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.
Of 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.