If you ask advice from a collector about a watch as investment, he or she will invariably say: buy a watch because you like it. If you want to have something precious and see its value go up over the years, buy a bar of gold.
But even a collector likes to be able to sell a watch at the same or a higher price than he bought it, so that he can try something else. And many collectors will tell you that there are two brands that perform reliably from this point of view: Patek Philippe and Rolex. I was surprised to hear that the most collectable watches by Patek Philippe are those in steel. It’s partly because that’s where the demand is highest, and partly because Patek Philippe don’t make many of them. They don’t want to be considered as a brand making steel watches. So if you want a watch like the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, reference 5524, you have to be prepared for a long wait, and they are going to prefer clients who have already bought Patek Philippe watches.
With Rolex it’s a similar situation, but at a lower range of values, from about $4,000 to $9,000. Watches like the Submariner, the Daytona and the GMT have become icons, familiar to most people. This is what sets Rolex apart from other brands: it retains a relatively small number of models, and every year the new pieces are mostly variants on existing designs. It’s this unswerving, disciplined focus that has brought it to its position of top-selling high-end watch brand, and ensures that a Rolex will at least retain its value over the years.
Many brands make limited-edition watches. These can be a proposition in terms of investment value, particularly if they are relatively well-known brands such as Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, Breguet, A. Lange & Söhne, F.P. Journe. But you’ll have to wait, so make sure you like what you’re buying.
A few other miscellaneous tips from collectors. If you buy a vintage piece, no longer in production, there will already be a market that you can check to see how prices are going. If you are buying a new watch, consider buying it across the border to save on the VAT.
Patek Philippe in the first five places at the first Phillips Hong Kong watch auction on 1 December 2015