Pleasure & Investment Watches
by Alexandra Moulin
Volatile stock markets, pricey real estate, insecure trust funds – the time has come to move away from intangible assets and invest in pleasure. The pleasure of owning luxurious accessories and noble objects to use for exceptional occasions may turn out to be more profitable than other investments.
A legendary timepiece, elected “most iconic wristwatch of the XXth Century,” Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona set a world record as it was auctioned in New York for over 17 million dollars in October 2017, after a twelve-minute bidding war. Purchased in the late 1960s by Paul Newman’s wife Joanne, this relatively simple watch, a stainless-steel chronograph with an exotic dial, changed the game for watch collectors and vintage markets; the product of the sale was used to finance large projects of several Newman charity foundations. It was a dream incarnation of major profit gain with a magic icon.
A treasure quest
A true passionate expert on watches, brands, and the luxury industry, Louis Westphalen, Head of Digital Marketing and Heritage at Breitling in Switzerland, describes the process of investing in precious timepieces not only as a money maker, but also as a source of happiness. Like Paul Newman’s Rolex, vintage timekeepers can be worn and accompany their owners over a long period of time, unlike vintage cars which require large storage spaces or vintage wines which are gone once enjoyed.
Should one want to maximize the financial profit, Wetsphalen recommends to aim for rarity. Ultimate manufacturers such as Patek Philippe intentionally limit their production to small series, hence maintaining highly praised timekeepers. Overall, look for rare features, like vintage watches branded with both the manufacturer and the retailer’s names – a popular trend before brands expanded their branding efforts and overpassed retailers’ notoriety. Sign your looks with the audacity of distinguished models such as Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak. Enjoy your quest for enameled or black dials, which are very in-demand as of late. Bargain-hunt small sized watches, like historic 32mm-dials, an industry average in the 1950s, now upscaled to 40mm for contemporary pieces. Seek for barely used materials, such as antique timekeepers made from platinum (a difficult material to work with) or elegant and dressy designs amazingly crafted in steel, to comply with specific religious beliefs. Bare in mind that rose gold was underused in the 1950s, to the benefit of yellow gold.
Explore, enjoy, and don’t crack under the budget pressure, as no minimum amount is required to achieve future profits. Yet, impeccable condition is something that you can’t compromise on, from aesthetics to original spare parts. Purchases in the $3,000 USD range can turn out to be highly rewarding, as long as the object is pristine. In the price assessment process, keep in mind that traceability of the timepiece is not systematic. High-end major players like Rolex and Omega have produced unregistered large series, whereas Vacheron Constantin or Patek Philippe have intentionally kept records of each manufactured item. To sound like an expert, Louis Westphalen recommends to talk about “small series” vs. “limited editions.”
Vintage or contemporary?
There’s no steadfast rule for this. Major auction houses hold vintage sales and feature collections of most high-end brands and expensive models, adapting their catalogue to their local audience. Geneva and New York collectors praise vintage pieces, whereas auctions in Dubai and Hong-Kong perform better with modern timekeepers. As for contemporary art’s major auctions, famous collectors like American Eric Ku or Italian Davide Parmegiani make the market; visit local auctions in more humble houses to unearth accessible timepieces.