Many collectors focus simply on watches they like — regardless of price and brand — while others opt for more significant historical pieces, while still others focus on one particular brand. Certain collectors only want limited-edition or bespoke timepieces, and others don’t shy away from popular models.
Some watch aficionados hold on to the watches they buy. Others buy and sell their timepieces, using the proceeds to buy even more watches.
Chances are you already have a few watches, so in essence you already have a collection. Some collectors begin by buying watches that they expect will appreciate in value, but like gambling, it’s no sure thing. Many retailers advise their customers to buy watches they fall in love with. If they go up in value, great. If not, they still have a watch they can enjoy.
“We try to steer people away from buying watches for the investment,” said Sotheby’s worldwide head of watches, Tim Bourne. “People should collect what they like and enjoy. Buy watches that are emblematic of your own character and personality. You should buy a watch where you see the appeal and it speaks to you. If you don’t connect to a watch, you probably shouldn’t buy it.”
In general, the more limited and exclusive the timepiece, the more collectible it is. Rolex Daytonas are highly prized, as are any Patek Philippe watches, because of the quality and iconic style, but also because they are produced in extremely limited numbers.
Once you know what you want, go out and find the pieces that fit your collection. Half the fun of acquiring watches is the chase — finding the perfect watch at the perfect price.
Buying New: To Wear or Not to Wear?
Some collectors prefer to buy new, keeping all the documentation and packaging so that the timepiece holds its value and is easier to sell when the time comes. Some of the collectors who buy new never even wear their timepieces, preferring to keep them in pristine condition in safes or display units. Other collectors, of course, love to wear their watches. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it.
Auctions are a prime source for hard-to-find, limited edition and historical timepieces. The most expensive watch that has been sold at auction was the 1933 Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication pocket watch, which went for more than $11 million in 1999.
You may need one particular model to round out your collection, or perhaps you are looking for pieces with historical significance, like Gandhi’s Zenith pocket watch. If so, auctions are for you. The most prominent auction houses with offices in Los Angeles are Christie’s (www.christies.com) and Sotheby’s (www.sothebys.com). But also be sure to check out the websites of top New York City watch auctioneers Patrizzi & Co. (www.patrizziauctioneers.com) and Antiquorum (www.antiquorum.com).
Many retailers accept pre-owned watches for resale or as partial payment for a new watch — a trade-in program if you will. This means you can often find older watches, depending on the model, in great condition at your local retailer at a significantly reduced price. Limited editions and certain models can cost more, even pre-owned. If a model has been discontinued, the pre-owned price could exceed the original purchase price.
Retailers who offer trade-ins will refurbish the watches they take in trade, offer their own warranties (typically two years) and provide verification of authenticity, so you can buy with confidence. Check out the retailers in your area to see which have such a trade-in program.
It’s not unusual for a collector to take a loss when selling part of his or her collection, but for many, the value is in the experience of having owned a timepiece with sentimental value. For these aficionados, fond memories live on long after the watch is sold.
One of the great pleasures of watch collecting is displaying the pieces you’ve so carefully acquired. Buben & Zörweg, a German display-case maker, is a favorite among watch collectors. Known for its high quality, the company offers an astounding array of options for displaying watches — everything from a simple wood watch box for $1,000 to a complete room built around your collection, which can set you back up to $2 million. Many of the company’s display units offer handy features like watch winders. And for collectors who want a display case that serves more than one purpose, the company incorporates music systems, impenetrable safes, humidors and wine storage into its cases.
Regardless of what kind of timepieces you prize and why, watch collecting can be an exciting and fulfilling hobby. Aside from the possibility that a piece will skyrocket in value, the enjoyment of owning exquisite watches is all the reason an aspiring collector needs to get started.