other brand (43 for Rolex versus 24 for runner-up Audemars Piguet). What makes Rolex so unbeatable in this category is that its watch bench is super deep. You can get to 43 very quickly if Chris Tucker is wearing a Deepsea, Megan Rapinoe and John Cena are both wearing the Explorer II, and Michael Jordan, Michael Strahan and LaMelo Ball are all interested in the Sky-Dweller. And those aren’t even the most popular models from Rolex.
Strictly speaking, Richard Mille was the brand that lost the most juice this year. The brand’s sometimes hot, always sexy watches have only appeared 14 times this year, compared to 35 times last year. (Celebrities also wore 19 different models of the brand last year.) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist – or someone who understands what it means for the new RM 72-01 to feature a flyback chronograph that incorporates a double oscillating pinion mechanism “- to find out why. Richard Mille was the kind of brand that showed up at the biggest parties of the year, awards showing red carpets and court seating. People wore less Richard Mille items for the same reason they “tough pants.” “Forswear – there just weren’t that many occasions or reasons to wear them. Not even Lil Baby, who recently heroically wore an RM on her wrist, could save the brand’s slight deflation.”
Raise your eyebrows
While almost every watch and brand dipped due to the pandemic this year, two brands beat the odds and even earned slightly more points with less play time. The first brand is Jacob & Co., which had a breakout a year after regaining its place as the most popular jeweler of all time. The brand partnered with Virgil Ablohm, who wore his J & Co watches frequently, and Supreme. It also garnered new fans like Drake – who apparently turned his sex watch for one with a roulette wheel – ASAP Rocky and supermodel Alton Mason.
The other riser is a real head-scratcher: Cartier – the famous French house best known for its dress watches – actually got more shine this year, despite the fact that there have been fewer black-tie events than ever. The Cartier turned up in all sorts of unexpected places: on Kamala Harris and Jill Biden’s wrists the night Joe Biden and Harris gave their victory speeches; in the Sofia Coppola film On the Rocks; and Tyler, the Creator’s wrist, having stayed with a Casio for most of his career. Even Kim Kardashian recently wore the famous crash model. (She probably shares the piece with Kanye.)
Everything that glitters is still gold
Another surprising nugget: diamond-studded rainbow watches burned this year. My assumption in this table was that a year indoors would result in more relaxed, simpler watches. Instead, celebrities wore more factory-set watches than ever before. Both the Rainbow Royal Oak and the Rainbow Cosmograph Daytona from Rolex have received more luster this year than they did last year. Almost all of the stains – on Travis Scott, Stormzy and Mika Federer – took place before the world went into quarantine. There’s no telling how popular they might have been if 2020 had gone anywhere near smooth. Even so, Patrick Mahomes will always treat his watch collection like a constantly evolving Pokémon: over the course of this year, he rose from a Rolex Yacht-Master to a GMT-Master, and then with the Rainbow, he achieved his final watch form Daytona.