How to Buy Collectible Watches

How to Buy Collectible Watches

Watches are meant for keeping time, but many have a much more important significance. For example, your grandfather's Rolex does more than measure out seconds; it is an important family heirloom, a legacy. A fine timepiece from a well-known luxury brand can be the ultimate statement of prestige and status, saying as much about the wearer as the car he drives or the diamond ring on her finger. While run-of-the-mill watches are the standard choice of most people, collectible watches are in another category all together--often being hand-crafted of precious metals and gems.

Explore: The allure of watches is not only aesthetic, but mechanical. A watch's interior working and craftsmanship is just as important as its exterior beauty. People buy watches for different reasons: some because of the brand, some because they love the style, others because of the watch's functionality or special features. A watch collector should have a collecting criteria and stick with it. That is, collect what you like best and what attracts you most, but if you want to build a collection, try to choose a theme for your collection and go from there.  

Keep in mind that many watch makers are aware of the popularity of watches for collectors, and do their best to appeal to this market by releasing new models in limited editions--sometimes only 50, 100 and 500 of each model. The more complex or handcrafted a timepiece is, the more limited its production may be. This is the case with many well-known brands like Patek, Audemars, Vacheron and Blancpain, as well as newer brands with a boutique image, Svend Anderson, Grubel & Forsey, Jean Dunand, Richard Mille, Peter Speake Marin and several others. Others have even smaller editions: Roger Dubuis limits their watches to collections of 28, Harry Winston makes an Opus series of 6 or less. These watches are especially collectible for those collectors who look for exclusivity.

Discover: Find out what makes them tick. If you're serious about collecting, it's important to learn about watches-inside and out. For example, is a community for watch enthusiasts with information about the inner workings of watches, brand overviews, and information for collectors. Read up on watches and find out as much as you can about them before starting a collection, so that when you do begin, you'll make educated decisions and good acquisitions. Some things to consider when selecting a watch:

  • Accuracy - how well does the watch keep time?
  • Features - can the watch act as a analog or digital calculator? a calendar which never needs setting?keep important phone numbers?can be used when diving to hundreds of meters?double in a pinch as an altimeter, depth gauge, navigation system, and emergency locator?can it be used as a stopwatch? - the variations these days are endless!
  • Status - will the other company's negotiator be unconsciously swayed by the fact that I have a recognizable status symbol on my wrist?(Note - I believe that this is a legitimate question for some people!)
  • Ruggedness/Dependability - can I wear this watch in combat? can I wear it near strong magnetic fields? will it need a battery replacement at an unacceptable moment?
  • Aesthetics - is this watch a work of art?does it fit with my personal sense of taste?
  • Craftsmanship - what do the dial, case, and movement say about the skill and care of the watchmakers who made it?
  • Cost - how cheap can I get it for?

(Thanks to for this list.)

Budget: First, educate yourself about prices. There are a number of good books on the subject that can help you get a sense of what certain watches are worth. Then decide how much you would like to spend. Starting with a few good watches is the best way to start a collection. Once you have some collecting experience and knowledge of watches, you can move on to bigger pieces.

Experiment: If you're buying the watch in person, ask the seller to demonstrate its features. If you're buying online, check in with forums to find out what other buyers have thought of this particular watch. Ask an expert for advice on the technical aspects of the watch, and ask a friend for his or her thoughts on the aesthetic appeal of the watch.

Ensure: When collecting watches, always buy from an authorized dealer, who can guarantee the authenticity of the watch. Make sure you watch comes with the original box and papers, factory warranty and certificate of authenticity. You should also always make sure you keep all links, buckles and additional straps that may have originally come with the watch. If you want to resell the watch at some point in the future, these guarantees of authenticity and other items will help the timepiece maintain its value. If you buy at an auction, the auction house should be able to give you a full condition report as well as other information about provenance and authenticity.

Buy: Once you're sure you've found just the right watch, make sure you're buying from a trustworthy seller. If it's an online seller, read about the company and their website. Most credible websites provide detailed information about themselves. Make sure the website provides you with verified and secure online purchases. Read what their customers and the press have to say about them. Find out if the company has a reasonable returns policy. When you have done your due-diligence, buy the watch and enjoy!