A watch is many things. First and foremost (arguably), it’s a timepiece. Beyond that, it can be a fashion statement, a status symbol, a personal assistant, a very expensive calculator, and so much more. For many collectors, a watch can be another thing: an investment.
Excuse the pun, but some watches are timeless. Certain watches can be passed down from generation to generation or put away for years and pulled out only for special occasions, and they will still look as nice and work as well as they did the day they were bought. Of course, if you want a watch that’s going to stand the test of time (puns can’t be helped), you’ll need to spend a little extra.
When looking to invest your hard-earned money into a nice timepiece, it helps to know which watches retain their value and reward a smart investor. Here are some of the watches that hold onto (or increase in) value the best.
Mechanical or quartz?
From a purely functional perspective, quartz watches are superior to mechanical watches. I realize even when solely discussing technical merits, that will be a controversial statement. If the main purpose of a watch is to keep track of time (again, arguably), then the fact that even a cheap quartz watch is more accurate than the best mechanical watch is hard to dispute.
Yet, the reasons some watches are valuable these days rarely have anything to do with accuracy. While precision craftsmanship does make for a more accurate mechanical watch, the most expensive watch brands in the world (think Rolex and Patek Philippe) can demand a high ticket price because of their style, technical sophistication, and, of course, reputation.
Even the most sophisticated quartz watches are the product of modern technological advancements, and anyone who has bought a laptop or mobile phone knows that technology doesn’t hold onto its value. For this reason, the classic mechanical watch, with its connection to the historical production of timepieces, is far more likely to have a high initial value and then retain that value.
Luxury or mid-range
On the one hand, a luxury watch that costs thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars has a lot of value to lose, especially with wear and tear. On the other hand, luxury watches have a high initial value exactly because they are expected to retain their value. In that way, it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but what isn’t in economics?
When you pay for a mid-range watch like a Citizen or a fashion watch like a Fossil, you’re not so much investing as paying for a top-notch accessory. If you’re spending two or three hundred dollars on a watch, ideally you will get quite a few years of wear out of it. Just don’t expect to be leaving it to your grandkids. Not only are most of these watches not designed for the long haul, but they also tend to have very specific designs that will probably look dated in a few years.
If you’re concerned about having a watch that will retain its value, you need to think of luxury.
Which watch brand holds its value the best?
I could ask a stranger on the street to name a brand of watchmaker and odds are, the first answer from most of them will be the same: “Rolex.” Rolex established itself in the early years of the 20th century and has rightly maintained its reputation as a maker of exquisite timepieces which is part of the reason these watches are seen on the wrists of wall street investment bankers and celebrities around the world.
It’s also the main reason we suggest an entry level Rolex as a graduation gift, not only is it a classy way to honor a student who has completed a major milestone in life, if well maintain can be a family heirloom and valuable investment to hand down to future generations which you cannot say about many gifts.
Rolex was also very culturally savvy. Rolex watches appeared on Sean Connery’s arm in the first canonical James Bond film, Dr. No. They also accompanied climbers to the top of Mt. Everest. As a company, Rolex smartly found a way to thread the needle between being well-known without ever losing their cachet as a luxury brand.
For that reason, it will probably not surprise you to learn that of all watch brands, Rolex is repeatedly listed as one of, if not, the brand that holds its value the best.
In fact, not only do Rolex watches hold their value, some of their lines, like the Deepsea Sea-deweller (check current prices on Amazon) have tended to increase in value over time.
I love watches shows like Antiques Roadshow PBS and this has to be one of the coolest short clips. I love the humble guy and the genuine surprise when he finds out how much its worth. Good thing he kept the original box and paperwork!
Looking beyond Rolex
While Rolex may have captured broad cultural awareness, it’s hardly the only luxury brand, especially among aficionados.
Consider Patek Philippe which produces two of the most expensive watches in the world. This Swiss company has been in the game since 1851 and now, in addition to their reputation for luxury watches, is also known for making some of the most intricately designed timepieces in the world.
Like Rolex, on basically any list of watches that best retain their value, Patek Philippe will make an appearance.
Other brands that reportedly hold their value well (if not quite as well as Rolex) are Jaeger-LeCoultre, TAG Heuer, and Omega. All of these brands have one thing in common, as do Rolex and Patek Philippe: they are all Swiss brands.
For anyone who knows the history of watchmaking, that will be no surprise. Switzerland has been the home of the most finely crafted watches in the world for nearly two centuries.
When people want beautiful mechanical watches, they think Swiss. That’s also the case for people who are looking for watches that hold their value.
Is a watch a good investment?
Up above, I said that a watch could be an investment, and in a certain way, that is absolutely true. In another, more technical sense, though, it’s probably the absolute wrong way to think of a watch or any luxury fashion item.
Remember how Rolex appearing on James Bond’s arm helped catapult the brand into the popular consciousness of the world? Brands are always trying to recapture that magic with different branding campaigns and product placements. Sometimes these campaigns work amazingly, sometimes they backfire.
That is to say, with something as beholden to cultural shifts and fashion tastes as a watch, it would be a big mistake to treat it like it were stock or bonds. Rolex is on top of the world right now and isn’t likely to topple anytime soon, but anything could happen. A cultural misstep could send the value of your watch tumbling.
If you’re serious about starting a watch portfolio check out these quick tips and top 4 brands to consider investing in:
Yes, a watch is an investment, but mostly in a personal sense. If you’re buying a watch, you should buy one that fits your style and personality. Those are the most important factors; resell value should be a secondary concern, at best. While there is a surge in smartwatches and even hybrid smartwatches, it’s unlikely these will ever hold their value. Technology advances at a frenetic pace and any gadget or device that relies on tech features will likely lose value over time as technology gets more advanced.
These watches will most likely end up being outdated, just think of your first laptop or cell phone. I remember paying almost $2,000 for my first laptop, I can now buy a “low-end” laptop for a fraction of the price but it has 5 times the memory and processing speed that my original one had.
Point being, if you are looking for a long-term watch investment, stick to classic watchmakers, not cool new gadgets.
Whatever reasons factor into your watch-buying decisions, never buy a watch that you don’t personally love. That’s the value that really matters.