Year: 2017

The Appeal of Owning a Rolex

vintage rolexThere are many brands of luxury watches, but one of the most popular is Rolex.  They have been making watches for a long time, and they have many established models that have been available for decades.

The company is long on innovation, and they haven’t resorted to mass producing their timepieces over time.  They still make them by hand, and their classic models – the Submariner, the Sea Dweller, the Datejust and the Explorer, among them, have had little change over the decades.

But they do change from time to time, and those changes, no matter how minuscule, draw collector attention.  The change might be as simple as adding a magnification window for the date or changing the color of the watch face or hands, but collectors do notice, and when this happens, prices for older models can go through the roof.

A pre-owned Rolex can be a good value, too.  While new models are quite expensive, especially with cases made of anything but stainless steel, older models can be a relative bargain.   I say “relative,” because rock-bottom for any working and authentic Rolex these days is usually in the low thousands of dollars.

There was a time when you could find a used one for hundreds of dollars, but we’re several decades beyond that now.  You should take care when buying a pre-0wned Rolex, however, as there are a number of things that need to be taken into consideration before you buy:

  • Is the watch genuine?  There are many, many fake and reproduction Rolex watches on the market, and some of them are quite convincing.  If you’re unsure of what you’re buying or you don’t know your seller, you should exercise caution and avoid buying if you’re not receiving some sort of guarantee.
  • Is the watch all original?  There are companies that take genuine Rolex watches and then modify them – adding color to the case via a PVD technique or adding diamonds or other gemstones to the watch that weren’t originally intended to be there.   While adding bling to a watch might make it appealing to some buyers, such models are no longer completely original and are unlikely to increase in value over time.

vintage rolexThere are several ranges of Rolex watches to consider.  Vintage models are those that are more than 30 years old.  There are some bargains to be had there, but many older models sell for lots of money on the second hand market.  Newer models, of course, will come at a premium, especially if you buy from an authorized retailer.

New models can sometimes be purchased through “gray market” retailers, but again, you should be sure that you know whom you’re buying from to be sure you’re getting the real thing.  There are many legitimate retailers who sell new old stock models at reduced prices.

The best bargains are to be found in models that are no longer new but which aren’t yet vintage.  These are often referred to as “discontinued” models and those are the ones who are currently “bottoming out” when it comes to price.  Before long, they’ll be considered vintage, and then the price will go up again.

A Rolex watch is not only a good watch to own, but it could potentially be a good investment, too.

Swiss Designer Watches Making a Comeback

Seiko Astron 35SQ
Seiko Astron 35SQ – The world’s first quartz watch

Both watch buyers and watchmakers have been a bit confused by the market over the past few years.  The emergence of so-called “smart” watches has made the market a bit unpredictable.

Smartwatches are wristwatches that can interface with a smartphone, allowing the wearer to track fitness statistics, control music on their phone and receive alerts when they receive email or text messages.   Smartwatches, led by the Apple Watch, have sold well, and have in recent years put a sizable dent in the sales of Swiss designer watches, which have led the market for decades.

While sales of traditional Swiss watches have slowed in the past few years, they have recently started to climb again, much to the relief of Swiss watchmakers.  Many have been in business long enough to recall the early 1970s, when the then-new quartz watches took over the market and threatened to put makers of traditional luxury watches out of business altogether.

That eventually passed.  Some companies went out of business.  Others adapted to produce a mixture of mechanical and electronic watches.  Luxury makers mostly doubled down on the luxury, producing better, more expensive, and more elaborate timepieces that appealed to well-heeled buyers.

That appears to be what is happening now, as people are starting to realize that Swiss watches have things to offer that smartwatches, at least for now, do not.  Mechanical watches, particularly high end ones, offer examples of fine craftsmanship.  They are accurate timepieces, and with care, they can run well and last for decades.

That is not the case with smartwatches, as it wasn’t the case with quartz watches of the early 1970s.  While there is a bit of a collector market for early quartz watches, working examples of early models are quite hard to find, as they simply weren’t built to last for decades.  In comparison, Swiss watches from the same era have done far better in terms of appreciation over the years.  There are few quartz watches that sell for a lot of money, though the now-rare Seiko Astron 35SQ, the world’s first commercially produced quartz watch, does sell for $6000 or so when it turns up for sale.  While that seems like a lot of money, it’s about what the watch sold for new when inflation is taken into account.

