JUN 04, 2019

Bonhams’ Director of Watches shares a few pieces of timeless advice about starting a vintage watch collection.

With their incredible attention to detail, innovative mechanisms and sartorial appeal, watches have long commanded the attention of fashion elites. But recently, it seems the appetite for prestigious timepieces has reached new heights.

The global watch market is now valued at more than US$46.35 billion annually and expected to grow to 53.2 billion by 2023 – and Asia accounts for much of the demand. Bonhams Hong Kong has seen the passion of Asian buyers first hand, successfully selling the largest, multi-brand watch collection owned by a private collector in Asia this June.

This June, Bonhams presented “The Centennial Collection: 100 Years of Timepieces” which chronicled multiple brands across every decade from the 1920s to today. One of the world’s largest, the predominantly vintage collection performed well under the hammer – led by the Omega Speedmaster Professional “Moon Watch” made in 1969, which sold for HK$525,625.

In the Bonhams Hong Kong Watches 2.0 sale held on the same day, gem-set ladies timepieces by respected, traditional watchmakers also performed well. A few of the highlights included a rare pink-gold and diamond women’s watch, ring and matching cufflink set by Patek Philippe fetched HK$750,625, for instance, while a white gold, diamond and ruby Breguet watch sold for HK$813,125.

In recent years, companies such as Rolex, Omega, Patek Philippe, Chopard, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier and F.P. Journe have seen consistently high sell prices for vintage watches, particularly when the timepiece showcases a few important factors: rarity, provenance, quality and style.

Patek Philippe’s vintage pink-gold and diamond women’s watch, ring and matching cufflink set sold for HK$750,625 at Bonhams this June. Credit: Bonhams Hong Kong.

“Rarity is one thing but, at the end of the day, trends are one of the most important factors affecting the price of a vintage watch,” says Sharon Chan, Bonhams’ Director of Watches in Asia. “In recent years, sporty vintage watches from famous brands such as Rolex and Omega have increased in value significantly.”

Do your homework: “First and foremost, you must do your homework! There are many refinished dials in the market, which means there has been restoration on the dial and, thus, the watch loses its original, mint-condition status. This will cause the value of a particular piece to drop. You also have to be careful when buying vintage pieces to ensure the gemstones are original and were not added later. Ask a friend who is a watch collector or enlist an expert to you share their comments before buying.”

Ease into it: “When you start building your vintage watch collection, start with lower value pieces from the ‘70s, like Heuers or Breitling, Patek Philippe’s Calatrava or the Rolex White Submariner. Those are relatively affordable pieces among vintage watches, which can range in price from HK$8,000 to HK$250,000. Through the buying experience, you will learn more about what you want and how to appreciate the details of vintage pieces.”

Created in 1969, the Omega Speedmaster Professional “Moon Watch” sold for HK$525,625 this year. Credit: Bonhams Hong Kong.

Curate your collection: “A great watch collection is not simply a casual assortment of watches; it’s carefully curated – often revolving around a style, theme or stages. Looking at a watch collection, you can almost tell the preferred history of the collector. Take our recent June sale of the Centennial Collection, for instance. This is a collection with over 70 brands curated across 40 years. The full collection, comprising over 1,000 pieces, spans every decade of the last 100 years. The quantity is huge but they are not random watches – they are carefully selected.”

Provenance is paramount: “Check the components of the watch – the case, dial, hands, and movement – to see if they match the period and manufacturing model. Watches often have serial numbers and, nowadays, quite a few of the brands can provide some history about the watch for a minimal fee.”