Unlike other collectibles, watches are meant to be used. Watches retain their value—and may even go up in price—even if they are worn. This is unique, and the opposite of what we normally think of with collecting. A collector of cars, for example, puts their prized vehicles in a climate-controlled storage facility/garage and shows them to their friends over cigars and cocktails. They seldom drive these cars because if they do, it can lose points each time because of the dirt, the wear and tear or the rock that flies up and nicks the paint. A watch is different. You don’t have to keep it in the garage. You don’t have to keep it in the vault. You can wear it. People are buying watches that are scratched, nicked, worn and loved. They can bring more money when they’re worn versus when they’re over-polished and restored. In fact, as some watch dials start toning and discoloring, they become what we would normally call flawed. However, as long as this toning is due to natural flaws, some of these watch dials can become exceptionally collectible. Rolex has dials with certain discolorations that are bringing $3,000 to $300,000.
There was a resurgence from the 1990s and onward toward mechanical, complicated watches. A new generation of watchmakers began making more and more intricate watches, especially in Switzerland. Complications, as they are known, include chronographs (stopwatch feature), tourbillons, phases of the moon and calendars. There are watches that tell you whether it’s day or night. Perpetual calendars know if there are 28 days, 30 days or 31 days in the month, without computers. Watchmakers also put movements under glass so you can see the inner workings. It’s like looking under the hood of the car; you can see the guts, gears and wheels moving around. These handmade mechanisms can take a year to make.
High quality brands are always in demand, like Rolex, Cartier, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. These days, it’s so easy to confirm the price of a watch. You can see what those watches sold at in auction houses over the last few years. Make sure the price is acceptable to you. You want to buy it from a place where they are standing behind the watch, its authenticity and that you have an after- sale service opportunity, so you’re not buying someone else’s problem.
Enjoy the piece or pieces that you buy. To buy a watch with an eye only for selling it is not fun. If you’re buying a watch that you love, you’re going to get your money’s worth out of it. The experience of wearing it transcends the dollar value. There are many vintage wristwatches that are 60 to 80 years old, made in America or Switzerland (Hamilton and Movado, for example) in solid gold cases, which can be bought for $1,200 to $3,000. They have a fun retro style and are sophisticated and unique.