Category Archives: Fine Watches

The Growing Appeal of Vintage Watches

Perhaps the fastest-growing segment of the watch collecting arena is the growth in the sales of vintage watches.  Sales of certain rarities in the world of horology have brought record prices in recent auctions, and this shows no sign of letting up anytime soon.

What’s the appeal of buying a vintage watch?  Wouldn’t most buyers be happier buying a new one?

In the case of buying a regular wristwatch, buying a new one makes sense, particularly if you’re interested in something that keeps accurate time.  Watch technology is constantly improving, and watches today are more accurate than watches of a generation ago.

But new watches in the high end of watch collecting – the likes of Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chopard, A Lange & Sohne, Richard Mille, and so on, are not only better than they used to be, but they’re also far more expensive.

This is particularly true in China, which has, in recent years, become one of the world’s largest market for luxury watches.  The Chinese government recently imposed a significant tariff on imported luxury watches in an attempt to encourage Chinese buyers to purchase locally manufactured goods.  This has done some of that, but it has also inspired many buyers to look for second hand vintage watches, which can sell for less than a new one.

For the most part, supply and demand comes into play when it comes to vintage watches.  There are only so many of any luxury watch available for sale, but older ones are going to be more rare, as some timepieces do disappear over time.  If there were 1000 of a particular model made in 1960, there are likely to be considerably fewer of them available today, and even fewer still that are in pristine, collector-quality condition.

Certain models, such as the Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona, were once commodities that no one cared about.  Today, any version of that watch sells for a price that’s well into six figures, and every one wants one.

vintage patek philippeOf course, there’s no way to know which watches are available today that people will want to morrow, but there are several brands, such as the ones mentioned above, that are always in demand and are always relatively limited in production.  Collectors are grabbing those and the prices are rising in response to the increased demand.

This has been reflected in the prices seen at auctions, particularly those by the most reputable of the auction houses.  One of the problems with buying vintage watches is provenance.  It’s not just a matter of making sure that the watch you’re buying is genuine, which is a common problem with Rolex, but ti’s also a matter of making sure that the watch you’re buying is completely original.

Many watches have been modified over the years, and a lot of Rolex watches have been modified, for example, to look like a Paul Newman Daytona when they really started out as something else.  When you’re buying from a reputable source, you’ll have a better chance of knowing that you’re getting the real thing when you pay. Of course, you’ll also likely pay more, as you’re paying for the expertise of the auction company’s experts.

All of this can still turn out to be a good investment, as prices on older, interesting watches from famous makers are rising daily.

The Most Famous Rolex

Luxury watches are not rare.  There have been untold thousands, and perhaps millions, of them made over the past two centuries.   Some watches have unusual features, are made from precious metals, and are manufactured in such limited quantities that they sell for millions of dollars when new.

Others become rare over time and valuable over time, perhaps because of unusual provenance.

paul newman daytonaThat’s the case with a specific Rolex watch that will soon be up for auction.  In this case, the watch is a model known as the Rolex Daytona, a watch that first became available in 1963 as a racing chronograph.

The watch didn’t sell all that well, despite the fact that it was available with many different variations and dial styles.  It was a slow seller.

And then, in the early 1970s, actor Paul Newman received one as a gift from his wife, actress Joanne Woodward.  Newman liked the watch and wore it daily for a decade.  The watch became identified with him, so much so that the particular style of Rolex Daytona is now known as the “Paul Newman” Daytona.

A “Paul Newman” Daytona watch can fetch six figures when it comes up for sale, as the watch had a distinctive look and dial style that most models did not.   It’s not any more rare than many other versions of the Daytona watch, but because of the connection to the actor, the watch has taken on a life of its own.

paul newman daytonaOwning a Paul Newman Rolex Daytona is a big deal among watch collectors and Rolex fans, but here’s an even bigger deal:  Next month, the Phillips auction house is going to auction off Paul Newman’s personal “Paul Newman” Rolex Daytona.

Apparently, Newman gave the watch as a gift in 1984 to a young man who was dating Newman’s daughter.  He wore the watch for many years, but as he became aware of its potential value, he eventually put it away in a safe deposit box.

The man, James Cox, now 52, has decided that it’s time to sell.  A portion of the proceeds will go to the foundation run by Newman’s daughter, Nell.

Experts aren’t sure about the price, however, and estimates range from a low of $1 million to as much as $10 million.  That’s the problem when something as famous as Newman’s watch comes to market – you never know who is going to be among the buyers.

While there will undoubtedly be a number of well-heeled watch collectors participating in the auction, potential buyers could also include collectors of Hollywood memorabilia, as well.

