Insider Journey into the Vintage Watch Market
The deep fascinating intricacies of vintage watches and the upper channels of the Internet led to the upturn of the vintage market. Rarity, out-of-production models, severely-limited editions, value upsurge, outstanding design, the nostalgic passage of years, fancying about travelling back to a dearest lifetime coinciding with the manufacturing year, all play a role in the increase of the number of collectors, further underpinned by social media visuals. The web as a reliable sales platform for luxury saw the launch of more online stores for selling pre-owned and vintage, as well as more online-only auctions organised by the main international auction houses.
To uncover the mechanism of a passionate vintage acquisition, JeweLuxe interviewed Dr Bernard Cheong, first collector and non-watchmaker industry ambassador for the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva and juror for two years for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. He is the man who brought this contest of high-end watchmakers to Asia, acting now as the “civilian” chairman of the board in jurors for Asia.
Vintage pieces have seen their prices rise exponentially over the past decade. How do you explain this market ascent?
Vintage has conquered itself a high place since it is no longer traded as a commodity. Collectors’ mind moved away from the new limited editions because past models have an obvious leverage of being 100% limited. Older watches have a track record of reliability, endorsement and upkeep cost. They are genuine and too complex to replicate.
There are few brands, such as Greubel Forsey, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Richard Mille, whose new limited editions can compete with vintage watches.
About one third of buyers see vintage watches as heirlooms, art and collectibles. 5% consider it as potent and as volatile as art. This is extremely attractive to high-risk and high-return players.
Rolex Daytona – Oyster Paul Newman
One of the most expensive Rolex ever sold at an auction for $ 3,717,906 at Phillips Geneva Watch Auction in 2017
Personally, I look at 2016 as the most attractive year since 2005. 2016 saw a multitude of posts in the watch blogosphere and social media and so much forum information that diluted the dominating views of three once very important players. This reveals the power of the web and its depth in statistical information.
We now know for sure 70% of what was once not known, but only heard of. This information allows buyers and sellers to know as close as 80% the number of the most high-priced watch pieces. This has the potential of triggering a buy for any watch existing in a number below 200 pieces. Simply, because this kind of watch was bought as early as 2012 or even 1978. These were years when only very serious collectors with deep pockets bought very expensive and fundamentally valuable pieces. By behaviour, only 10%, that is only 20 watches will resurface on the market in the near future. The remainder will last in boxes or will be worn until another financial movement on the market will determine owners to sell.
“We are too busy to read books nowadays. Still a high-end watch can transcend a book. It is like a codex from our ancient ancestors. A passionate collector can unlock the secrets of a watch with his own mind.”
In the world of high-end collectibles, vintage watches are also portable from one place to another in turbulent times. If one does a Google research, one will see that over 80% of the world leaders are serious collectors.
In my opinion, we have less than12 brands and watchmakers of relevance before 2015. Their individual output is way below 200 pieces. Around 1,200 watches are now circulating on the market. 20 other pieces add up each year and this will continue for 20 years from now. This makes these watches very rare, indeed.
Rolex Daytona Rainbow – Limited availability due to the difficulty of matching colours
How fast can a vintage watch increase its value?
Vintage watches are gaining in price just as fast as the web talks about them. Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille or Rolex watches from 2011, if revealed to be rare, can increase their price by 2 to 3 times within a week. Another example is Daytona Rainbow.
As a first collector and ambassador of the FHH Geneva, what are the most exciting investment aspects and key features you look at when collecting high-end watches?
Well designed and manufactured watches can be as fascinating to look at as reading a 3D sculptured book. I could name around 20 valuable watches. If you possess a high-end watch, not only can you enjoy it for its beauty, but in quieter times you can take a small magnifying glass to read the history of humanity, architecture, chemistry and most of all, how culture changed humans.
We are too busy to read books nowadays. Still a watch can transcend a book. It is like a codex from our ancient ancestors. A passionate collector can unlock the secrets of a watch with his own mind.
Greubel Forsey created a $ 2 million Art-Piece in 2014
Two-angled balance wheels ensure absolutely perfect timekeeping
What is the most expensive independent timepiece that you are aware of having been sold online?
A Greubel Forsey in platinum for 2.2 million SGD because the metal is scarce, we know exactly how much platinum is mined and unmined on our planet. There are only 11 Greubel Forseys of this kind that have ever been made.
What role do you see e-commerce playing in the world of watch buying and collecting?
With the power of web and social media communication, there is today potential for the e-commerce. This market has picked up steam and it is good buying now 2017 through 2020. A further new wave of e-commerce developments will follow in the years to come.
By Roxana Florina Popa