1970s Rolex
A 1970s Rolex has held up quite well, price-wise

Most buyers, however, would rather own a vintage Rolex or Patek Philippe from the same era, and those watches sell for far more now than they did when they were new.

Over time, many current smartwatches are going to end up in landfills.  They’re going to be replaced by newer models with more features, but they still will not likely be capable of working for years to come.  That’s the difference between electronic watches and mechanical ones, and buyers who respect the difference are now returning to buy the Swiss designer watches that they’d previously been buying for many years.

It will take years for all of this to sort itself out.  Many buyers of smartwatches are people who ordinarily wouldn’t wear a wristwatch, so they haven’t been affecting the mechanical market much at all.  Other buyers are simply novelty seekers, and a few are likely hardcore watch collectors who are interested in both mechanical watches and new electronic gadgets.

In time, the Swiss watch industry will make a rebound, and it looks like that is already happening.  According to Rapaport, Swiss watch exports were up 5% in June and that continues a trend that started earlier this year.

Still, if you’re sitting on a first generation Apple Watch, it probably would be wise to put it back in the box and save it for a few years.  Eventually, it will sell for a lot as a collectible…provided that it still works.

Do You Need a World Time Watch?

chopard luc time traveler oneThere’s a lot going on at any given time in the watchmaking world, as a big part of any luxury brand’s day seems to involve coming up with something that will attract the attention of buyers.

That makes sense, as the market is somewhat crowded and there are only so many buyers out there.  On the other hand, a lot of buyers own more than one watch and will gladly buy more if they see some new shiny thing that they don’t already have.  That’s why makers are always tweaking their product line, coming up with new complications, features, and precious metals combinations to try to attract people to buy.

One elaborate complication that we’re seeing more of these days is the idea of a world time watch.  A world time watch is one of the busier looking watches out there, and they tend to make a chronograph look rather tame by comparison.  If you’re the kind of person who likes a simple watch face, a world time watch is not going to be for you.

The term “world time” isn’t just a clever name; the watches are designed, more or less, to be able to show you the time of day anywhere on the planet.  The main display will always show you the local time, but most world time watches also have a rotating dial that will show you the time of day in 24 other places around the globe.

A good example would be the new Chopard L.U.C Time Traveler One, a limited edition model that also represents the company’s first attempt at a world time watch.  This particular timepiece uses the company’s own calibre 01.05-L movement and the timepiece will also display seconds and the date.  It’s also a self-winding automatic, and you can view the entire mechanism via the sapphire crystal case back.

You adjust the time via the crown at 2 o’clock, and you adjust the world time ring using the crown at 4 o’clock, which has a globe on it so you won’t confuse the two.

chopard luc time traveler oneThe end result is an interesting watch, but like all world time watches, it also has a very busy face.  If you’re just looking for the time, you’ll find this one a bit cluttered.  On the other hand, if you actually need a watch that tells you the time of day in 24 different time zones, what kind of person are you and what do you do for a living?

We’re not really sure that a world time watch is something that anyone really needs. On the other hand, if you’re a collector of gadgets, a fan of watches with complications, or just a fan of Chopard watches in general, this is one you’ll likely find to be interesting.  It may, or may not, be one that you’ll be adding to your collection anytime soon, depending on your finances.  The Chopard L.U.C Time Traveler One is available in stainless steel, rose gold, and platinum, at roughly $13,000, $23,000 and $36,000 respectively.

It’s nice to see that you can get it in steel, as the watch is essentially the same, aside from the case material, as the platinum version.  On the other hand, it’s roughly one third of the price.

As production is limited, this one will likely be hard to find regardless of your finances, so if you need to know the time in Burkina Faso, you might just have to ask someone.

An Alternative to the Smart Watch

smart buckleThe smartwatch has been around for a few years now, and it has caused a bit of trembling within the watch industry.  Unlike the quartz revolution of some 50 years ago, watchmakers don’t seen overly concerned right now that the smartwatch will put them out of business.

It’s the smartwatch industry that seems to have a problem right now – finding buyers who like watches.  They’ve already established their credentials among the geeks and fanboys who already buy any “smart” gadget that comes along.  The problem is that they cannot persuade people who are actually fans of wristwatches, and more particularly, fans of mechanical wristwatches, to come aboard and join the parade.

