The watch universe loves to focus on the latest and greatest, but as we know, there is also a lot of interest in timepieces from the past. While all models start out new, many are eventually discontinued. As we celebrate 20 years of Chrono24, we’re taking a look back at some of the coolest watches to be taken out of production in the last two decades.
Why are watches discontinued?
This seems like a relatively straightforward question. Obviously, the most common reason why a watch is discontinued is to make way for the release of a new and improved version. The production run of a particular reference can range from a couple of years to several decades, depending on its success.
A second reason for discontinuation is if a watch is unsuccessful. There are many reasons why a model may be unsuccessful, ranging from its design, color, price, availability, specs, or simply popularity. But what if a certain reference gets too popular? This can also be grounds to shelve a model – just look at the Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711.
Lastly, there can be extenuating economic, production, or logistical reasons why a brand decides to discontinue a watch. These are not as easy to identify since they are internal decisions, but they definitely play a role in whether or not you and I can buy a particular reference new.
Is it good to buy a discontinued watch?
But what if we can’t get our hands on a hot new release? What effect does that have on the reputation and/or price of discontinued timepieces? It all depends on the brand and the popularity of the watch, but generally speaking, prices tend to rise after a popular reference has been discontinued. If you think that a discontinued watch is likely to become a sought-after classic and prices will keep rising, it could make a safe investment in addition to being a great timepiece.
For the majority of watches, however, prices go down once they are discontinued. The reason for that is that people prefer to buy the newer version with updated technology and a more contemporary design. Plus, if a timepiece wasn’t popular when it was in production, it’s common that its price will go down after production ceases. If you’re a fan of one such watch, you’ll be able to buy it for a good price.
Buying Discontinued Watches on the Gray Market
Buying a discontinued watch often means buying pre-owned, but on some rare occasions, you might actually be able to buy a brand-new timepiece. With the rise of online sales, there’s a chance you could track down a new version of a discontinued model. You wouldn’t be able to find these references at a brand boutique simply because once a watch has been discontinued, it is no longer offered through official streams.
Another advantage of the secondary market is that you can get your hands on rare discontinued watches that may have only been produced in one country or region – just think of the Seiko Japan Domestic Market (JDM) models that were exclusive to Japan. Thanks to the gray market, buyers outside of Japan have also been able to enjoy timepieces like the popular Seiko SARB033 and SARB017, even after they were discontinued.
Top-5 Watches That Were Discontinued in the Last 20 Years
In short, there is plenty of fun to be found in the realm of discontinued watches, but what are some of the best models to go out of production in the last twenty years? We have compiled a list of five timepieces that are no longer part of their brands’ current collections, but enjoy iconic status and are much-loved by watch fans around the globe.
1. Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711
I briefly mentioned the Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711 above. The final generation of Gérald Genta’s brilliant stainless-steel Nautilus was discontinued in 2021 – but not before the brand released a brilliant green dial version that was produced for one year only and a much-hyped Tiffany dial variant.
The rationale given for discontinuing the reference was that Patek Philippe president Thierry Stern did not want a single model to steal all the spotlight. Additionally, the brand was supposedly not earning enough from the stainless steel Nautilus, and thus they decided to stop making it. Following the return of the IWC Ingenieur this year, I’m hoping we see the stainless steel Nautilus come back to reinstate Gérald Genta’s brilliant trilogy.
2. Rolex Milgauss Ref. 116400
Watch fans had been speculating for quite a few years about when the final members of the Milgauss line would be discontinued. The time finally arrived earlier in 2023, and Rolex delisted the quirky engineer’s watch that had been part of its collection since 2007. The brand had initially also introduced black and white dial versions with orange details, which were discontinued in 2013 and 2016, respectively. Both have since become quite popular.
The last two models to be discontinued were the refs. 116400 with a Z-Blue dial and a black dial, both of which featured a green sapphire crystal. These two watches were unique in the Rolex lineup. Fans had hoped to see an updated version with the case that Rolex also uses for its Air-King, but that apparently wasn’t what the brand had in mind. The distinctive aesthetic will certainly be missed, and I hope to see a successor model soon.
3. Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M Ref. 18.104.22.168.01.001
The Ploprof is well known in the watch community. The name immediately conjures an image of the eccentric but very capable diver that Omega launched in the 1970s. The brand developed the first generation Ploprof in tandem with professional COMEX divers, resulting in an offbeat watch with a monobloc case that looks anything but conventional.
Omega brought this classic back in 2009, with an improved design and boosted specs. The huge timepiece turned out to be popular with a wide audience, despite its over-the-top size and hefty weight. In 2019, Omega decided to discontinue the stainless steel version, much to the disappointment of fans. While the brand has since introduced a special edition in steel, it’s not quite the same as the extraordinary beast from 2009.
4. Seiko SKX007/009
Two popular Japanese watches that have been taken out of production are the Seiko SKX007 (black bezel insert) and SKX009 (blue and red bezel insert). These two affordable divers are legendary among watch enthusiasts. They turned out to be the perfect daily wearers because they’re built like a tank, look good, and are also great for modding (the art of modifying a Seiko).
But most importantly, Seiko SKX models were the very first timepiece of many mechanical watch fans. Thanks to their sturdiness and brilliant, no-nonsense design, a lot of enthusiasts never stopped wearing them. That explains why millions were upset to see Seiko discontinue the series. There has been a run on the watches in the last couple of years, but getting your hands on a SKX for a good price is definitely still possible.
5. Breitling Aerospace
The last of the five watches on our list is the Breitling Aerospace. While many people have probably heard of the Breitling Navitimer or Chronomat, the Aerospace might not immediately ring a bell. But among serious hobbyists, the Aerospace is a much-loved Breitling. The model was launched in 1985, and offered a wide array of functions that were targeted at and appreciated by pilots.
The watches were powered by SuperQuartz movements that proved both reliable and incredibly accurate – a necessity for professional use. The functions included a chronograph, countdown timer, second-time zone, alarm, and calendar. The most recent generation, the Aerospace Evo, was discontinued this year, ending almost four decades of this unique pilot’s watch.
Want more highlights from the last 20 years? Check these out: