I watched a video today where some average young people were shown watches of various brands, and they tried to guess the price. More often than not, they would be wrong by several orders of magnitude – for instance, estimating a Paul Newman Daytona as something in a $800 magnitude, while the actual price is $250000.
That made me think: are they ignorant, or are we often duped into believing that paying extreme amounts is reasonable, for things that aren’t worth that much money in any reasonable frame of reference? I used to live in a world where mechanical watches were the norm, and it used to be that a watch would justify its higher price by accuracy, durability and actual features, and “brand” was just something that would make you recognise things that were well made. Today, the concept of “brand” is detached from every possible objective criterion of quality, and a brand like Seiko or Citizen can produce a watch that is objectively better by every single metric, compared to top tier luxury watch brands, and yet they are perceived as “mass market junk” that cannot possibly command the price of the “quality” brands. The madness goes so far that actual metrics, such as accuracy, are seen as irrelevant, or even as a property of low-tier watches. I’m not necessarily even talking about quartz watches – for instance, ETA coaxial movement designed for the Omega brand, with a silicon hairspring and non-magnetic properties, is technically speaking the best mechanical watch movement ever made, and yet this somehow doesn’t have anything to do with the price of the watch. Omega Aqua Terra coaxial is seen as a mid-range watch, while some Rolex or Patek that is an order of magnitude less accurate, and also infinitely less resistant to magnetic fields, can command ten times greater price, or more. This is obviously beyond all reason, so why would anyone be surprised that normal people, who didn’t memorise the expensive brands so that they could tell what should be expensive, can’t tell based on the actual features of a watch? If the actual reality is that a technically superior watch can be a thousand times less expensive than a limited-series “haute horlogerie” brand watch, then you can’t really come up with a reasonable estimate of the price based on the inspection of the features of the actual device, which is another way of saying that the price is based on bullshit.
This made me think further, and I remembered a similar video where someone was asking people on the street how much do they think a gold coin was worth, and I think most of them would rather take a $5 candy bar than a $500 coin, or something like that. It makes you wonder how well we would fare if we had to trade gold and silver for goods and services in some post-apocaliptic scenario. If I showed a Krugerrand to random people, how many would understand that this thing costs $1900? After all, it’s just a coin, and coins are perceived as something of low value today. As for gold, most people never saw gold in person, except in insignificant amounts used in jewelery. Any estimate of value would probably be wildly off.
I can’t really blame them – I was shocked to learn how much an ounce of Rhodium was. I know that it’s a Platinum-group metal, and I expected the price of Rhodium to be comparable to that of Platinum, but it is not. It was – up until 2020, when the price went off exponentially for some reason I won’t even pretend to understand because it’s probably something to do with some industry or another, and it’s now in the order of magnitude of 20000 USD/oz, which is about ten times more than gold, and 16 times more than Platinum.
One conclusion is that our intuitive sense of intrinsic value can be wildly off. Supply and demand as a measure of value can produce very weird valuations where, at least temporarily, complete garbage can appear to be precious, and otherwise precious things can be valued as garbage. More often than not, market valuations are a measure of human greed and fear, rather than intrinsic value. Also, people tend to value things that other people value; when they see that something is commonly perceived as precious, they will usually adjust their sense of value to match. That’s not the case just with watches or precious metals; it extends everywhere.
In any case, it’s a very interesting line of thought.