If you are a fan of wristwatches, you likely admire watches with complications. For many collectors, the more complications a watch has, the better.
Unfortunately, those complications usually come with a price, and sometimes, the prices are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even less expensive complication watches usually cost thousands of dollars.
You might think that these days, with watchmaking being pretty much a refined craft, that companies would be able to sell watches with features other than the ability to tell time for more modest prices.
Why are complication watches expensive?
There are a few reasons for this. Some of them will make sense, and others may not make sense to the casual buyer.
One must keep in mind that the vast majority of people who buy watches only want one for either a fashion statement or want a simple device that will tell them the time. Most buyers do not care at all how the watch is powered or what is inside the case.
That probably accounts for 99% of all watch buyers. That is why most watches sold today have quartz movements.
That leaves the remaining 1% of the market for mechanical watches. Buyers of mechanical watches want more than just an off-the-rack watch, but even most buyers of mechanical watches do not necessarily need one with elaborate features. Many might like the ability to display the date, or have a built in stopwatch, but beyond that, the demand for other features or complications is fairly small.
After date and chronograph complications, the market for watches with any other features is quite small. The market may be small, but the amount of work that goes into designing and building a watch with unusual complications or multiple complications is extensive. This is rarely offset by the ability to sell those watches in the market; if often costs a company more to make watches with multiple complications than they can readily recoup at the point of sale.
Many companies do it for prestige purposes, but they do realize that the market is going to be small for whatever it is they are building. That doesn’t change the fact that it is very difficult to incorporate a tourbillon, a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar and/or a moonphase display into a watch at the same time.
That is very complex work that not anyone can do, and creating the mechanical parts that make such movements work is painstaking and expensive.
That is why, when such watches come to market, they are usually manufactured with gold or platinum cases. Many of them have added diamonds. Almost all such watches also have extremely limited production numbers that are publicly announced so that potential buyers will know that these watches are rare.
This allows the makers to increase the prices to the point where the price may offset the cost of making the watches in the first place.
Of course, few, if any, companies pay their rent with elaborate complication watches. Most companies sell less complex watches to pay the bills, and the more elaborate models are their show pieces.
At the end of the day, it comes down to a combination of supply and demand vs. the amount of work and expense of making such watches.
Lots of people want complication watches. Few people are actually going to buy them, and that drives up the price.