Vintage Watches Are in Demand

Recently, a phone call I was on was interrupted when my client said, “Let me call you back. I’m having trouble hearing you from my watch.” It made me laugh, but only because I know some day that watch will be collectible.

While we can easily access the time on our phones and other devices, a recent report from The NDP Group reveals that a new breed of watch wearers is emerging. Overall, more people are wearing watches than four years ago, and while smartwatches remain a popular choice, an increasing number of consumers under 35 are embracing the fine watch segment.

When it comes to collecting vintage watches, the market continues to be strong. For centuries, people have been fascinated with horology, which is the study of the measurement of time. Ancient time-telling instruments were primitive, first starting off with shadow clocks and then developing to sundials. Egyptians also invented a “water clock,” which was more like a timer to keep track of the passage of time.

Mechanical clocks were invented in the 13th century with pendulum clocks, and it wasn’t until the mid-1600s that minute and second hands started appearing on clock faces. And with the invention of the mainspring and fusée, clocks could be made into portable pocket watches. Then, nearly two centuries later, Patek Philippe created the first wristwatch in 1868, though some argue Girard-Perregaux wristwatches used by German officers showed up around that same time.

Fast forward to the era of mass production, when high-end American and Swiss watches were in demand until Japanese manufacturers invented less-expensive quartz watches in the early 1970s. By 1979, Japan was exporting more than 100 million timepieces every year. And two decades later, it was Japanese watchmaker Seiko that released the world’s first smartwatch in 1998.

 

But many hardcore collectors could care less about voice-activated or touchscreen watches. They favor wind-up watches with analog dials, springs and gears.

Vintage brands that are doing well at auction include Rolex, Cartier, Breitling, Movado, Omega,
Longines and Patek Philippe.

It’s not unusual for us to see bidding wars for these brands. For example, last November, we sold an 18-karat Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day men’s watch for $7,000. It probably would have sold for more, but it required some servicing. Last August, an 18-karat gold Schaffhausen women’s watch hammered at $1,200. That same month, a 1929 Waltham 14-karat gold open face pocket watch realized $550.

18-karat Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day men’s watch

18-karat gold Schaffhausen women’s watch

Modern-day watches also do well in the secondary market. But be cautious of fakes. Check type faces and engravings to make sure they are authentic. Also, hold the watch near your ear. Designer watches don’t tick. Also, if it feels too light, chances are it could be a fake watch made with less expensive materials.

In a world where time is our most precious commodity, it makes sense that there’s a new breed of watch wearers emerging. If only we could go “Back to the Future” and tell their grandparents to take better care of their wristwatches and pocket watches, even if they stopped working.
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Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale.

Contact him at erik@ejsauction.com, www.ejsauction.com or 623-878-2003.