The record price for a wristwatch is a bit over $11 million, realized last year for a World War II era Patek Philippe watch.  It’s quite possible that Newman’s watch could exceed that price, but to date, there are no comparable sales to suggest a price range.

Last May, an 18 karat gold “Paul Newman” Daytona sold for $3.7 million at another Phillips auction.  While that was a Paul Newman Daytona, it wasn’t the Paul Newman Daytona.

That minor distinction could be worth millions.


Watch Warranties and What You Should Know

When you buy a wristwatch, you’re usually worried about the features, or how it’s going to look on your wrist, or whether it will be suitable for whatever favorite activities you have in mind.  You might even worry about whether it’s OK to get it wet or whether you can afford to pay for it.

One thing that most buyers don’t give to much thought to before making a purchase is the warranty.  Most watches sold today include a warranty of some kind, but they’re not all the same, and for some brands, you perhaps should be concerned.

watch warrantyWatches tend to come in two varieties – quartz electronic models, which are powered by batteries and electricity, and mechanical models, which are powered by a spring and mechanical moving parts.  Both of these types of watches can fail in time, and on a long enough timeline, every watch will eventually fail.

It’s when the watch fails that takes the warranty into consideration.  It can be very expensive to have a watch repaired, and for some relatively inexpensive watches, it might not even be worth spending the money to have them repaired.  On the other hand, if the watch, even an inexpensive one, was still under warranty, you’d likely be willing to have it repaired if the manufacturer was going to pick up the tab.

That’s why you should always find out about the warranty before making a purchase.

Most designer watch brands are sold with a manufacturer’s warranty against defects in materials and craftsmanship.  Most of the time, the duration of that warranty is two years from the date of purchase.  That covers probably 85% of the watches made.  If the watch fails during that time, due to the fault of the manufacturer, they will usually repair or replace the watch at their discretion.

broken watch

No, your warranty won’t cover this.

Some companies offer a shorter warranty of one year.  A few (Skagen comes to mind) offer a lifetime warranty.  That means that if the watch fails for any reason, ever, they’ll replace it.  That can be a huge benefit to owners of quartz watches, as quartz movements sometimes have a tendency to simply drop dead.  If you have a lifetime warranty, you just contact the manufacturer, get a return authorization, send it back, and they’ll return a running watch to you.

For higher end watches, the warranty is usually a formality.  Luxury watches are well-crafted and rigorously tested before leaving the factory, and legitimate manufacturing defects are fairly rare.  You’re not likely to buy  a defective Bell & Ross watch, for instance.

Furthermore, when you’re buying watches in that price range, most retailers will offer a warranty of their own that may cover some things that the manufacturer’s warranty does not.

A retailer-issued warranty can come in handy when buying inexpensive watches, as many low-end models, particularly those made by Chinese companies, are not usually warranted by the manufacturer.  Those brands are more likely to have factory defects, so it will be a huge help to buy from a company that will warrant the watch themselves.

Keep in mind that most warranties are valid for a specified length of time from the date of purchase.  For that reason, it’s a good idea to keep your purchase receipt so that you can show them when you bought the watch.  For some high end brands, you will have to register the watch at the time of purchase, so the company will have your purchase on record.

It goes without saying that warranties do not cover abuse or misuse.  Be sure to take care of your watches, and most of the time, the manufacturer’s warranty will take care of the rest.

An Interesting Watch from a Tennis Legend

There’s seemingly no end to the number of companies that are launching new ventures in the wristwatch market.  You can usually find them on Kickstarter, and we have to admit that many of them are pretty interesting.

Most are even reasonably priced, which is always a bonus.

Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987Others are looking at the luxury market, with pieces in the $5000+ range designed to attract attention.  Some do it with elaborate complications, and others do it by attaching themselves to famous people.

In the case of new watchmaker Avantist, they’re taking the latter approach with a new watch that is tied to tennis great Martina Navratilova.  Their new watch, named the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987, will sell for $8000, which is expensive, but not outrageously so, by luxury watch standards.

Of course, Ms. Navratilova will be helping to market the watch that bears her name, but her involvement is more than that.  This particular watch will have enclosed within it a piece of string from the tennis racket that she used to win her final Wimbledon title in 1987.

As there is only so much string on a tennis racket, this edition will naturally be limited.  In the case of this particular model, the edition will be limited to just 30 pieces.

It’s a nice watch with a Swiss-made ETA Caliber 2892 movement.  The watch includes a titanium case, sapphire crystal, and displays the time of day in hours, minutes and seconds, as well as the date.

