Invest in a vintage time-piece and just watch its value grow, says auctioneer Jeremy Thornton
It is said that “you never actually own a Patek Philippe – you merely look after it for the next generation.” That might be stretching the point a little, but it does give an insight into how premium brands such as Rolex, Breitling, Tag Heuer and, of course, Patek Philippe are viewed in the current market. Around 20 years ago a watch collector would probably have been a retired gent collecting pocket watches from the 18th or 19th centuries. The market was limited; prices for most items were modest and the collectors squirreled the watches away in cabinets. Today the market is dominated by the wristwatch, one of the design classics of the 20th century, and a Rolex is as good as gold.
That a simple and practical item of jewellery is now viewed in such a way is the result of a combination of factors. Great design, precision engineering and a style and status that means many wristwatches are now viewed on a par with large diamond rings, fine wines and vintage cars.
Add this to the current view that a good watch is a potential investment, or even a hedge in the uncertain world economy and the number of buyers is outstripping the supply coming to the market. This has the obvious effect of keeping prices strong.
What is clear is that vintage or classic designed wristwatches have excellent value retention when they come back to the market. In my opinion there is not an exact date before which a watch can be said to be a genuinely collectable item.
The word vintage is banded about by auctioneers and dealers, but in most cases collectable watches tend to be from the 1960s or before. In effect prices for watches from the post 1970s period are still likely to be governed by the gold price or current retail prices for a similar model.
That said, there is an element within the more modern watch sales where buyers try to anticipate future market prices, and seem happy to speculate. Many are affluent males happy to take a gamble. But, like so many collecting fields, there is plenty of room for buyers of all types and price brackets and specialist areas do exist. Military watches is an obvious one but there are others including cocktail watches from the 1920s and 1930s, LCD watches from the 1980s right through to the modern Swatch watches.