“You never know what will end up being a collectible watch,” Will comments under Watch Depreciation – 3 Ways to Avoid It. “Sometimes it’s the least likely things because no one purchased them. Or a common watch people abused, so the mint ones end up having a ton of value. It’s a guessing game.” So let’s guess. First . . .
What Is A Collectible Watch?
If you collect watches,you have a collection. The watches you collect are collectible. For you. For our purposes, a “collectible” watch is a timepiece that other people covet, either now but especially later.
Think proven pieces like a 1933 Ingersol Mickey Mouse watch ($1,739.96) or a 1960 Vintage Rolex Explorer 1016 Gilt Dial with Box and Papers ($26,150). And watches that might become collectible, like the limited edition Grand Seiko Godzilla ($12,500).
Buying collectible watches is a fascinating pursuit – to the point where some enthusiasts enjoy the hunt more than the kill. There are three basic happy hunting grounds.
New Limited Edition (LE)
Around a third of all of the new watches in our weekly New Watch Alert are “limited editions.” Truth be told, a great many of these LE’s will never sell out at full retail, never mind command a premium. Watchmakers use the illusion of scarcity to increase demand.
For the manufacturer, it’s a no-lose strategy. If demand exceeds supply, buyers feel special, frustrated consumers try harder next time (or buy used) and the profits makes the watchmaker’s accountant happy. If supply exceeds demand, who knows and who cares?
Only someone chasing “collectibility.” If that’s you, remember that a limited edition watch is no guarantee of future desirability. A collectible LE has to remain desirable. Or at least recover desirability.
Collectible LEs tend to have fall into one of two camps. Either they’re “of our time” (e.g., OMEGA James Bond, Donald Trump watch) or timeless (e.g., Ming Monolith). So either they’re nostalgia in the making or inherently desirable.
Future nostalgia watches tend to be gimmicky. Inherently desirable watches tend to be drop-dead gorgeous. In both cases, look closely at supply. A Rolex Explorer is a minimalist masterpiece, but Rolex makes a sh*t ton of them. Ming’s watches are truly beautiful – and truly limited.
Some LE’s are easy enough to buy. Hot LE’s require diligence, perseverance and timing. Avid collectors monitor Instagram, forums, dealer scuttlebut and watch blogs (need I mention any names?) and act fast. Or prepare to pay a premium. Or wait until a sold out items depreciates. Assuming it does.
Mainstream watch brands make a LOT of different watches. Many of them flop. When a watchmaker kills a model, the supply becomes finite. A small percentage of these discontinued watches go on to become collectible.
If you’re looking for an “orphaned” watch that will rise from the dead to become a sought-after collectible, gray market online dealers like authenticwatches.com are a great place to search.
While gray market dealers sell currently available models at a discount (especially now), hard core collectible watch collectors scan their selection of heavily discounted, discontinued models.
Identifying these future stars isn’t easy – and you have to wait years to find out if you were right.
The basic rule of thumb: buy a watch from a well-known brand (e.g., Bell & Ross, Montblanc, Ulysse Nardin, TAG Heuer) that’s distinctive but not wacky or weird – remembering that true beauty never goes completely out of style.
The easiest way to buy a collectible watch is to buy a collectible watch. A watch that collectors value: a vintage timepiece that’s proven itself over time. A watch that’s recovered from its original, inevitable depreciation (grail watches excepted).
It’s easy enough to tell if a particular vintage watch is becoming more or less collectible. Just check its price history. While vintage watches are still subject to changing tastes – and thus price – they’re not as susceptible as new watches. A vintage Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso or OMEGA Seamaster will always be a coveted timepiece.
The risk: buying a piece of crap.
Vintage watches are old watches [ipso facto]. Their movements are hidden from view. Unless you buy a timepiece from a reputable seller – preferably one who’s inspected and serviced it – you have no idea what you’re getting. Ever heard of a Frankenwatch?
A well preserved, entirely correct, fully functional vintage watch is collectible. A damaged, modified and/or non-functional watch is not.
There’s no precise way to gauge future demand for a watch. An educated guess is as good as it gets – based on research, practice and, crucially, Fingerspitzengefühl. A sense of the market.
To get Fingerspitzengefühl, most collectors specialize. Makes sense, right? The more you know about a particular genre, the easier it is to ID the good, the bad and the ugly.
Others buyers collect what they like. If the market rewards their taste, great. If not, so what? Unless you’re in the collectible watch business, I reckon the best strategy is to combine both a keen eye and a satisfied heart and hope for the best.