Some of my personal viewpoints on watches and watch collecting, both retrospective and forward looking, but mostly reflective of current collector community, watch industry and market.
A mechanical watch is a miracle. It is one of very few things that has forever practical use and functions, requires impeccable precision and very hard skills, yet a human being is capable of creating from scratch using raw materials (gold, brass and steel, the making of which from further raw materials such as ores and minerals is a separate issue) and basic tools (again the making of these tools is off-topic, and while today some tool such as a lathe uses electricity as power, it is still possible to only use all non-electrical tools to create a watch).
There are still some great watchmakers in the modern era, though very few, who can and have made watches entirely by hand, without relying on computer and/or using modern machines, certainly no CNC. Such are George Daniels and Christian Klings.
It is the art of such traditional watchmaking that makes a mechanical watch so charming, and injects humanity and soul into the body of a watch. This is the foundation of the intrinsic value of mechanical watch, even though most of modern watches are no longer produced in traditional way.
Wristwatch is the only jewelry accessory a man can justify and take for granted to wear at any time in any circumstance. It can fit all kinds of clothing, or even a naked body. One can wear a watch under deep ocean, up on a high mountain, or even in outer space. One can wear the same watch every day, or a different watch on each different day. Either way is totally fine. A man can wear super expensive watch that catches everyone’s attention from a distance, or completely opposite, in a very much understated manner without showing off at all, depending on which watch to wear.
Mechanical wristwatches will be with us and not go away. They will coexist peacefully with smartwatches such as Apple Watch, and any wearable timepieces whether on arm, wrist or waist. A man always has at least one spare wrist that can wear a watch, and a mechanical wristwatch will only be more attractive in high tech ear when almost all consumer goods are digital in daily life.
Compared to wristwatches, pocket watches are generally undervalued nowadays (with exception to, well, exceptional examples such as Breguet Resonance), and will continue to be undervalued, simply because they are not wearable and can only be carried in pockets. This is fundamental and unfortunate, but from a different point of view, good for the sincerely passionate collectors to acquire their beloved watches at relatively affordable prices.
A watch, if treated as asset, has great liquidity, portability and density in terms of monetary value per gram. And its value is internationally recognized, across borders of countries and currencies. Because of this, when there are more and more watches breaking million-dollar barrier, more investors and funds will come into play, just like what happened in art market for centuries.
Watch collecting, especially of wristwatches, is still relatively a young hobby, and as we have seen it in the last 20 years, is getting mixed up with investment whether we like it or not. Today, many watch collectors think and care about price appreciation of the watches, and that’s just part of human nature, when money is in the picture. However, while any watch may be worth collecting purely for personal pleasure, the percentage of watches that are good for investment is very small.
When we try to analyze and judge the value of a watch, importance and rarity is the key. Other factors such as the look and condition are certainly important, but if we examine deeper, we will see they often reflect or redirect towards importance and rarity. An important watch, e.g. Patek 2499 or 3940, must be good looking for sure. It may not be rare, such as 3940 third series in yellow gold, and this will dilute its value and ultimately the market price. If it also rare, such as 2499, then its value must be high. In this regard, condition is part of, or a special case of rarity, and rarity means desirability. For example, Rolex 6541 is rare, and a 6541 in NOS condition is super rare hence justifies super high price.
Since we are on this subject, let’s talk about tropical dials for a moment. Apparently, tropical dials have become in favor since 20 years ago, not sure if this will remain in the next two decades. Tropical dials are supposed or meant to be rare. They do have nice look, when the color is even and just right. But original black dial looks the best to my eyes, and when it is authentic, it is more convincing than a who-knows-what-happened tropical dial, and it is rare too, maybe even more so.
As collectibles, watches and cars share certain common ground, though as stated above, watches are a lot more portable, beside being much easier to store and maintain. In addition, currently there is another big difference: it is all right to have a restored vintage car, but a vintage watch with refinished dial or replaced case back may have its value significantly affected. Is it too much emphasis on originality of a watch? Should we accept the fact that many vintage watches do not come with untouched dials and unpolished cases? Will the value assessment template for watches change in future? Time will tell.
Now, since originality is so crucial, anything that can prove it adds value to a watch, especially to an expensive vintage watch. Accessories like original papers and box are desirable, and actually also increase the rarity of a watch. Same for the provenance.
Provenance must be measurable, with concrete and solid proof. What always serves me the best and in a very simple way, is good pictures of the specific watch recorded in published books or on internet years ago. For example, my Omega 2915-2 FAP is featured in Goldberger’s Omega Sportswatches book. When the book was initially published, 2915 was not very expensive yet and the incentive to fake or Frankenstein it was quite low at that time. This 2915 picked by Goldberger for the book was obviously authentic and original, so is the exact watch that matches every detail in the pictures from the book.
Price of top vintage watches with solid proof of originality will only go higher; the same for the so called neo-vintage watches, as it’s much easier to identify originality of them. But most modern watches that are very hot right now (I would rather not to name them here) will eventually cool down, as their production is high enough and they are almost all preserved in new condition, therefore determined not to be rare as real top watches.
There are always great and top watches in any period of time ever since wristwatch was invented. Dufour Simplicity is a great watch of our time. It is important, rare, almost no way to fake, and should carry a price at least at the same level with a Rolex 6263 Daytona Paul Newman Panda. Or think about it this way: when a Tiffany blue 5711 can easily sell for million dollars, how much is the worth of a Simplicity made by the master himself?