Looking at several thousand dollar price tags for a watch, the first question you might have is whether it is really worth it? What’s the point of paying an average monthly salary for a piece of metal the only purpose of which is to show time, and sometimes date when you get the same function for several hundred bucks, buying a smartwatch or a quartz watch, looking much the same? Well, almost the same. But does it make so much difference?
Unless your only interest lies in buying a luxury watch is mere intention to impress, which would be undoubtedly well-met, it is always worth knowing the real value behind your purchase. Just knowing that the same watch was worn by James Bond, or the Pope would not make justice to your investment, so here are a few facts that may add up it.
Although a classic watch is much more than just looks, the first thing which gets in the eye is the design. With more than 100 brands and numerous copies, there are watches like AP Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus, or Tag Heuer Monaco, which you would never take for something else. Some of them may be not your cup of tea, but you would definitely find a model that has it all. With wristwatches being most prominent part of acceptable men’s jewelry, it’s no wonder that classic watches are valued for their design.
Same as classic cars, luxury watches are all about brands. Sometime, the choice of the brand may encapsulate all other decisions you need to make about a watch: design, style, movements, finishes, exclusivity, appreciation, you name it. Each brand has its history and achievements it is proud of as well as best models, which made it stand out, such as Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso, Omega Speedmaster, or Rolex Submariner.
The brands are never shy, showing their logos on the watch in various places, which, as a minimum, include the dial, crown, and bracelet, not to mention decorations on the movement and engravings on the case or inside the watch. For the brands, these statements are proof of best engineering, highest craftsmanship, and top quality, adding value and appreciation, both emotional and monetary.
Finishes and Craftsmanship
The best watches are assembled by hand by experienced craftsmen. On the outside, the finish is just polished metal, which can be anything from brushed finish to steel mirror without a trace of coating, which might peel off with time. The edges, hands, dial, and the crown shall be made with precision and have a perfect finish. A metal bracelet, if any, shall fit like a solid piece, preferably having screwed links and not producing too much noise.
Meanwhile, the real magic happens inside. Unless you have a watch visible movement, you might never have a chance to see it, knowing you have the best only from the name of the brand and accuracy of time measurement. Those who have rare luck to see inside their watches could easily see the difference by looking at finishes, teeth of gears, and parts arrangement. An inside of the best mechanical watches is an art in itself, made with attention to every single part and edge.
A classic timepiece can be just glass and steel without any trace of precious metals or stones, except jewels inside the movement, but anything used to make a luxury watch should be of best quality with least or no amount of plastic. Sapphire glass and a case made of few sold pieces of steel are a must for anything above entry-level watch, which can have a mineral glass with or without sapphire coating, lots of plastic and injection molded metal. Today, some watchmakers are starting to use titanium to cut weight, but many watch lovers take the feeling of a heavy watch on their wrists as an equivalent of value.
In the world of watches, it goes without doubt that the best watch movements are made in Switzerland with some rare exceptions like German Lange & Sohne and Japanese Seiko. While most of the Swiss watchmakers in the entry-level and middle segment source their movement from other suppliers, for example as Swiss ETA SA, all the top brands are all making their movements in-house, which is their guarantee and proof of quality.
The best Swiss movements are certified by COSC, the Official Swiss Chronometer Institute, founded in 1973 for testing the accuracy of watches. Another proof of Swiss quality is the Geneva Seal, which has been used for centuries for Swiss watchmakers and only in recent years was endowed to foreign producers such as Cartier.
The movement remains the heart of any watch, and its precision defines not only the accuracy of time indication but also the value of the watch. With that being said, some manufacturers make so-called open-heart or skeleton watches, revealing the engineering and craftsmanship used to make the watch live.
Heritage and Exclusivity
Every watch above $1,000 comes with its own story, being a part of its value. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was worn by Jacques Cousteau during his famous dives, Omega Moonwatch was taken by astronauts for the first Apolo mission, Tag Heuer Monaco was made in honor of the Formula One race; all of them provide unique experiences shared with their owners.
While the numbers of production may vary, most exclusive watches come in limited numbers, which can be as low as several thousand per year, especially for limited editions or watches from Big Three brands. Having a rare timepiece does not only introduce you to the club but also makes your possession more valuable.
Watch functionality can include just an annual calendar, a rotating bezel for a divers watch, which can also be used to account for another time zone, or a stopwatch function, just to name a few. More sophisticated timepieces on the upper end may have multiple time zones, a perpetual calendar, moon phases, tourbillions, or other complications.
In the age of high-end electronics, some of these functions may not be so much needed while making a watch less robust and susceptible to damage. Meanwhile, merely having them on a watch not only adds to the timepiece’s value but also makes it a more versatile and enjoyable experience.
One of the greatest advantages of classic watches is that they can appreciate over time. While you couldn’t normally expect this of a watch below the $1,000 threshold, most classic watches above that level would allow you, at least, to sell them for the same price you paid when buying.
Some timepieces as, for example, most Rolexes and absolutely all Pateks are appreciating so well that they can be considered money in the bank. With Rolex Submariner sold for $100 in the 50s and now valued above several thousand dollars, it comes as no surprise. And while you may buy a watch only for your enjoyment and never sell, it will remain your asset rather than another expensive purchase.
In addition to being a reliable tool for showing time in almost any condition without the need to replace a battery, classic watches are statements of style and prestige, speaking in a pronounced yet elegant way for their owners. They are functional and reliable, yet exquisite and delicate, incorporating hundreds of parts inside their steel or titanium cases.
While technology changes more rapidly than we can learn about it, making us regularly replace our gadgets for something new and more advanced, classic mechanical and automatic watches remain assets in hand or, more strictly speaking, on your wrist, becoming more valuable year after year.
With that being said, the question of why buy a luxury watch is no brainer and the only thing you might be interested is which of the classic watches works for your best.
Disclaimer: This information is the personal opinion of the authors and doesn’t constitute an investment advice or client relationship; any use of information on this website is regulated by its Terms of Service. You should always consult with your licensed financial advisor before applying any information provided on this website.