Luxury watches are a volatile investment, and yet watch collections are common amongst enthusiasts with money. While standout models and “legend” pieces (like the Patek Philippe “Henry Graves” Supercomplication, which you’ll see in a recent post of mine holds not one but two records for being the most expensive watch ever auctioned) can command spectacular figures, luxury watches generally only depreciate in value. So why, and how, should you begin a collection of your own?
Feel the love
It’s tempting to fall into the trap of buying watches that you're supposed to find desirable, rather than looking at pieces you actually think are interesting. Maybe you’re looking at a model that has a specific history, or which is currently popular on the auction market. But if you don’t love it, why buy it?
Collecting is about surrounding yourself with things that mean more to you than their monetary value. Yes, some luxury watches can be excellent investment - if you have the money to get your hands on rare pieces in the first place, or if you’re willing to stick to Rolexes, which hold their resale value very well. But a collection without love is a collection without a soul. It lacks theme and purpose. It becomes incoherent. And without coherence, it exerts little influence on the heart-strings of other collectors.
The heart of a collection is what gives it its value. In fact, it’s love that assigns price tags to all luxury timepieces. Rare and complicated watches, limited editions from highly regarded maisons, all these fetch the figures they do because there are people out there with bank accounts big enough to put a value on their fascination. The best piece of advice I can give any collector is to start with the heart.
New or old?
Not every old watch is worth a fortune - and new watches are just old watches waiting to happen. Whether you decide to focus on antiques, start a collection of future classics, or explore the models of just one brand, you should consider each piece in terms of its meaning to you. Why do you like old watches? What is it about a certain manufactory that really gets you going? When you know the answers to these questions, you’ll know if you are interested in searching for timepieces because of their provenance or because of their current status.
The vintage watch market can be fickle, and of course the more sought-after a specific brand is, the more you’ll have to spend to start a collection of hard-to-find examples. It can be worth buying a classic watch that needs some restoration instead, and investing in expert repair to create a piece with a much higher value. Just be sure the restoration costs themselves don’t exceed the final value of the watch.
The biggest investment brands
If you are looking to invest, consider these brands first. It should come as no surprise that the biggest horological names in investment terms are also the most famed luxury watch houses in the world. Patek Philippe tops the list. Breguet, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin are also worth looking at.
Rolex commands a huge fanbase, and vintage models can sell for extraordinary amounts of money. Some, with special connections, fetch stratospheric figures at auction. Steve McQueen’s Rolex Submariner fetched $234,000 (around £150k) when it was sold in 2009.
Beware of purchasing a vintage watch purely because you think someone else will pay big bucks for it, though. Ayrton Senna’s personal TAG Heuer was sold for far less than its new owner thought it would fetch, a sad end for a timepiece worn by a true legend.
Storing your watches
Fine timepieces are works of art. They should be seen, worn and enjoyed. Obviously you can’t wear every watch in your collection all at once, so you’ll also need to store your watches safely. I recommend keeping them in their original boxes, where possible, or in a specially designed watch safe. For display purposes, you can store them under glass.
The storage environment should be cool and dry. If you have a delicate antique collection, it may be worth storing it in a temperature-controlled unit similar to a humidor.
All luxury watches are finely engineered, and require care and maintenance. You should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for winding and servicing. Automatic movements may need special care and attention if they are not being worn regularly.
Finally, consider the look and fit of your pieces. Remember, you’re collecting them to wear as well as own. It’s good to have some reliable classics in your watch safe, which can be worn with multiple outfits on several kinds of occasion. And of course you’ll want a favourite, a go-to piece that you’re likely to wear daily. I recommend a plain watch, free from complications, with a classic dial. Like an Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Extra Thin.
Luxury watches are romantic investments, not financial ones. Collect with your feelings, and you’ll create a wardrobe of timepieces you’ll be proud to pass on to your children.