The face of the watch is shaped like a tennis ball and around the dial is a small inset window in which a piece of the string from the racket is inset.  You have to look to see it, and it’s not easy to see even in the best photos.

But we’ll take their word for it that it is there.

The nice thing about this watch, at least from Avantist’s perspective, is that the ties to Martina Navratilova ensure that not only will the watch be of interest to watch collectors, but it will likely be of even more interest to collectors of sports memorabilia.

This ensures that the watch will sell out, that everyone will be talking about it, and that Avantist will get a lot of publicity out of the deal.

Your $8000 purchase price, by the way, includes an opportunity to meet Martina Navratilova in person.

No word yet on whether the watch is actually yet available, or if it has already sold out.  The Avantist Website is still rather minimalist, and it will not have a formal “opening,” if you want to call it that, until later this month.  For now, all one can do is subscribe to their mailing list.

Nevertheless, the upcoming release of the Avantist Legend Series Martina Navratilova 1987 seems to be attracting a lot of attention, partly because of the interesting marketing ploy and partly because Ms. Navratilova always seems to be a welcome figure in the news.

What we are particularly interested in, however, is to see what Avantist is going to do next.  Launching a company with a gimmick watch is one thing, but you can’t stay in business on such products.

What they do next is going to be the interesting thing to see.

Simplicity is Back

For years, watch manufacturers have been trying to out do themselves when it comes to technical innovation.  It’s not enough to have a watch that tells the time; you also have to provide multiple time zones, the tidal schedules, the phases of the moon, the barometric pressure, and whatever else a company’s engineers can dream up to stick inside a watch case.

simple watchThen you end up with something like the Patek Philippe Grand Complication, which is lovely, but so hard to make that there’s only one, and it wouldn’t matter, anyway, because if there were more than one, you still couldn’t afford it.

Watch fans love these kinds of timepieces, though they don’t necessarily want to wear them or carry them around.  They want to own them, and talk about them, and they’re great for a company’s public relations department.

At the end of the day, however, watch companies are in the business of selling watches, and ideally, selling a lot of them.  Elaborate timepieces with other-worldly complications are great for publicity, but you couldn’t sell a thousand of them if you wanted to.

People want watches they can wear every day.  They want watches that are practical for use at work, or at the store, or on a night out on the town.

They don’t want watches that have to spend time in the shop every six months for elaborate (and expensive!) maintenance.

That’s why few people were truly surprised at this year’s Baselworld convention in Switzerland to see that the sort of watch that a lot of major manufacturers were showing off had a feature that has seemingly disappeared in recent years.

Three hands only.

The industry seems to have scaled back a bit in the last year or two, partly due to a slump in the sales of high end watches and partly due to a perceived glut in the market.  In times of turmoil, it’s best to go back to what you know best, and that’s your basic, time-only watch with hands for the hour, the minute and the second.

Such watches will never go out of style; they evoke the basic necessity of a timepiece – they tell the time.  They don’t tell other stories, or draw attention to themselves for additional faces, hands, buttons, lights, wheels, tourbillons or any other gadget.

They just tell the time.

That said, they’re not necessarily simple watches.  Movements are constantly being refined and there’s a new trend in recent years to make watches as thin as possible.  People are looking for simple looks with oversized faces and thin cases.

Companies are complying and the result at Baselworld was a showing of tasteful and attractive, yet simple-looking timepieces that will look good today and will likely look terrific and continue to run well thirty or forty years from now.

Such watches may resemble the sorts of timepieces your grandfather bought back in the day, but rest assured they’re more accurate, built quite a bit better, and are far less likely to give you trouble of any kind than those timepieces of a generation or two ago.

Simple is back.

Want to Play Poker?

Every time we think we’ve seen the limits of what a designer can do in the way of mechanical watch complications, someone comes up with something radically new.  Granted, these new complications aren’t always necessary; in fact, they rarely are.

One doesn’t really need to know the phases of the moon, or the tide schedule, but watchmakers enjoy figuring out ways to put these things into their timepieces and collectors love them.

christophe claret blackjack watch

This watch can play Blackjack

That’s why there’s a bit of excitement over the new casino series of watches from Christophe Claret.  These three timepieces are fully functional mechanical watches in gold cases, so from the word go, they’re going to be exceptionally nice wristwatches.

But the models in this series also have unique complications, and we mean unique as in the literal “no other watches do this.”

The three watches in the Christophe Claret casino series allow you to play casino games, as each one features a unique, fully functional game on its face, along with a fully functional roulette wheel on the back.

