Keeping the box, accessories and paperwork that came with the watch can be key. “The paperwork is particularly important as it will give an insight into the watch’s history,” says James Constantinou, founder of Prestige Pawnbrokers. “Some boxes are quite elaborate, they can even be limited edition. Links can be very expensive to replace, so keeping hold of any that are removed will be beneficial for the next owner.”
The condition and originality of a watch are also crucial. From the bracelet to the hands, a non-original or damaged part will reduce the value, so regular servicing is essential, says Simon Freedman, founder and owner of Regal Time, based in London’s iconic Gray’s Antique Market.
“The smooth functioning of the movement inside your watch depends upon a variety of lubricants,” he explains. “If these are not ‘topped up’ every three to five years, parts will begin to rub and erode and will then need to be replaced. This not only incurs an on-the-spot cost to the owner but also dents the long-term value.”
Views on the merits of polishing watches have also changed. As originality is now a crucial factor in timepiece value, patina has become more valued and polishing has become increasingly frowned upon by serious collectors.
“The key to increasing the value of a luxury watch is to allow it to age while regularly having it serviced,” says Freedman. “That means allowing exterior features to age while maintaining the interior movement. Features such as faded bezels and patina on hour markers or on the dial are now sought after and command high prices. Vintage is in and it’s here to stay.”
Buying a watch with the goal of making money on a future sale, in principle, is a bad idea. What might be fashionable and desirable now might not be in several years time, and vice versa. As a collector, the only sensible option is to buy what you like, says Chris Mann, who runs a monthly event for watch collectors in London and a weekly podcast, Time 4A Pint.
He says: “When it comes to buying brand new watches, with a few exceptions, you will lose money in the immediate future, and it may take years for the value of the watches to appreciate, if indeed they ever do. Exceptions tend to be short production runs or limited editions. Those that have done well out of buying and selling these watches in the short term, between three and 10 years, tend to leave them sealed and unworn in their boxes and sell them as demand increases."
For those that buy new, and wear their watches, maintenance is key, which doesn’t always mean returning the watch to the manufacturer, as they can and do remove period-correct parts and replace them with later service parts as the watch ages, which decreases market value. The same applies to vintage watches.
“Tracking down a great watchmaker is important,” adds Mann. “The manufacturer is rarely the best place to send a watch if you want it to retain its original character and value. It’s also worth joining one of the many watch enthusiast communities for impartial advice, because people there have already made their own mistakes, and you can learn from them.”
- Keep original packaging and accessories
- Service the watch but allow appearance to age
- Buy pieces you like, rather than what you think will be valuable