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What exactly are limited edition watches?

Know the buzz word before you buy

Close up Rolex GMT-Master II "Batman"40mm with blue-black bezel Steel Ceramic Men's Wrist watch on black background
i viewfinder / Shutterstock

Have you ever watched a movie and wondered why the rare piece of art could ever be worth the obscene amount of money the debonair art thief claims it’s worth? It is simple, really. It comes down to the fact that it is rare. A truly original piece of art masterfully created by the very hand who conjured it up in their mind is something that cannot be recreated. The same kind of rare value exists in the watch world, too. There is an entire industry of limited edition watches that claim rarity rivaled only by the masterful artwork of Renaissance artists who can no longer create original pieces.

But what does it really mean to say that a watch is a limited edition? Does it truly mean that there is little chance of you walking into a party or a bar and running into the ever-embarrassing moment when your “rare” watch sits on the wrist of another…in the same room? Or does it mean they just want you to buy it quickly because they have numbers to make before the shareholders’ meeting? Both are possible. As usual here at The Manual, we did the legwork to make sure are armed with the information you need before you click the BUY button and invest in a limited edition watch.

The parameters of limited edition

Orient watch on checkered table
Roy P./Unsplash / Unsplash

What exactly constitutes a limited edition? If you think back to the watches you have shopped for in the past, it is likely you have run into the phrase limited edition, but the piece wasn’t anything of the sort. Here is the harsh truth: Sometimes, brands use the phrase limited edition because it creates an urgency for us to buy it right now.

We all love to be a part of something. And when we can be part of something while also buying a pretty sweet watch, that is a cocktail mixed specifically to loosen up our wallets. It works. But it shouldn’t. There are three things that make a watch a true limited edition.


Seiko watch
Lewis Hayden / Unsplash

What makes a limited edition watch so alluring for collectors and casual consumers alike is the feeling that you are a part of a small club. You have yourself a great watch, sure. But that is only the beginning. Nobody else has it, at least not in your circle, statistically speaking. As a matter of fact, the number of watches that are created directly correlates to the status of a limited edition. If your favorite watch that you believe to be a part of this elusive category was part of a mass production, then it isn’t limited.

Rarity is key here. A brand may tell you something is a limited edition, but unless it says specifically how many individually named pieces are on the market, you can never tell if it is truly limited or if it is a ploy to create that urgency. A good example is the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Take Off. Created to meet the needs of the Swiss Mountain Rescue Service, it is limited to 1,999 pieces, and then it is gone.

Short window

grey and silver Citizen watch closeup
Matt & Chris Pua/Unsplash / Unsplash

It isn’t enough to be rare or limited. To create a truly sought-after limited edition watch, there needs to be a demand for it. Take the Hamilton watch above, for instance. There are less than 2,000 pieces available for purchase. However, if nobody wants these watches, then there might as well be millions available because they will never sell through the 2,000.

One way brands create this demand is to create a special one-time event to buy the watch. “Get your hands on these limited edition watches before the end of the month or before we run out because, after that, they are gone forever.” Brands will do this (and the big dogs like Hamilton are really good at it) to create a buzz and the feeling of missing out if you don’t pull the trigger.

One of a kind

silver Rolex Sea-Dweller watch
John Torcasio/ Unsplash / Unsplash

Speaking of gone forever, that is the third aspect that brands need to keep in mind if they truly want to create a limited-edition watch. Once they create a short run on the product, it has to be gone forever. If it isn’t, then it isn’t a limited edition; it is for a limited time. It just went from a coveted addition to your watch collection to the McRib at McDonald’s.

One last thing to keep in mind. It is easy to confuse the above limited edition with the special edition. The difference between these two options is that one is numbered to a finite run, and the other one is created specifically to commemorate a special occasion like the moon landing. Take Omega’s Seamaster 007 editions. These are special editions that will get made as long as they sell, but they carry that inviting phrase of the special edition, and that makes us think we are part of a rare club.

When you are looking into a limited edition watch, always ask yourself if this is a numbered run of a one-of-a-kind exclusive short run or if they are trying to loosen up your purse strings by throwing words at you to make you feel as though you’re getting something special.

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Mark McKee
Mark is a full-time freelance writer and men's coach. He spent time as a style consultant and bespoke suit salesman before…
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