The truth is that it’s unlikely to happen.  People who collect watches realize that they can get more accurate time from a $20 Chinese-made quartz watch than they can from their Audemars Piguet.  The fact is that the Audemars is going to keep time that is accurate enough, while showing off the creativity and engineering prowess that they admire and which cannot be found in a bargain-basement quartz watch.

Many watch collectors view smartwatches as nothing more than dressed-up cheap quartz watches, and they simply cannot get excited about them.

What the smartwatch community needs to do is find another way to reach those millions of potential customers, and an interesting article that we found the other day suggests an interesting alternative – the smart watch strap.

While many watches have metal bracelets that are fixed, a lot of watches have interchangeable straps that can be replaced to suit the owner.  If the strap is leather, you’re likely to have to replace it from time to time, anyway, as leather straps do wear out with repeated wear.

A smart strap could use many of the same features that a smartwatch does, but would instead incorporate them into a strap that could be added to nearly any brand of watch, including some very expensive mechanical models.

Obviously, some care would have to be taken in order to make the strap attractive and allow it to blend in with the watch itself.  You’re not going to put on your very expensive and elegant looking Oris with a bright green plastic smart strap.   Makers could likely make them look like leather straps so that they wouldn’t draw attention to themselves.

smart buckleSo far, there hasn’t been a lot of action in this field, but one company is already marketing a “smart buckle” that will allow you to keep track of fitness statistics while wearing the strap of your choice.  It’s a good start.

Eventually, some sort of standard will probably be developed so that the Android and iOS developers can come up with a functional and attractive solution that will allow anyone to turn any kind of watch into a smart one without having to give up their mechanical movement or elaborate complications.

These things take time, but money is a big motivator.  The smartwatch manufacturers know that there is a large group of potential buyers who are simply not going to buy a smartwatch, now or ever.  The sooner they figure out a way to tap into that market, the sooner they’ll start making big money.

What is a Tool Watch?

Breitling avvenger Blackbird
Breitling Avvenger Blackbird

People have all kinds of reasons for buying luxury watches, and for buying watches in general.  That’s especially true of collectors, who buy things for all manner of reasons that may or may not make sense to non-collectors.

Most people who buy watches, however, buy one, at least initially, in order to have a device that will provide them with the time when they need it.  There are other considerations, of course, such as fashion, and that’s how people end up owning entire display cases of timepieces so they can use watches to accessorize their wardrobe.

That’s fine, and there are lots of people for whom that’s a motivator when buying a luxury watch.  But then there’s something known as  a “tool watch.”

The term isn’t that well known, and likely isn’t well known among the general public, but the term “tool watch” doesn’t refer to a Swiss Army-style device that has knife blades, screwdrivers or corkscrews built in. (Interestingly enough, Swiss Army does make watches, but they don’t have those features, either.)

No, a tool watch is a watch that has likely been purchased by the owner in order to perform some function or specific task related to their job or perhaps a sideline.  If you’re an airplane pilot, for instance, you will likely want to own a watch that can offer some features above and beyond simply offering you the time.  You might want a rotating bezel so you can keep track of elapsed time or you might want a timepiece that displays the time in multiple time zones so that you’ll always be able to determine the time where you’re coming from as well as the time where you’re going.

Other popular tool watches would be certain chronographs that are useful for people who race cars (or anything else) for a living.  There are far too many such watches on the market to describe a specific one here as an ideal example of the niche, but most people are aware of a chronograph.

Perhaps the ultimate example of a a tool watch would be watches designed specifically for divers.   While dive watches have become a bit of a fashion item and are often worn by people who rarely, if ever, put a toe in the water, there are some pretty rugged diving watches on the market.  First and foremost among features, of course, would be water resistance that is far above and beyond that which is normally required from a wristwatch.  The Rolex Submariner, for instance, has a rated water resistance of some 300 meters or so, making it a watch that will be useful for nearly anyone who regularly gets in the water.

Rolex Submariner
Rolex Submariner

These watches will also have a rotating bezel and usually one that rotates only in one direction, so that the diver can keep track of elapsed time.  This allows them to keep track of how long they’ve been in the water and how much air they may have left remaining in their tank.  When you’re underwater, knowing the time of day may or may not be useful, but knowing the amount of air you have remaining is critical.

