10th November 2016 at 12:15pm
There’s a wonderful sentimentality attached to watches. They’ve traditionally been used to mark milestones in life, from graduation to wedding days, and it’s arguably this high level of sentimental value that has kept them attached to our wrists for generations.
And yet, in a world of smartphones, iPads and Wi-Fi, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the general public has fallen out of love with the humble timepiece. This assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. With new releases still garnering plenty of attention, and vintage watches selling for a small fortune at auctions, watch collecting is booming. In this edition of Collectors’ Corner, we chatted with two timepiece experts to find out more.
The art of time
Collecting watches is no new hobby, but it can be a very complex one.
Su Jia Xian – better known as SJX – is one of Asia’s leading watch experts, and owner of Watchesbysjx.com. He has been involved in the watch industry for over 15 years. “My interest in watches started when I was young, when my mother wanted to buy me a new watch,” he explains. “It developed from there.”
Watch collecting can be very complex
SJX has seen his hobby alter over the years, with key makes and models changing as time has ticked on. “[The culture has] developed rapidly, both in size and diversity, as the hobby has grown in popularity.” And the market? “It has grown tremendously,” says SJX “with the audience becoming larger and more varied.”
This progression is in part down to the Internet having a positive effect on awareness. Specialised websites, blogs and social media accounts all create a buzz around new timepiece drops, as well as personal collections.
‘Instagram as a channel in particular is well used among the luxury watch community,” explains Sabriye Mehmet, Online Sales Manager for independent watch retailer, The Watch Gallery. “The platform really helps to push the aspirational view of luxury watches and their making. Brands are using the platform well as a visual tool, teasing upcoming releases and partnership collaborations.
We’ve seen an increase in a number of customers who begin speaking to our experts with specific photos to hand for what they’re after.”
Image: The Watch Gallery
Enthusiasts aren’t just turning to the web to research either. They’re very much in the market, ready to buy from the comfort of their own homes. “The role of the internet for customers is changing,” explains Sabriye. “Formerly, the internet only tended to play a part during customer research, with the majority of purchases occurring in store. However, greater trust and quality of online service has led to a change in behaviour, where people are happy to purchase online.” Naturally, brands have responded to this change, hence The Watch Gallery’s handy live chat feature, operated by experienced staff.
Instagram is well used among the luxury watch collector community
So now that popularity is increasing, how can new collectors dip their toes in?
Starting a watch collection
Here are some tips and tricks on where to begin, whether you’re starting small, or thinking big:
Do your research
Whether you’re thinking of buying just one timepiece, or starting off a whole collection, take the time to acquaint yourself with different trends and styles, as well as the varying prices. Bear in mind that there can be big leaps in price within the same brand – it’s all down to the individual model.
Collect them, love them
When it comes to deciding which watch to buy, make sure you actually like it! This may sound like an obvious point, but if you don’t love it, you shouldn’t be buying it. Choose something that you would be proud to wear – not just for its monetary value. “It’s a shame to only look at a watch for investment purposes,” agrees Sabriye. “Yes, a good mechanical timepiece will hold its value far better than most other luxury goods, but they are beautiful items and deserve to be worn and used; not just squirreled away in a safe to appreciate in value.” If you build a collection over the years, indulge yourself by having a different watch for each day of the week, month, or even year!
“It’s a shame to only look at a watch for investment purposes” Sabriye Mehmet
Question the condition
Vintage timepieces should ideally be in good condition. This isn’t to say that watches not in complete working order are no good (it can often be quite the opposite), however, you should ensure that the repair and maintenance costs don’t outweigh the purchase price.
Look after your watches
Speaking of maintenance, make sure you care for all your watches properly.
This could range from getting the batteries changed and having them professionally cleaned to general checks to ensure things are in proper working order. At home, keep them in a cool, dark place, in the original box if possible. If you happen to own any very valuable timepieces, consider buying a cigar humidor box.
Seek an expert’s advice here, but in a nutshell, these allow you to set the box’s temperature and humidity to perfectly preserve your timepieces. Alternatively, if you’d like to proudly put them on show, opt for a proper display box.
