My thoughts on limited editions
There is something about the scarcity of goods that causes humans to want them more than if they were in abundance. The relative small quantity of precious metals and stones that can be found in the earth creates such desire for what is essentially a useless object for the vast majority of owners (There are of course exceptions with gold and silver being used in microchips, diamond edged tools etc) . It doesn't matter what interest you have, be it wristwatches, comic books or Tamagotchis, the simplest concept of economics, Supply and Demand, is ubiquitous.
Watch collectors are willing to pay above and beyond normal market value for a piece that is either one of a few remaining over time or a new piece that is produced in limited numbers. The concept of the limited edition is nothing new within the watch industry, however it seems that over the last few years the vast quantity of limited editions has been anything but limited. Every major manufacturer, except one, last year released some form of limited edition watch. Patek released their 175th Anniversary collection including the Grandmaster Chime which was limited to four pieces, Omega had the Sochi Winter Olympics Limited Editions, the Seamaster Diver ETNZ America's Cup Limited Edition, Rio 2016 Speedmaster etc. etc. However the undisputed King (or court jester) of limited editions is Hublot, which released over twenty limited editions in 2014 alone. Like butter scraped over too much bread, I think Hublot spreads themselves too thin and devalues the concept of a limited edition within their brand. Perhaps there is another brand which released more limited editions, however I would struggle to think of any other that is associated so pervasively with the concept as Hublot. The one company that didn't release any limited editions, and in fact never releases limited editions, is Rolex. I assume that their marketing strategy is that owning a Rolex is special in and of itself and doesn't need to be inflated with the concept of it being Number X of Y. On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that the artificial retention of certain models like the Steel Daytona and Date Submariner makes them de facto limited editions, however their availability does vary from region to region making it hard to quantify how truly withheld these models are.
There are two companies that I feel do the concept of limited editions right (at least in regards to one particular watch): Panerai and Bremont. The Panerai Radiomir Firenze 3 Days Acciaio is limited to just ninety nine pieces and was only available for purchase in the Florence Boutique in the iconic Piazza San Gionvanni. Not only did you have a watch that has a design and finish complete unique to this watch (each of the steel cases are hand-engraved by a Master engraver over the course of a week with intricate floral patterns that draw inspiration from Florentine Churches), but if you wanted this piece then you would have to travel to Florence to get it, the city where Panerai was founded in 1860. The 47mm case size is the same size as the first watch created by Panerai in 1936. This watch truly combines a sense of culture, a genuine appreciation of the heritage of Panerai and being a true limited edition together in a fantastic watch. I believe that this watch has sold out so keep your eyes on Chrono24 if you feel like you have to get this piece.
In a select number of their watches, Bremont chooses a different tactic by limiting the number of people who are eligible to purchase the watch to begin with. The Bremont MBI is only available to an individual who has successfully ejected from an aircraft using a Martin Baker ejection seat. The Martin Baker Ejection Seat is the ejection seat for military aircraft being used since 1945 and has saved over 7000 lives since. Once you've been certified, then you're able to purchase the watch with your call sign and date of ejection engraved on the back. A few nights ago Jimmy Fallon presented a MBI to his Father-in-Law who ejected from his F-8C Crusader during a training exercise in 1961. I would like to see other brands experiment with this limiting purchasers route as I feel it adds something unique to an otherwise simple limited edition; perhaps a Carrera only available to those who have taken part in the Carrera PanAmericana, for example?
The interest in limited editions I believe is down to two things which are very closely linked; perceived value and potential investment. If you've always been a lifelong admirer of the Wright Brothers and aviation then the Bremont Wright Flier will be worth the extra retail value over any other watch that the company produce. This is perhaps why Hublot feel the need to create so many limited editions, there must be over 500 people out there somewhere who always have been wanting a Limited Edition Dwyane Wade watch (Apologies Mr Wade, I had to google you) and now they can! The reasoning for it being a limited edition must be legitimate otherwise it comes across as an insincere attempt to boost sales. In terms of investment I think limited editions are a tricky subject. Yes there are significantly less available than a standard reference therefore making them more desirable, however as always it comes down to personal taste. The reasoning behind a limited edition is almost as important as the design, whilst I liked Omega's Speedmaster Skywalker Solar Impulse Limited Edition, a commenter on Reddit said all he could see was a watch with the same colours as the Seattle Seahawks and now I struggle to get rid of the association between the two! Sure there might be some people who have always wanted a TAG Heuer/David Guetta partnership and can't wait to get their hands on that limited edition, but for most of the watch community I will hazard a guess and say that it will be a pass for most collectors. When dealing with clients who came into the showroom looking for a limited edition, they would almost invariably ask some form of "This can only up in value right?" and I would give the diplomatic answer of "It should hold its value better than a standard reference" (The topic of an average consumer believing that all watches regardless of brand can only go up in price is a story for another day) because really who knows? There are so many variables as to what causes a watch to increase/decrease in value and just because a production is limited is no guarantee of a sound investment.
As time marches ever forward creating more and more landmark events for companies to commemorate in a future limited edition we can only hope that there isn't a complete saturation of the market. Personally I'm just waiting till 2017 for a Patek Philippe and Rick Astley limited edition to commemorate the 30th anniversary of "Never Gonna Give You Up", if any watch company can make a music box small enough it's Patek!