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Antique watches: do you have to be a seasoned expert?

Antique watches: do you have to be a seasoned expert?

Friday, 24 October 2008
By Fabrice Guéroux
Fabrice Guéroux

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4 min read

The new market of aftermarket parts, used in the famous “authentic-fake watches”, has the wind in its sails and is likely to fool even the most knowledgeable collectors. Unfortunately, the pleasure of unearthing a rare timepiece has become rarer than the watch itself…

US$9,620,000 (€6,570,000). This was the result of the Antiquorum sale of 5 December 2007. The 402 watches in the catalogue included Patek Philippe, Rolex and Audemars Piguet, to name only the main brands. The market for collector’s watches has become a real social phenomena and an intelligent investment. But buyer beware! What makes a watch a good investment? Many people have come to believe that the determining factor is the condition of the watch. However, some watches, equipped with a barely-readable dial and timeworn, have reached record prices. The most important factors are the origin of 100% of the watch and the number of copies produced.

The watch equipped with counterfeit parts losses its value by 50 to 80%.
Aftermarket parts

Counterfeiting and the traffic of imitation watches on the internet has been talked about a lot. Millions of counterfeit watchmaking products are distributed each year throughout the world and a number of them are resold without any mention that they are fakes. But there is also another counterfeit market, for what experienced watch lovers call “authentic-fake watches”. “Authentic-fakes” because these watches have the distinguishing feature of being up to 80 or 90% “authentic”. Here, the points of view diverge. Some say this is not a real problem – happy to have a watch so close to authentic – while others, more experienced, find themselves in a real dilemma: whether or not to exchange the counterfeit part for an authentic one, which obviously involves considerable cost. The truth is a question of value: the watch equipped with counterfeit parts losses its value by 50 to 80%.

But how to know if the watch is an original and if the latter does not contain some “aftermarket” (counterfeit) parts? An original watch assessed at €5,000 will descend very quickly in price to €2,000 if it is equipped with a repainted dial or a re-done watch case.
A part called “aftermarket” is a part that has been made like the authentic part and added onto the watch. Hands, dials, watch cases, straps, winding mechanisms and backs are some of the most widely used parts. The market for aftermarket parts is much better disguised than that of the pure counterfeits because it is a lot easier to identify a completely counterfeit watch than a watch equipped with a repainted dial combined with an original movement, watch case and strap.

Rare Pleasures

Antique watches are most affected by this new market, which unfortunately has already been responsible for several thousands of euros worth of damage in 2008. On the internet, after an important auction, it is not rare to find more “red” Rolex Submariners than the brand ever produced, along with Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Omega Seamaster 300s, very rare military watches and even Rolexes stamped with the Comex effigy.


Aftermarket (counterfeit) Rolex Comex 5514 dial © Fabrice Guéroux
Aftermarket (counterfeit) Rolex Comex 5514 dial © Fabrice Guéroux

On 17 April 2008, a Rolex Milgauss 6451, a very rare watch much appreciated by collectors, was sold by Antiquorum for US$190,400. It would cost around €1,500 in counterfeit parts to “cobble together” the same but obviously fake model. And the unfortunate buyer would think he had found a great bargain, spending just €20,000 for it.

In truth, these products do not represent the slightest investment but rather a real loss of money for the owner. So, how to combat this growing confusion and these new aftermarket parts, the quality of which will increase proportionately to the expansion of the market for collector’s watches? For any purchase of a valuable collector’s watch, you must call upon an expert or get a guarantee from a known professional. Unfortunately, the pleasure of unearthing a rare timepiece has become rarer than the timepiece itself…

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