Buying pre-owned luxury watches: Patek Philippe and Rolex timepieces still reign as top investment pieces

Patek Philippe, Pre-owned watches

Starting a watch collection? Here are auction houses you can look to, and some classics you should consider investing in

Ever considered buying your next watch through an auction house? If the answer is no, now may be a good time to start. Over the past five years, the world’s greatest auction houses have taken initiatives to woo consumers here, even though the auctioning takes place somewhere else. In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong is the auction capital while Geneva, New York and of course London continue to lead the scene in the West.

Auction Houses: The Big Four

Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Bonhams and Phillips are the Big Four. Luxury watch auctions are staged typically every quarter and some common themes include Important Watches, Fine Timepieces and Rare Watches but it’s not unusual for an auction to be styled without a theme. It is, however, always interesting when an auctioneer organises something specific like an Omega auction, or one focused solely on Rolex sport models or historical pocket watches.

Brands Commonly Auctioned

Lately, auctioneers have begun to offer a wider portfolio of brands apart from staples like Rolex, Patek Philippe and Omega. Vintage and contemporary watches by the likes of Cartier, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin have become more frequently spotted, and sold at good prices, suggesting that bidders are no longer strictly from the esoteric collector’s circle. An increasing number are people interested in acquiring a watch from an earlier era or at a better price.

The Focus on Rolex and Patek Philippe

Collectors who are primarily interested in growing the value of their collections inevitably focus most of their attention on only two brands: Rolex and Patek Philippe.

These two are the most hotly exchanged brands after all, not to mention the way they constantly hog the limelight and news headlines. But being great manufactures with immense watchmaking expertise, they produce large numbers of watches each year. Rolex, it is said, makes a million watches per year and Patek Philippe, around 50,000.

So even though the two brands are auction stars in general, and they make up the bulk of auction lots, not every model is a winning watch. Eager bidders are advised to study the market and observe key trends to avoid making rookie mistakes.

Rolexes To Invest In

When it comes to Rolexes, you won’t go wrong with a sport model. Timeless icons such as the Daytona, Submariner and GMT-Master II hold their value beautifully. Some like the Sea-Dweller have become recent rising stars thanks to Rolex’s new releases on the primary market. Indeed, what the manufacture does has a direct and almost immediate impact on the value of its watches in the secondary market. Yet not all sport models are desired equally. The Milgauss, the Air-King and Yacht-Master are some examples which have not garnered as fervent a following as its more popular siblings.

Demand for the Daytona is expected to spike in 2018 following the high-profile auctioning of the legendary Paul Newman Daytona owned by the actor-race car driver himself. That watch sold at a Phillips auction in New York for more than US$17 million (S$22 million), making it the world’s most expensive wristwatch. In anticipation of the soaring interest, Phillips is set to stage yet another Daytona-themed auction in Geneva in May called Daytona Ultimatum – the name speaks for itself. Bidders, get your paddles (and wallets) ready.

Similarly, prices for the GMT-Master II have been on the rise ever since Rolex introduced the Cerachrom bezel in the much-loved Pepsi red-and-blue colourway ref 116719BLRO. Vintage references like the ref 16710 have now reached US$9,000 (S$12,000), with rarer models like the ref 1675 breaking far beyond five figures.

The Submariner too remains robust in terms of secondary market value, while prices for the Sea-Dweller are beginning to move in an upward trajectory as a response to Rolex’s release of the new 50th anniversary Single Red Sea-Dweller in 2017, which has a list price of US$11,350 (S$15,000) and has yet to appear on the auction scene.

Patek Philippes To Invest In

Robust resale prices form the top reason why people always buy Patek Philippe when they can. The much higher average price point of its watches (in comparison with Rolex) precludes the majority of buyers from getting into this hallowed circle. That said, Patek Philippes aren’t all that rare and it’s quite possible to get one as long as you’re not too fixated on which one you’re getting.

On the auction scene, Patek Philippe models that break the million-dollar mark are increasingly common, attesting to their perennial popularity and ever-rising prices. Vintage Patek Philippes continue to be particularly sought-after especially the complicated models and even more so the stainless steel pieces.

When these two features combine, records get broken, which was exactly what happened in November 2016 at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction Four. One of only four in the world, a stainless steel perpetual calendar Ref 1518 made in 1941 sold for SFr11 million (S$14.84 million). In contrast, a similar model in yellow gold raked in only SFr598,000 (S$806,000) and a rose gold one took SFr1.5 million (S$2 million).

Patek Philippe chronographs and world timers are also deeply desired, as are Nautiluses. It’s highly unusual for any Patek Philippe to go unsold at any auction, although it has happened.

Still, auctions are a great avenue through which to acquire your next Patek Philippe, especially if you’re on the hunt for a vintage piece or something less mainstream, like a Golden Ellipse or an out-of-production Ellipse TV Screen. These may not be the hottest models on the market, but you can be sure they’ll hold their value as you “look after it” for the next generation.

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