There are other examples of tool watches on the market, but it’s worth noting that there are many timepieces available that serve purposes other than the obvious one of showing the time of day to the wearer.

You Keep Paying for Luxury Watches

watch parts So, you’ve saved up your money to buy that Rolex you’ve always wanted.  Or perhaps it’s an Oris or a Tissot.  It doesn’t matter.  You’ve wanted it for years and it costs thousands and you’ve saved the money.

You buy it, and fork over that hard-earned cash.  Now you have it.  It’s paid for.  You’ve spent a fortune, but aside from perhaps a bit of additional insurance on it you don’t have any other ongoing expenses with it, right?

Wrong.  If you’ve purchased a high end luxury mechanical watch, you will be spending money on it regularly for the rest of your life.  Not only that, but the money you spend on that watch could work out to hundreds of dollars per year, depending on the brand.

“How is that?,” you ask.  Mechanical watches are mechanical devices.  Parts move.  Parts break.  Parts wear out.  Parts get dust and dirt and grime in them and on them, and those things can prevent the watch from keeping accurate time, or from being able to keep time at all.

Most luxury watchmakers recommend that you have your mechanical watches serviced at regular intervals.  “Serviced” means that you’re going to put the watch in a box, mail it back to the manufacturer so that they can work on it at their factory, and wait for them to send you a bill.

That bill could easily be $500 or more, and you might need to do that as often as every two years, depending on the model.

Why so expensive?  There are a number of reasons.  When you send a luxury watch in for service, a trained technician will disassemble it and carefully examine the movement to see if there are any worn or damaged parts.  If so, they will need to be replaced.

Those parts may or may not be on hand, depending on the make and model of the watch.  If they aren’t available, the company may have to fabricate new ones.  Regardless, there’s going to be a bill for the new parts.  After that, the movement will need to be thoroughly cleaned and adjusted for accuracy.  Finally, after the watch has been put back together, it will need to be cleaned and polished on the outside.

When you get it back, it will likely work and look like new.  Those are good things.  But you’ll have to repeat the process again in a couple of years.

Friction is the enemy, and mechanical watches have moving parts.  Some of them move millions of times in a year.  Jewels in the movement are intended to reduce friction, but physics is physics, and everything has friction.

A few companies are introducing new movements with composite parts that are intended to reduce friction.  But a watch that will never require regular service is just a dream.  If you want to own a mechanical watch, you’re going to have to accept that it will require regular maintenance.

On the plus side, a well-maintained high end watch will work well for decades.  On the downside, it comes with a recurring bill that you’re just going to have to pay as part of the price of owning an amazing piece of technology.

Getting the Most for Your Luxury Watch

sell your watchYou’ll find lots of articles online about buying luxury watches, and that makes sense – lots of people buy luxury watches all the time.  But sometimes, you want to sell a luxury watch.

The reasons can vary – perhaps you just don’t want the watch anymore.  Perhaps you want to use the money to buy something else.  Perhaps you simply need the money.  Whatever the reason, you’re going to have to address various issues when you want to sell a luxury watch.  After all, it’s a lot easier to buy a luxury watch than it is to sell one, especially if you’re trying to get top dollar.

Here are a few ways that you can sell a luxury watch.  Each has their pros and cons:

  • Private sale.  If you know someone personally who wants to buy your watch, obviously, that’s the way to go.  There is no middleman, you can quickly come to a price, and you can accept whatever payment terms you like.
  • Auction house.  This works best for ultra-rare items.  You can consign your watch through auction houses such as Christies, Phillips, or Sotheby’s. This isn’t for a run-of-the-mill Omega Speedmaster, but if you have an unusual Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe or an original Rolex Paul Newman Daytona, you might find that they’re interested.  They’ll add a fee on top of the sales price for the buyer to pay.
  • Auction it yourself.  You can sell it on eBay, for instance, for either a fixed price or an auction price.  Upside – you’ll get as much as the market is willing to bear.  Downsides – you’d best have a lot of provenance.  EBay will take a fee for the listing and a portion of the final value price.  There’s a lot of competition, even at the high end, so your watch may get lost in the shuffle unless it’s something really unusual.
  • Pawn shop.  Great for getting a quick sale.  The downside is that you’re not going to get top dollar.  Pawn shops aren’t the best places to buy high end watches, so pawnbrokers aren’t likely to pay top dollar to get yours, as it might end up sitting on their shelf for a long time before they can sell it.
  • Consignment.  Some jewelers and watch dealers will sell the item on consignment.  They will usually take a percentage of the sales price as a commission.  Downside – It might take a long time to sell, depending on the watch and the clientele of the seller.

