Opinion: We Need to Talk About “Drop” Culture

Of all the themes to emerge throughout 2022, the one that is perhaps the most odious, the one that actually seems like it might do damage to our hobby, is the emergence and normalizing of the watch drop. Over and over again, we saw brands and retailers announce highly limited watches to be made available at a set time all over the world, with predictable results. Websites crash, Instagram becomes a cesspool of negative commentary, and the lucky few who wound up acquiring watches seem to always have a change of heart, and throw them up on the forums and eBay for way more than they paid. Watch enthusiasts and collectors are left wondering if they’ve been had. Days later, when they get the first marketing email they had to agree to receive to even attempt to acquire the watch, they realize that they were. 

I should say at the outset: I’m a fan of limited editions. I’m lucky to own some that I think are pretty special in their own unique ways, and when done right they can bring new enthusiasts into the fold. But LE drops are increasingly bungled and not well thought out to begin with, resulting in a downstream negative impact that at its worst can completely turn people off from the larger watch community. At a minimum, the truly ill conceived drops will just ruin your day on Instagram as the algorithm feeds you post after post, and meme after meme, reminding you of the unfolding drama.


I think that part of the reason things can get toxic in the limited edition space is that the very idea of a limited watch that you buy without having seen it in person feels like it’s in contradiction to how we’ve been thinking about watches for most of the time watches have existed. A great watch suggests a certain amount of permanence – it’s a thing that you could potentially own and use forever, and that collectors will often stew over for months or years before finally deciding to make a purchase. Any consumer item that you didn’t even know about a few hours ago becoming an heirloom seems unlikely. Not impossible, of course, but the decision making process for a limited edition is so condensed that it naturally becomes difficult to determine if the watch has true “keeper” status before throwing down your credit card info. 

Regardless, limited editions aren’t going anywhere. A silver lining in the too frequent disastrous launches in the recent past is that we can find clear solutions to make future watch drops a little less painful, more fair, and perhaps even give customers time to thoughtfully consider their decision to purchase (or not). So, here are a few simple things watch brands, retail partners, and anyone looking to create hype for a watch out of thin air can do to keep the Instagram trolls (mostly) at bay. 


When thousands of watch enthusiasts jump onto a website at the same time to attempt to purchase a watch that might be numbered in the hundreds (or fewer), it comes down to pure dumb luck as to whether or not you actually make it through the checkout process. Crashing the gates is futile and leads to immense frustration as orders time out or cancel while servers get demolished. And that doesn’t even take into account the bots that are almost certainly being unleashed to unscrupulously snatch watches from real flesh and blood people. 


When a drop is happening for a worldwide audience of collectors and it’s for a watch that will be highly desirable, a lottery is the best and by far the fairest way to allocate individual watches. A brand can collect contact info for interested parties beforehand, do a bit of due diligence to ensure the emails correspond to actual people, use a random number generator or a similar tool to determine who actually gets a chance to buy a watch. No gate crashing, and it democratizes the entire process. Everyone has an equal chance. 

Max Busser took this approach with the M.A.D. 1 release a year ago, and (speaking from personal experience) even those who got shut out of a purchase felt like everything was on the up and up. There was even some old fashioned goodwill on Instagram, as the M.A.D. social media team was present to answer questions, respond to concerns, and provide good natured encouragement through the whole process. A lottery might not have the excitement of a worldwide launch that sells out in a split second, but sometimes boring has its benefits. 

Mix it Up

Sometimes it feels like the only watches a brand is capable of releasing are limited editions. This creates a certain amount of fatigue among collectors, who see an announcement for a new watch and the hoops that they’ll need to jump through to purchase it and immediately get turned off. The hype driven limited edition can be lucrative, but if it’s the only type of release a brand engages in, accusations of money grabs will begin to carry real weight. Nobody likes to feel like they’re just a pawn in someone’s gambit to take advantage of the collector community. 

A model that some brands have moved to that I think neutralizes this somewhat is alternating between true limited editions and “time limited” editions, that the community has an opportunity to purchase over a period of several days, or perhaps a week. The brand then produces only enough watches to fulfill orders made during that period. Several brands have moved to a strategy like this in recent years, most notably Kurono Tokyo, who still release editions that are highly limited and tough to get, but will also reliably announce “anniversary editions” that are more accessible. It’s a happy middle ground between the ultra rare LE and keeping a watch in production continuously, which some small brands with limited resources might not have the capacity for. 

Waiting Periods  

This segues nicely into what I think is the single most important thing brands and retailers can do to make drop culture in the watch world a little more bearable: give you customers time to make a decision. Thankfully, most have moved to a model where consumers get all the details on the new watch well before it goes on sale, so that they have time to look at photos, review specs, and check their bank accounts to determine if it’s worthwhile to make an attempt to purchase. 

I like this approach because it mitigates the all out rush to buy something that you don’t have a ton of familiarity with, which as I mentioned up top is something that feels particularly at odds with how I view watch collecting in general. Drop culture can quickly turn into a game of simply trying to acquire every new product that comes out, which is a rather strange way to go about buying watches, even for the most voracious collectors who are more inclined than not to lay out the cash for something shiny and new. Pumping the brakes by giving customers a few days to consider their purchase allows for everyone to calm down a little, and might go a long way to ensuring that collectors who pony up for the new LE will really value their new watches, and decide to hang on to them for the long haul. 

Be Meticulous About Social Media 

No matter how much thought and care goes into making a drop fair and enjoyable for everyone, it’s perhaps inevitable that something will eventually go wrong. When this happens, it will almost always be broadcast at full volume on Instagram. It’s where the watch community lives, after all, so the airing of grievances is to be expected. And in any situation where a collector is potentially going to be shut out of buying a watch they’ve decided they must have, you better believe there are going to be grievances. 

At this point, it’s important for the brand to not disappear. Sometimes when something fishy happens, a brand or retailer goes silent, allowing for the worst kinds of speculation and rumor mongering to take shape. Instead, transparency should rule the day. If an upset customer is publicly displaying their discontent, it’s important for the brand to have a presence in the comment chain, so that future customers know they aren’t going to vanish when something goes wrong. It sends a message that there are real people at the brand, and that they’re trying their best.

Even more important though is that the brand reps maintaining social media accounts should be gracious and kind. The last thing watch collectors want to see is the brand itself getting defensive and blaming their customer base or a retail partner for a screw up. Remember: someone is mad because they couldn’t give you their hard earned money to buy a watch they absolutely do not need. People skills are important, de-escalation goes a long way. 

This year, perhaps more than in years past, there’s been a noticeable shift in the tone of the conversation the watch community is continuously having. It’s not that it’s turned negative, exactly. On the whole, the watch community is still a friendly and inviting place. But when there is toxicity, the level has gone up a notch, and I think a big part of it is the somewhat predictable disappointment that comes with drop, after drop, after drop. 

We all want a strong and vibrant watch community that brings new people into the hobby, so generating hype, real or imagined, around new watches is going to play a role in that. But brands, their partners, and people like me who cover it all would do well to remember that the other side of the hype coin is deeply cynical, and that’s not what grows enthusiasm. Fixing drop culture is just one step, but it’s one that benefits the consumer and watch brands, especially in the long term, so hopefully this is something the industry can figure out collectively before we all tear each other’s eyes out on Instagram. 

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.