Are Swiss Watches an Investment that so many say they are?
June 16, 2016
This is an Interesting read that may clear your mind before making an expensive watch purchase!
Despite the many miles of column inches devoted to Swiss luxury watches these days, it still amazes me how little is known about the basics. Don’t get me wrong – watches, certainly those of the mechanical variety, are complex things, and I’ve got no beef with anyone who fails to grasp the finer points of horology. I have only a loose hold on them myself.
But it does pain me when, even now, someone says to me, ‘a watch is a good investment, right?’, as if imploring me to assuage their conscience, still reeling after sinking the equivalent of a down payment on a flat into a shiny trinket that tells the time. The answer, I’m afraid, is almost always no.
I can’t put a finger on exactly where the misconception came from (those reams of column inches haven’t helped, admittedly), but if I had to lay the blame, I’d say Rolex should cop most of it. Not Rolex the company, but the watches themselves. Rolexes have a habit of holding or accruing value, particularly rarer models, and by extension it’s often wrongly assumed the same applies to every Swiss Made watch.
Rolex ‘Paul Newman’ Daytonas – so named because the actor was said to have worn an ‘exotic dial’ model given to him by his wife Joanne Woodward from 1972 until his death in 2008 – were a commercial flop on launch in the mid-1960s, and so relatively few were made. But in the 1980s, collectors started picking them up, and before long Rolex’s ugly duckling had become one of the hottest properties in the vintage market. In 2013, a model was sold by Christie’s for $1.1m (£673,000 at the time). Originally, it would have retailed for around $210.
But while this story – and there are others, chiefly from the darling of all watch auctioneers, Patek Philippe – illustrates there’s a buck to be made in the right watch, it’s not at all representative of the norm. Sink a few grand into a nice timepiece when that bonus drops, or to mark that big birthday, and you can be all but certain you won’t see a return on your investment. It’s a bit like driving a new car off the forecourt – in doing so, you say goodbye to a third of the moolah you’ve just handed the man with the pointy shoes.
This is all the more likely at the moment, because Switzerland has been producing more watches than it’s selling (exports in April were down 11 per cent year-on-year – ouch), and the glut is being soaked up by the grey market, which undercuts retailers by around 20 per cent, hitting pre-owned values simultaneously. Before you go bypassing the official retailers, by the way, don’t forget that brands may not honour warranties on new watches bought from the digital age equivalent of a man holding open his jacket and murmuring, ‘Wanna buy a watch?’