selling a watchThere are also a few dealers of watches online who buy high end watches for resale.  You won’t get full retail price, but you might get a fair wholesale price for the watch.  Some of these retailers pay quickly, sometimes overnight and a few even offer to pay the shipping to get the watch to them.  A Web search will turn up a number of companies that regularly buy and sell second hand watches.

With anything collectible, it can be difficult to sell quickly while also getting a good return on your purchase price.  There is usually a tradeoff between getting a quick sale and getting the most money.

Still, if you have a worthwhile watch to sell, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a buyer for it.

Two-Tone Watches are Back!

New two-tone Audemars Piguet
New two-tone Audemars Piguet

They say that what goes around comes around and when it comes to anything related to fashion, that’s often the case.  No, we’re not expecting to see bell bottom trousers return anytime soon, though we can’t rule out their return at some point in the future.

Just as children’s names cycle every few generations, so do fashion designs.  Things become popular, people buy them, people grow tired of them, they go out of style and something else is “in” for a while.  Then, the cycle repeats, as people get tired of that, and want something new.

Eventually, you run out of new things to offer, so you dust off something old that they haven’t seen in a while, and you present it as new.  Then they get excited and buy it.  Of course, when this happens, the people who do remember them from the first time around will scold you and point out that the “new” thing you’re buying isn’t really new, but that’s how fashion works.

That’s why we’re seeing two-tone watches again.

Two-tone watches were introduced at this year’s Baselworld exhibition and a number of watchmakers are beginning to offer these models, which are seen by younger buyers as being edgy and more daring.

In recent years, makers have opted for a single color model, which might be all yellow gold, or all platinum, or all white gold, or all stainless steel.  New models are now combining one metal with another or one of various other materials (composite; carbon fiber, or ceramic) to give a busier look to their wares.

One advantage is that a watch that’s made of part steel and part yellow gold is more affordable than one that’s all gold, yet it has the distinction of offering a different look and one that’s now eye-catching, given that two-tone watches have been absent from the marketplace for quite a while.

Of course, they’re still available on the second hand market, and even in high end models, it’s not too hard to find, say, a two-tone Rolex from the 1980s.  They’re out there, but as the trend continues, even the second hand market is likely to dry up in the near future.  Plus, as styles change and more people start to embrace the two-tone look, those vintage models that have up until recently been bargains are going to start getting a bit more expensive.

A vintage two-tone Rolex
A vintage two-tone Rolex

Regardless of your taste, if you’re looking for something that’s a bit different today, you might want to look at a two tone watch.  We wouldn’t recommend waiting, however, as by this time next year, everyone is likely to be wearing two tone watches.  At that point, you’ll likely be starting to look for something new and different.

At that point, watchmakers will come up with something new.  Or they’ll dust off something old, give it a new name, and present it to you as something you haven’t seen before.  Or at least, haven’t seen since the 1990s.

That’s the way fashion works.  What’s here today is gone tomorrow…and back again in a couple of decades.  What goes around comes around, and it works that way with watches, too.

 

A Coin With a “P” Mint Mark

2017 P Penny
2017 P Penny

Each of the mints that produce U.S. coins have long put a letter, or mint mark, on their coins to indicate to the public and to collectors where those particular coins were made.

While current production comes from three mints – Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Denver, and West Point there were previously minting facilities in:

  • Carson City, Nevada
  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Dahlonega, Georgia
  • New Orleans, Louisiana

All of these locations have always used mint marks on their coins, though the Philadelphia mint traditionally did not.  Collectors generally knew that any coins that did not have a mint mark were produced at the Philadelphia mint.  An exception was Jefferson nickels produced there from 1942-1945; those did have a fairly large “P” on the reverse side of the coin.  Another exception was the 1979 Susan B. Anthony Dollar.

