Collectable Watches

The modern watch, as we know it, was first seen at the beginning of the 20th century. The automatic watch was invented by Harwood in the 1920s and perfected by Eterna in the late 1940s. During the 1960s the electronic watch was invented and finally the quartz watch made its appearance in the late 1960s, which almost killed off mechanical watches made in Switzerland completely.

Recently there has been demand again for new high quality watches. Many manufacturers are making more mechanical watches and this trend has had a knock-on effect on the vintage market. More people have started to appreciate and collect period quality watches, and they are buying them for their quality and as an investment. This increase in interest is driving up the prices.

The main factor in collectability is to buy a quality brand with a long history in watch making, although just because you have bought a Cartier or Rolex does not guarantee a collectable watch, as not all models are desirable.  The square Cartier Santos is always in demand but the hexagonal model is not considered to be desirable.

Brands that have always been popular with collectors are Patek Philippe, Breguet, Vacheron, Constantin and Audemars Piquet.  These makers have never mass-produced and this limited supply keeps the prices high.  However, you do not need to start at the top if you want to start collecting watches.  The 1960s steel Omega Seamaster can be bought from about £300, while a Cartier Must Tank is around £500 and a Rolex steel Oyster Precision would cost upwards of £600.

A big factor in collectability is historical importance.  The Rolex Oyster was the first waterproof watch, the Omega Speedmaster was the only watch worn on the moon and the Jaeger Le Coultre Memovox was the first automatic wrist-alarm.  All three are still produced and hold up to 75% of their value second hand.

Original models which were not mass-produced are sought after by collectors and command high prices.  An Omega Speedmaster from the 1960s would have cost less than £100 when new, which was a lot of money at the time.  One was recently sold at Bonhams for £1,140.  Re-issues of older watches like the Tag Heuer Monaco, Carrera and Autavia create a renewed interest, which drives up the prices of the original models.

Modern watch trends can also affect the values of vintage watches.  The current trend for larger watches has caused the values of 1940s to 1960s men’s watches under 32mm to fall and larger ones to rise. 

The ladie’s watch market is quite different.  Ladies don’t really care what is inside a watch – they want it to look good and be functional.  When buying ladie’s watches you can’t go far wrong with Cartier, Rolex and 1920s diamond set cocktail watches.  Some of these ladie’s watches are very small, but if you like them you can get them at quite small prices.

If you want to start collecting watches you should do some research.  It’s a good idea to look at the auction catalogues of Christie’s and Sotheby’s and note the sale prices.  You can also find a lot of information on the internet on sites such as Bonhams and many others.  Beware when buying on E-bay as there are a lot of fakes about.  Watches are a very personal item and you would probably want to try it on before committing yourself.  Try to establish a relationship with your local antique centre and shops as they will be able to give a lot of good advice.

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