Making money: investing in watches

Is it the right time to start your watch collection?

A Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010 sold for $31.19m in 2019
(Image credit: AFP/Getty Images)

The art of investing in watches

With interest rates showing no signs of improving, investors’ options are limited to only a few avenues which will prove beneficial in the long term, said Joseph McKenzie, founder of pre-owned luxury site Xupes. Property, collectable cars, wine and art are all good options, but one of the most inviting and potentially lucrative is watches. “With some Rolex models being worth almost double on the pre-owned market seconds after they have left the store, it’s no wonder savvy shoppers are turning to luxury timepieces.”

Are watches a good investment?

Investing in watches “is a bit of a controversial topic”, said David Klint on The term “investment watch” can “conjure images of flippers who are in it to make a quick buck and have no passion for watches”. However, there is a “bigger picture” when it comes to investment models: luxury watches are very valuable and that value can increase drastically over time. “But that doesn’t mean a watch enthusiast can’t be both passionate about the art of watchmaking and invest in the watch emotionally and appreciate the investment potential of a timepiece financially.”

Can watches really be a good investment? “It’s not a simple yes or no answer,” said Jorg Weppelink on Chrono24. Similar to the vintage car and furniture markets, the watch industry has seen “an increase in the number of investors trying to make money buying and selling watches, mostly at high-profile auctions”.

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Not every watch sold at auction will appreciate in value going forward – only a few will double or triple in value in the near future, Weppelink added. “Many speculative prices are based on the hype surrounding certain models” and there is “no rational explanation for the prices paid at these auctions”. But as the saying goes, “a fool and his money are soon parted”.

Do watches retain or increase their value?

Which brands tend to increase in value over time? It’s a question that many watch collectors – especially new ones – always want answered, said Fratello Watches founder Robert-Jan Broer on The short answer is simple, “Rolex and Patek Philippe”, Broer said. The longer version is “a bit more complicated, as there are a number of aspects that play an important role”.

The Rolex Daytona is a “prime example” of a watch that has shown considerable price growth over the last few years on the pre-owned market, “with no sign of stopping”, McKenzie said.

Where can you buy vintage watches?

Depending on the model, it can be “significantly cheaper to buy a vintage timepiece at auction, rather than a new model”, said watch consultant Adrian Hailwood, who has held senior positions at Fellows, Woolley & Wallis and Dreweatts. “It’s in vintage sales that auction records tend to get set. The real driver for the collector is to get something with historical significance, rather than a new mass-produced version. By definition, all vintage watches are limited editions, even if the number produced runs into the hundreds of thousands.” and are “excellent sites”, said Jessica Diamond, watch editor at The Sunday Times Style. Also, keep your eye on the auction houses – “smaller ones are where the bargains lie”.

A Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010 sold for $31.19m in 2019

A Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010 sold for $31.19m in 2019
(Image credit: Patek Philippe)

What is the most expensive watch ever sold at auction?

In the world of record-breaking watch auctions, Patek Philippe is the “one name that matters more than any other”, said Jeremy Freed in GQ. It may not have the same “household name status” as its younger Swiss siblings Rolex and Omega, said Emma Al-Mousawi on Elite Traveler, but its watches have “steam-rollered past all others in the auction room”.

At the Only Watch auction held in conjunction with Christie’s in November 2019, a Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010 sold for a record $31.19m. The one-of-one version is the “most complicated Patek Philippe wristwatch ever made” and the watch world “justifiably lost their shit” when it went under the hammer, Freed added.

Other major auction sales include a 1943 Patek Philippe Stainless Steel 1518 which sold for $11.14m in 2016 and Paul Newman’s “Exotic” Rolex Daytona which sold in 2017 for $17.75m.

Currently, the most expensive watch in the world is the Graff Diamonds “Hallucination”. “Truly breathtaking and brilliantly fantastical”, it has a “eye-wateringly” high price tag of $55m, said Luxe Digital.

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Watch out – there could be risks

As with any potential investment there are always a number of factors to consider before you commit, said Xupes founder McKenzie. The pre-owned market has grown rapidly and with this growth comes risks. Fraudulent or stolen goods, poorly serviced watches, and so-called “Frankenwatches” (which feature cobbled together parts from a number of watches) are all factors that are worth considering. And of course it is very important that you are careful who and where you buy from.

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