Watch out for fakes
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. “The best way to be certain of the quality of your watch and avoid fakes is to always buy from an authorised retailer, like us!” says Sabriye.
“We would advise any customer to thoroughly research an online retailer before committing to a purchase, and make sure they are authenticated as a seller by the watch brand themselves. And truly, although there are some very convincing fake watches around, it’s not hard; if a price seems too good to be true, it usually is.”
From vintage watches to new timepieces: know your brands
As with any fashion item, certain brands sell at higher prices than others. There is of course, Rolex, whose prices range from four to five-figures.
Which other brands should collectors look out for? “Swiss-made brands have a cache that’s well known, even if manufacturers in other countries are producing timepieces of equal beauty or quality,” says Sabriye. However, it can be tricky to know what the future will bring, explains SJX: “Historically Rolex and Patek Philippe watches have appreciated the most significantly, but extrapolating that appreciation into the future is not sensible.”
Look out for Swiss-made brands
Either way, researching different brands and knowing your Audemars Piguet from your Hublot certainly isn’t going to do any harm. Once you have a good understanding of the different brands out there, you should be able to move on to learning the different models, and years of release. You will then find it easier to pick up on the qualities that make some watches rarer and more valuable than others.
“A limited edition or exclusive watch is always going to be rarer product and consequently more valuable, as they’re made in limited runs,” says Sabriye. “We recently launched two worldwide exclusive product collaborations; the Bremont ALT1-C Watch Gallery Limited Edition, a beautiful automatic chronograph watch which is limited to just 20 pieces worldwide; and the TAG Heuer Formula 1 TWG Limited Edition, a stunning chronograph on a steel bracelet in our signature sapphire blue.”
Such small production runs from manufacturers are big news, so look out for them.
Finding a high-value watch
Other factors to consider for when searching for rare, high-value models include: “Complications, production quantity, unique characteristics of a particular specimen, and the provenance,” says SJX.
There are also certain watches at the highest end of the market that many collectors covet. “We retail both IWC Schaffhausen and Cartier online exclusively.” says Sabriye. “Alongside these two iconic brands at a similar price-point, we sell Audemars Piguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Hublot and many more online, which we believe is where the future of high-end watch retail really lies.”
Keep an eye on independent watchmakers too, advises SJX, “In the distant future the watches that are going to be rare are those made in small quantities today – independent watchmakers fit that bill.”
If you’re really on the hunt for a watch that is likely to appreciate in value, or – at the very least – hold its value, Steve Dineen of City AM speaking to The Watch Gallery also has some excellent advice. “In the sub-£10,000 market, it will probably be [a] Rolex, one of its ‘professional’ watches such as the Submariner or GMT.
One to watch is the Deepsea people are calling the ‘James Cameron’, which features a dial that fades from deep blue to black, launched in commemoration of the film director’s voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. It has a waiting list of a couple of years and a decent chance it will be discontinued (thus limiting supply): both good indicators it will hold value.
Remember to keep an eye on independent watch makers
“If you have rather more to spend, any Patek will hold its value well.”
The watch collecting community
To learn more about collecting watches as a hobby, it’s worth getting involved in the events and community that make up the culture. There are two key watch fairs that get both hobbyist and professionals talking:
This fair is based in Geneva, and takes place in January. The idea behind it is to help enthusiasts anticipate what will be on the cards for the year ahead. Regional brands including Cartier, IWC Shaffhausen, Mont Blanc also use the fair to launch new releases and announce collaborations. Such announcements make for a truly exciting event in the watchmaking and collecting community.
This watch fair is held in March, in the town of Basel in northern Switzerland. Luxury watch brands can be found, along with fashion-friendly names such as Michael Kors, Chanel and Mark Jacobs.
Join the conversation
If you liked this, you might find the rest of our Collectors’ Corner series interesting too. Find articles on vintage handbags, vintage toys and rare book collecting here.
The information in this blog or any response to comments should not be regarded as financial advice and is based on our understanding in November 2016.