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  1. Luxury
March 1, 2007

Let Me Get Back to You

By Spear's

Women, watercolours, watches – Oscar Humphries on why you always have to wait for the best things in life

The British love waiting. We love waiting for trains that never come on time. We love waiting for the property market to cool down – we’ve been waiting for a while. We wait for good weather and for an English champion at Wimbledon.

Waiting, with its angst and the mounting excitement it causes, makes the getting of the thing all the more enjoyable. Whether it’s a girl or a dividend – delayed gratification is so much more gratifying than an instant hit.

This same dynamic works in the luxury goods market. If something is easy to get, then maybe it’s not worth having. The most desirable objects in the world often come with a waiting list of people all after the same thing. From Aston Martins to Damien Hirsts, the super-rich are – like nine-to-fivers lining up to top up their Oyster cards – queuing up for impossible-to-own, easy-to-covet goodies.

Nowhere is this frenzy of consumption more obvious than in the contemporary art world – in a market where the work sold by galleries can be sold on the open market for far more, there are long waiting-lists for work by Damien Hirst, Jeff Coons, and newcomer Banksy.

Collectors are suspicious if they go to an exhibition opening and there is work available to buy – if you go to a show and it’s all sold out, you know you’re at the right show and should put yourself on the waiting-list for an instillation, video pieces or plain, old-fashioned painting.

Dealers such as Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling are experts at manipulating the apparent scarcity of art and the very real glut of money chasing it.

Every Euro, sheik, or aspiring Arkie Busson wants the new Patek Philippe Nautilus. The Nautilus, an iconic 1970s watch, was relaunched by Patek last year to celebrate its 30th birthday. The style and look is the same, but it’s larger, to suit the horological appetites of today’s hedge-fund barons.

‘The demand has been enormous and that has taken us by surprise,’ says Mark Hearn, managing director of Patek Philippe UK. ‘I think there is a general trend in the UK and in other markets for steel sports watches at the very top end of the market.’ This watch is impossible to get hold of, with customers waiting over a year to take delivery. ‘There is a huge waiting list for these models, including the gold pieces.’

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The fact that this watch is rarer than good drama on British television means that demand is raised and people appreciate it more when they can get it. They would like to produce more but, apparently, can’t – they make 35,000 watches a year.

I would recommend buying watches from the same place again and again, since my experience is that they give their better customers preferential pieces. The Nautilus is genuinely unavailable – unlike the Rolex Steel Daytona, which is available at a moment’s notice if the customer is willing to pay a 30 per cent mark-up.

The fact that I can’t have this watch (not only because of the waiting-list, but also because of its price), means that I dream about the thing.

It’s not just boys who like waiting. Girls queue for Hermes Berkin bags and for Manolo Blahnik Mary Janes – my fiancée described these shoes, worryingly, as an urban myth and begged me to over-pay for them on eBay. Now that they’re here and available, she’s gone off them.

We want what we can’t have: lots of space in Chelsea, a year-round tan, a Range Rover without the carbon footprint. My very first girlfriend made me wait – indeed, others (dozens in fact) joined the waiting-list after me. It made our eventual (and disastrous) union more special.

I wonder what my eventual union with the Nautilus will be like – I hope it will be long and fruitful and won’t all be over in 30 seconds.

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