"Watching" The Market For Luxury Timepieces

October 4, 2019

On April 24, 2015, Apple Incorporated released one of its most innovative devices since the introduction of the iPad in April of 2010. This device, known as the Apple Watch, would go on to become one of Apple’s most divisive products, causing differing opinions from some of Apple’s diehard fans. Some claim it is the future of the watch industry. Instead of elegance and handcrafted design, Apple chose to design the Apple Watch much like a computer or a smart phone. None of the traditional nuances that make up a beautifully handcrafted watch are featured in Apple’s design. This has caused watch and timepiece aficionados to take notice. Could something like Apple’s smart watch kill off elegant, handcrafted timepieces created by Rolex and Patek Philippe? If we ask the collectors’ market for high-end luxury vintage timepieces, the answer is surely no.
For the past few years, the market for higher-end luxury timepieces has been on fire. Heritage Auctions has now become a leading online auctioneer of some of these timepieces, and both collector interest and prices are soaring. With names like Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Omega leading the pack, the world of collecting luxury timepieces can be daunting and full of peril for any up and coming collector. The market also has risen dramatically, with some of these luxury timepieces selling for tens of thousands of dollars or more. The market for vintage Rolex watches is especially appealing to a lot of new collectors, as Rolex has brand recognition that makes their products extremely liquid and quite popular on the secondary marketplace.
The elements that make a vintage luxury timepiece an attractive collectible are almost the same as other items that become collectible. Condition, originality, and authenticity are by far the three most important characteristics to be aware of when buying a vintage luxury timepiece. If someone wants to buy their first collectible luxury watch, it is best to go through a trusted dealer or a well-known auction house that stands behind the items they sell. Rolex is currently one of the most popular luxury timepiece brands in the world, due to the fact that they pride themselves on precision craftsmanship. It also doesn’t hurt that both Hollywood as well as our culture of materialism tend to place luxury companies like Rolex on a pedestal that signifies success and monetary aspirations. The same can be said of other luxury brands like Tiffany, Mercedes, or Hermes. The impact of how the Rolex brand is perceived is just as important as the products the company produces. A simple Google search on “investing” in items like luxury watches and even luxury designer hand bags yields multiple results, so it should come as no surprise that some collectors of these items view these collectibles as a form of serious alternative assets.
A beginning collector looking to enter the market for luxury watches needs to understand that it is quite costly to make a mistake in this segment of the collectibles marketplace. However, most experts agree that if one has the money to purchase a modern era Rolex or Patek Philippe watch, they may actually be better off going after a more popular vintage one due to the possibility of getting it at a discounted cost and also being able to benefit from the possible price appreciation of the item in question, should the collector choose a watch with continual collectible demand. An example of this is one of the company’s most popular watches. The Rolex Submariner currently has a price tag of around $9,000 if you were to buy a factory fresh model on the market today. Where you buy it can also impact price. Believe it or not, some watch enthusiasts claim it is better to buy a watch of this caliber in an affluent area where multiple luxury watch dealers reside to be better able to negotiate a price for a watch. Ironically, a vintage Rolex Submariner watch may have fewer “bells and whistles” than a modern day model, but you may be able to get it for only $6,000 to $7,000.
Playing in the higher end markets of luxury watches and even luxury hand bags is quite risky. Rolex watches are valued by their condition and their originality. Even vintage Rolex watches that were repaired using authentic Rolex parts can be worth less than a similar item that was never repaired before. If the watch comes with all original paperwork and packaging, expect to pay even more to acquire it. Some luxury watch collectors never wear their coveted timepieces, just like some collectors of expensive luxury Hermes hand bags never use them. Finding and buying a vintage collectible from one of these connoisseurs is ideal but quite tricky to find. That said, you have to wonder why someone would pay upwards of $6,000 for a watch and never wear it?
I like to comment on lesser known collecting markets from time to time, and I really like the economics behind collecting luxury items. I regularly look at completed and sold auctions that feature luxury watches and hand bags and am no longer surprised by the prices achieved. To those that consider these kind of markets to have an element of elitism to them, I ask you to reconsider. After all, we have no problem discussing the recent comic book that sold for $100,000 or the rare coin that sold for $1 million or more. The markets for luxury watches and hand bags may seem insane to some, but when compared to the greater antiques and collectibles marketplace where prototype vintage “Star Wars” figures now sell for over $100,000, I assure you, buying a vintage Rolex is a bargain to some.

Shawn Surmick has been an avid collector since the age of 12. He currently resides in his hometown of Boyertown, Pa., and is a passionate collector of antiques and collectibles. His articles focus on various topics affecting the marketplace


More Articles