You can tell a lot about a person from their selected timepiece. You might make assumptions about their taste, style, and for those who can tell their Rolex from their Patek Philippe, even wealth. Luxury watches have long been a status symbol and at the upper end are works of art, but they can also form part of a diverse, passion investment portfolio. So Citywealth wondered, if you’re looking to make a good impression with your knowledge of luxury timepieces, and make a strong investment at the same time, what should you be buying?
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“Well-conditioned Patek Philippe 3700s are going through the roof and time pieces by leading independent watch makers", said Silas Walton, who is the founder of A Collected Man, an expertly curated website for information about and purchasing luxury watches. This includes Swiss based watch maker, Rexhep Rexhepi’s, who is the founder, who is doing well with an award from the GPHG which is the Grand Prix D’Horlogerie De Geneve, for his limited edition Chronometre Contemporain which is selling out at 59,940 Swiss Francs (£45,653)”.
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Mark Toulson, Head of Buying, at The Watches of Switzerland Group agrees: “Patek Philippe is always popular with investors.” Recent Patek Philippe stand-out sales include two 18ct yellow gold 2499s which sold at auction for $3.9M and $3.2M. “These are very rare models with only around 350 made over a thirty-year period starting in the 1950s”, explained Toulson of the extraordinary prices they made. Before you rush to buy though, Toulson adds a warning that you may be turned away. They restrict sales of watches such as the Patek Philippe Nautilus which has long waiting lists. He says, “We supply regular clients with watches such as these, rather than speculators”.
Aside from Patek Philippe, what other brands are in high demand? “Rolex and Audemars Piguet”, says Toulson. “Rolex steel professional models such as the Submariner, Daytona and GMT are sought after today and their early models from the 1950s are more so. Last year a 1956 Submariner sold for just over $1M, a world record for that model.” Toulson advises “As with Patek, few own such watches but by watching what brands are doing you can make an educated guess about what may become valuable in the future. I’ve just returned from BaselWorld, the biggest annual watch fare in the world. Rolex have introduced their iconic blue and black ceramic bezel GMT II on a Jubilee bracelet so have retired the same watch on an Oyster bracelet. Values for the discontinued model are already escalating so now is a good time to buy one, if you can find it.”
Other watches hot off the press at BaselWorld include the new Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori collection, the modernised Superocean from Breitling, and the Patek Philippe Calatrava weekly calendar watch, boasting a new movement displaying the day, date, month and week number.
The majority of clients of A Collected Man are British or US, and “they’re increasingly just focusing on quality and rarity. Smaller, tighter collections, with better pieces. Condition is key for them, if vintage, and Limited Editions or ‘Pieces Uniques’, when it comes to modern watches”, explained Walton.
If you want to find something truly unique, then stepping away from the more mainstream manufacturers can be an answer, says Toulson. “Brands such as Urwerk and MB&F produce watches in the low hundreds per year so ownership can will involve a long wait to become a member of such an exclusive club. Exclusivity is linked to value but also many of these manufacturers have extraordinary designs which really stand out and make for an exciting passion investment.”
A new trend is the growth of female investors to which brands have responded with specifically designed timepieces for women. Tatler, the fashion and lifestyle magazine, picked its favourites from BaselWorld and highlighted the trends for diamond encrusting, rainbow gemstones, and classic unadorned watches. But women are also carving their own niche by buying men’s watches because they are frustrated with the choices available to them. “I suspect this will be a growing trend.” said Walton. Toulson agrees, “We see increasing numbers of women buying what were traditionally seen as men’s watches in 36 and 40mm”.
If you are purely into watches from an investment perspective, then it doesn’t really matter what the watch is if it is simply bought for a future re sale. “Vintage watches though tend to be in smaller case sizes so are perfect for a smaller size wrist, although an appreciation of quality, design and technology isn’t specific to one gender”, says Toulson.
As with most passion investments, there is a hard truth attached. “If you purely want to realise investment potential, then don’t wear the watch. Keep all the packaging, instruction book, warranty and the watch in pristine condition as these things all add to the overall value. Personally, I buy watches to wear because I love them but if investment is your motive then you will make the biggest return by not touching it at all”, confirms Mark Toulson, who as Head of Buying, at The Watches of Switzerland Group, has a full time job helping clients select watches that will stand the test of time.