By exchanging views and ideas, we can refine an overall understanding of any situation. This is, in fact, the key premise behind a new series of breakfast meetings, the first of which is recounted HERE. This time, the topic was much broader and instantly prompted a lively debate, whereupon it immediately became clear that value is both objective and subjective. But is this truly the case?
What objectively determines value?
Purely objectively speaking, the material used to craft a watchcase should be the primary considerations. Therefore, precious metals, such as gold or platinum, ought to be decisive factors when determining value. “Definitely not,” was the general exclamation from the gathering. Examples are legion, where such-and-such steel timepieces turn out to be more expensive than their golden counterparts. The speculative frenzies that broke out over the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak steel editions provide a very clear demonstration of this point.
After closer scrutiny, the material itself does indeed appear to be an explanatory factor of value. For instance, when a certain material becomes a signature for a brand or, simply, if it is a rarity. At present, we lack the hindsight to determine the long-term desirability of today’s more innovative materials. Only the future will tell whether ceramic, carbon, titanium, sapphire, bronze, or a particular alloy will significantly increase in value. At our meeting, however, it was not long before the notion of rarity returned to the center of the debate.
Consensus over complications
Another very clear aspect of value is complication. For here we are talking about pure watchmaking content. For any enthusiast of fine watchmaking, the movement is, without a doubt, the fundamental element. The technicality of the complication, ease of use, and chronometric accuracy were among the most sought-after qualities cited. A quick trip around the table revealed that the perpetual calendar occupied a special place in the hearts of our fervent collectors. Nearly 50% of them considered it to be the most desirable complication to own.
The chronograph and minute repeater ranked tied for second place. And the tourbillon, much vaunted by so many brands, appeared to have become (at least to our gathering) a somewhat trite concept. “It’s not a complication;” And, “There’s no point having it on a wristwatch,” being two of the most frequent remarks. Nevertheless, the beauty of a tourbillon continues to be an appealing factor for the end customer.
This brought us to the importance, for all the gathered enthusiasts, of the finishes used in watchmaking. A watch’s overall functionality is, of course, crucial, but the quality of finish is just as important. Flawlessly executed finishes, like chamfering, beveling, delicate circular-graining, Geneva striping, and alternating matte, brushed, satin, and mirror polishing are all extremely sought-after flourishes.
Role of the secondary market
A key point to emerge from the debate was the importance of not confusing the initial retail price with actual value. Catalog prices are widely available to the public, thereby resulting in false impressions of market transparency. However, the collectors present felt the true value of a piece is found on the secondary market.
Hence the increasing importance of auctions and pre-owned selling platforms, such as the one recently launched by Bucherer, whose autumn sales numbers confirm the leading place of the usual industry giants, with Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet forming the bulk of the trade. With that said, there does appear to be a definite interest in independent watchmakers on the secondary market, albeit it’s proportionally smaller.
The quest for rarity
In the end, one thing became clear from their discussion: ultimately, it’s rarity that dictates value. Whether it’s the rarity of a particular material, a limited edition’s lack of availability, or even a one-off piece, rarity inspires desire and envy – as shown by the results of the Only Watch 2019 charity sale (see here for results). Likewise, a rare complication, such as the minute repeater, cathedral gong, or astronomic watch, is enough to spark excitement. Finally, the collectors also considered the rarity of superlative finishing to be of enormous value.
As is often the case, it’s difficult to set rules. The gathering nevertheless agreed on the existence of a two-tier market. Which is composed of, on the one hand, those who buy a timepiece for what it represents. And, on the other hand, is composed of those who focus on the craft and artistry of fine watchmaking. The former group puts more importance on trends and brands. The latter group stresses the importance of the movement, the complications, and the finishing.
To conclude, the most important thing for our collectors was having a more long-term vision to avoid artificially inflating the market. Few of them, in reality, would think of buying with a watch as an investment vehicle only. Most often spoke of their love and passion for watchmaking. As we all well know, true love knows no bounds.