Since 1980, coins produced at the Philadelphia mint have had a “P” mint mark, with the odd exception of the penny.  For whatever reason, that coin, and that coin alone, did not have a mark.

That’s going to change in 2017, as the Philadelphia mint is celebrating its 225th anniversary.  As part of that celebration, the mint is using the “P” mark on all of its coins, including the cent.

1944 Philadelphia nickel
1944 Philadelphia nickel

Ordinarily, collectors would rush out to buy these pennies, and chances are that many people are hoarding at least a few.  After all, the mint has announced that this is a one-off aberration, and that in 2018, we’ll likely see pennies coming from Philadelphia that lack a mint mark again.

That sounds like a great opportunity for the opportunistic, with just one problem – the 2017 pennies being produced at the Philadelphia mint aren’t rare.  In fact, they’re quite common, as the mint has produced nearly two billion of them through the end of May, 2017.  At that rate, there might be 4-5 billion of them in circulation by the end of the year.

It’s times like these that the oddities may turn up.  Perhaps the mint has (or will) accidentally produce a few cents that lack a mint mark.  In this case, as with the 1944 steel penny, it’s the exception that generates the appeal among collectors.

 

Watch Cases are Getting Interesting

carbon fiber watch case
Carbon fiber case on a Rolex

When it comes to collecting watches, most people are interested in what the watch does.  A lot of attention is paid to the movements of watches, and that’s not surprising, really.  The movement is the part of the watch that tells time, after all, so it’s not at all unusual for collectors to spend a lot of time focusing on the movement.

Lately, however, collectors and makers have been focusing on the watch case.

That’s a bit strange, at least to the layman.  The case is just the part of the watch that holds the movement, right?  Why would anyone care about the case?

For years, few people did care about the case; and watch cases were usually made from stainless steel.  Stainless steel is durable, rust resistant and relatively inexpensive.  For more expensive watches, that stainless steel might get swapped out for gold or platinum, though both would have to be used in alloys, as both are too soft to use as a watch case on their own.

That was pretty much it; you had either steel or gold.  Both had their advantages and disadvantages.  The disadvantages of steel are that it’s somewhat heavy, and not very sexy.  Who wants to pay $10,000 (or $200,000) for a watch with a steel case?

That’s why makers have recently been turning to other materials to make their watches either lighter or more exotic, both of which offer additional appeal to potential buyers.

Lots of makers are working with carbon fiber now.  It’s both ultra-strong and ultra-lightweight, though carbon fiber tends to lend itself best to use in sports watches, rather than high end luxury models.  That’s just because, for all of its merits, carbon fiber isn’t particularly attractive.  Sure, it’s light and strong, but it’s not as pretty as gold or platinum.

Along similar lines, a few watchmakers are working with ceramic.  We’re not talking about the pottery that your grandmother used to make; these ceramics are high-tech, super-strong, space age materials.  Ceramics offer many of the benefits of carbon fiber and similar drawbacks.  They look nice, but they don’t look elegant.

Hublot has experimented with using a special mix of ceramic and gold to produce a durable, super-strong, highly attractive and scratch-resistant case, and that may be the magic solution that provides the best of all possible worlds…at a price, of course.

sapphire watch case
Sapphire watch case

Hublot has also (with a few other companies) made a few watches using sapphire.  This sounds great on paper; who doesn’t like sapphire?  It’s edgy, it’s expensive-sounding (and expensive for real) and it looks really good.  The downsides are significant, however.  The material is really expensive.  The material is really difficult to work with; you can drill it for hours, be nearly done, and then have the material shatter or crack on you, forcing you to throw it all away and start over.

Perhaps the worst part about ceramic is a problem for the marketing people – the finished product often resembles clear plastic, even though the watch is priced as though it were a house.

At least one maker is simply taking stainless steel and giving it a twist.  Damascus steel is an Old World steel technique that was used to make swords 1000 years ago.  It has an interesting swirled texture to it and looks great.  On the downside, it is still steel, and the deep, dark secret is that the actual recipe for making Damascus steel was lost 150 years ago and no one really remembers how to make it.  The result now is something that looks like Damascus steel but is likely priced more like gold.

All of these things are a lot more interesting than plain old steel or plain old gold, however.  We’ll expect to see far more experimentation coming down the road with watch cases.