Tag Archives: rare watches

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.

 

 

Rare Rolex Sells for $5 Million

rolex bao dai 5 million Five million dollars is a lot of money to spend for anything. For most people, they’d expect to get real estate for that kind of money, and probably a lot of real estate, at that.

In this case, we’re talking about $5 million spent for a single wristwatch, the so-called “Bao Dai” Rolex.  This watch bears the name of its first owner, Bao Dai, who was the last emperor of the Nguyen dynasty in Vietnam.  He purchased the watch in Paris in 1954.

Officially, the Bao Dai Rolex is a Rolex Reference 6062.  The timepiece features a gold case with a black face, and is one of only three such models sold.  Making this one unique is that it’s the only one of the three that had diamond markers on the even numbers around the face.  The watch is a certified chronometer with a sweep second hand, a moon phase indicator, and a display that shows both the day of the week and the month of the year.

The $5 million is the most money ever paid at auction for a Rolex, and this isn’t the first time that this particular watch has held the title.  It previously sold in 2002 for a then-record $369,000.

While watch collectors seek out pieces that are unusually rare or which have unusual features, they’re also attracted to models that have unusual provenance.  Watches with famous previous owners usually fit into that category, and this one is no exception.

This sale continues the trend of unusually high priced watches selling well in a market that is slowly growing a bit stagnant.  That’s not to say that the market is sluggish, but it’s sluggish in the mid-to-somewhat-high-priced range.  It’s not stagnant in the upper end of the spectrum, as the people who would buy such pieces have finances that are likely to remain stable over time.

Watches like this one also rarely come to market, so the opportunity to buy them is equally rare.  In those case, buyers always seem to find the money to pay for them.

While a number of bidders were at the auction to bid in person, the ultimate bid was placed over the phone by a buyer whose name remains a mystery.

Though the $5 million price is a record for a Rolex, it is not a record for the most expensive watch ever sold at auction.  That belongs to a Patek Philippe Reference 1518 that sold for more than $11 million in 2016.

That’s a lot of money for anything, even for a one of a kind Rolex.

Is the Watch Market Due for a Correction?

The rare watch market, particularly as it concerns mechanical wristwatches, is an odd duck as collectibles go.  Most people don’t even wear wristwatches anymore, as they have their smartphones to tell them the time.

Despite this, and the decades-old trend towards quartz movements in the timepiece industry, the market for rare and unusual timepieces seems to be insatiable.

Just a few years ago, during the Great Recession, watch manufacturers were concerned about going out of business due to the lack of demand worldwide.  In less than a decade, this has changed dramatically, and makers such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Breitling and others are suddenly churning out tremendous numbers of watches.

Many of these are limited editions, with unusual features – moonphases, a tourbillon, lots of gold, lots of diamonds, and often with production numbers that are well under a hundred pieces.

Some of these also have prices that are well north of $50,000.  A few even have prices that go into seven figures, as seen below:

One would think that the market for such things would be saturated by now.  Everyone has but two wrists.  You can only store so many watches in your case.  The limit for the number of $10,000+ timepieces that someone might want to own would seem to be finite.

Yet production continues, and people are snapping up the limited edition items as fast as they can come off of the assembly line.  Much of this is due to the explosive growth of the economy in China, and people there are quick to want to show off their success.  One way to do that is to show people that you have “Western” symbols of success, and expensive automobiles and luxury watches are a great way to do that.

Rolex Cellini

Because of this, a surprising number of these expensive watches have found their way to Asia, and that does leave some people in the industry concerned.  If all of those watches are over there, what happens if there’s an economic collapse?

Another issue is that there is a seeming glut of vintage pieces for sale right now.  You might flinch at the price that you’ll have to pay for a brand-new Rolex, for instance, but you can buy one from the 1970s or 1980s that’s in great shape and which still has the Rolex pedigree for a lot less money than you’d pay for a new one.

Savvy collectors know this, but the newly wealthy in Asia don’t care…today.  That may change if the market gets a little shaky.

There are a few other factors that suggest that a market correction may soon be in order:

  • Anti-corruption laws in China now make it difficult to bribe public officials, and high-end watches used to be the currency of choice for that.
  • As sales have increased, so have prices, and a lot of would-be buyers are starting to balk at prices that have doubled or tripled in recent years.

It’s hard to say if the market is going to collapse, or fade, or just quietly slow down.  But as anyone in manufacturing can tell you, double-digit sales booms don’t last forever.

Sooner or later, and possibly sooner, there’s going to be a downturn in the high end watch market.  The biggest driver of this, of course, will be the overall economy, and if there’s a global slowdown in the stock markets, then the luxury goods markets will soon follow.

Now might be a good time to start investing in vintage timepieces, rather than limited edition new ones.