Whenever you hear about an old watch fetching hundreds of thousands of pounds at auction, you probably get a pretty consistent image in your mind: a sensibly styled piece of medium proportions, with a simple, uncluttered dial, a leather strap and probably a gold case. Most importantly, the name on the dial would read something like Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin.
Seeing these pieces sell for stratospheric amounts reminds us that the deciding which luxury watch to buy is not just a personal investment, but potentially a shrewd financial one too. If your goals are more profit oriented, should you stick with the tried and tested styles of old or is it acceptable to buy a more modern piece and hope it will mature in value?
In recent years we have seen a shift towards oversized watches. What we don’t yet know is whether or not these wrist-giants will hold their value over time.
A classic watch is always going to do well when it goes under the hammer. Timeless design rarely lets you down. But one negative aspect of classically styled watches, especially those by the big brands, is that they are never cheap. They may well weather the years well, but only if you can afford to make a massive investment to begin with. The advantage of trend watches is that one or two models always stick. Big watches may well fall out of favour (although this seems unlikely given the increased emphasis on multiple complications), but even if they do there will be new classics left behind. The trick is trying to figure which models will be the Hamilton Venturas and the Bulova Accutron of 2015, because the function of a modern watch goes beyond its pure operation and strays into the world of fashion and status. The watch must be current. It must be cool. And coolness often becomes collectible.
Furthermore, the inherent quality of ‘entry-level’ luxury watches is improving. There is a much higher residual value to modern pieces. The goal is picking out a brand that is either on the up and selling a technically meritorious piece at a low price, or going for something that strikes you as a design classic. For an example of the latter category, look no further than SEVENFRIDAY watches – mechanically mundane, but stylistically sublime, for around $1,000 you could strap a piece of history to your wrist.
In conclusion, the scope of what is considered a classic and collectible watch is ever-widening. New materials, new icons, the rapidity of change in the world of fashion all combine to saturate the market with intriguing and perennially desirable watches. For let us not forget, as commonplace as the Rolex Oyster looks to us today, there was once a time it was as novel and jaw-dropping as the MB&F HM4 (the ‘flying panda’ watch). And although we can never be sure what the future holds, one thing I’d be willing to bank on is the collectibility of big, beautiful, modern watches.