The three games are Baccara (Baccarat,) Blackjack (21,) and Poker (Texas Hold ‘Em.)

The Baccara watch has three small windows near 12 o’clock that show the banker’s cards and three small windows near 6 o’clock that show the player’s cards.  A button at the 9 o’clock position shuffles the cards and a button at 8 o’clock distributes cards to the players while a third button at 10 o’clock organizes distribution to the bank.

christophe claret poker watch

The Poker Watch plays Texas Hold ‘Em

The Blackjack watch has three windows at the top of the face that display the dealer’s cards and six windows at the bottom of the fact that display the player’s cards.  In addition, this watch (as do the other two) has a fully functional roulette wheel on the back.

The Texas Hold ‘Em Poker watch allows three players to play Texas Hold ‘Em, ad the watch includes a full 52 card deck and all 98,304 possible card combinations for a truly randomb game.

These watches are attractive and astonishingly complicated, and it took the company three years to bring them to market after introducing the prototypes due to additional problems in fine tuning the complications.

Each watch is available in four slightly different configurations and all are limited in production to 20 pieces per case style.  As you might expect, pricing is not modest; these watches are all priced at close to $200,000 each.

On the other hand, if you happen to own one, you’re unlikely to ever encounter another owner.  They’re rare and exotic and truly amazing pieces of art.


Unusual Watch Case Materials Emerge

Sapphire watch case from HublotAside from appearance, most people don’t give a lot of thought to watch cases.  If you asked the average watch buyer what the case is about, they’d likely tell you that it’s to hold the movement.

In a practical sense, that’s pretty much all a case does, but that doesn’t mean that manufacturers aren’t spending a lot of time deciding what kind of materials to use in their cases.

Sapphire watch caseFor most watches, the material used for the case is stainless steel.  It’s relatively easy to work with, it’s a common material, it isn’t going to rust, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money.

You can coat it to give it a bit of color, but most of the coating processes will wear off with time and use.  If you want to keep the color and you don’t want a watch that just looks like it’s made from steel, then you’re going to need to find another material.

For high end watches, gold has long been the go-to material for offering a bit of luxury and a different look.  Gold (and platinum, as well) has a few drawbacks.  It’s expensive, of course, though that’s part of the appeal to luxury watch buyers.

Gold is also quite soft, and that can be a problem, as it scratches easily.  Gold has to be combined with other materials to make it more durable, but it’s still going to be quite a bit softer than steel.

With improvements in technology, a few manufacturers have taken to using other high-tech materials to make their watch cases, with varying degrees of success.

Here are a few materials that we’ve seen in recent high end luxury wristwatch cases:

Ceramic – This isn’t the stuff you work with to make pottery, but is instead a lightweight, durable material that can also hold color for life.  That makes it an ideal material for someone who wants a strong watch that can be offered in a wide variety of colors.

Carbon fiber – Carbon can be quite strong, (diamonds are made from it) and astonishingly lightweight, which makes for a great combination of properties to put in a wristwatch case.  On the downside, there’s nothing particularly luxurious about carbon, though it can appeal to people who are interested in rugged sports models and chronographs.

Damascus steel is a material we’ve seen offered from a couple of makers recently, and that’s rather interesting, as the process for making Damascus steel was reportedly lost sometime in the 19th century.  Damascus steel was used long ago in swords, and the process of repeatedly folding the material to get the impurities out leaves unusual striations in the material that make it quite unique and attractive.

Of course, calling it Damascus steel doesn’t make it so, but it’s a better name than “steel with lines in it.”

Damascus steel

Damascus steel

Bronze is a material we’ve seen in a few watches, and that’s kind of surprising, as bronze has a few qualities about it that make it not all that desirable to have in a watch case.  It’s rather soft and it’s also rather heavy and neither of those are endearing qualities.  On the other hand, bronze takes on a patina as it ages, and that patina can give the watch a unique look.  One can’t help but wonder if we’ll soon see copper watch cases for the same reason.

Sapphire – Yes, sapphire.  It’s expensive.  It’s difficult to work with.  It’s a material that can often look like plastic, which rather takes away from the fact that it’s a very, very expensive material.  How expensive?  Hublot makes a watch with a sapphire case, and it retails for roughly $60,000.

That’s a lot of money for a watch that looks like it might be made from plastic, but sapphire is attractive and does wear well.

All of these materials are interesting and if you have the money, they’re likely a good investment, too.  For most of us, we’ll just have to stick with stainless steel, and that’s fine.  Steel works well, and is cost effective.