Summer 2020

The pursuit for a fast, high-return investment propelled luxury watch resale to new heights.

#1 SALE IN 2021

Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph

in Pink Gold with Pink Dial.

Sold: $9.57M
Courtesy Sotheby’s

While luxury mechanical timepieces are made across Switzerland and in a few other countries, Geneva is undoubtedly considered the world’s watchmaking capital. Rolex is headquartered there, with its main factory in Bienne, 100 miles away; Audemars Piguet and Philippe Dufour are located in the Vallée de Joux, 40 miles from Geneva; and just outside the city are Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin’s production facilities. F.P. Journe is the only watchmaker with its atelier in downtown Geneva.

Patek Philippe Caliber CHR 29‐535 PS Q Ref. 5204R, Split‐Seconds Chronograph & Perpetual Calendar.

Courtesy Patek Philippe

The Swiss city has its own quality mark called the Poinçon de Genève, or Geneva Seal. It is one of the watch industry’s highest assurances of quality, which requires all parts of the movement to be hand-finished according to traditional techniques. Of the millions of Swiss watches made every year, only about 24,000—which include many Vacheron Constantin timepieces—have the Geneva Seal.

Patek Philippe has its own quality mark. The Patek Philippe Seal is trademarked and its requirements are so rigorous that no manufacturing process deviations, or traces of them, are tolerated in any circumstances.

Only 24,000 watches receive the Geneva Seal of quality approval each year.

This combination of quality and heritage is why Swiss luxury mechanical watches have long been coveted collectibles, and in 2021, their status was elevated to high-return investment items. Due to pent-up demand and scarcity, the resale prices reached 3-digit percentage increases for several iconic timepieces. They are by Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin, known as the “Big Four” investment watch brands.

#5 SALE IN 2021

Philippe Dufour Grande et Petite Sonnerie No. 1 in Yellow Gold & Enamel Dial.

Sold: CHF 4.75M ≈ $5.18M

Courtesy Phillips

Resale prices reported as of January 2022 were the following: Patek Philippe’s Nautilus 5711, which retailed for about $35,000 last year, had a resale price of nearly $160,000 at the end of December 2021, a 357 percent increase between 2020 and 2021. An Audemars Piguet classic, the Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin in rose gold with a blue dial, reached $189,000 on resale in 2021, a 284 percent rise on retail. A Rolex Daytona that retailed for $13,150 was resold for over $38,700, an increase of 194 percent. The Overseas Self-Winding by Vacheron Constantin, which retailed at $22,500, could be found at $64,950 on the secondary market, a 189 percent jump.

#4 SALE IN 2021

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept

Black Panther Flying Tourbillon Unique Piece.
Sold: $5.2M

Courtesy Audemars Piguet

These resale prices are partly driven by the primary market’s exclusivity in recent years. Most customers used to simply walk into a boutique or authorized retailer and make a purchase. Today, they often have to get on a long waiting list, no matter which store they go to in the world. The hype has also been fueled by press coverage of world record auction results and the social media accounts of prominent celebrities and influencers. Paul Boutros, Phillips’ Head of Watches, Americas, says, “We have seen many new collectors entering the market over the past five years, and the appetite of established collectors is increasing.”

A key factor driving resale value is that the top watch brands are not increasing production despite high demand.

In 2021, inflation and the ongoing pandemic caused both long-time watch collectors and new investors to jump into the secondary market as a hedge against uncertainties. As a result, the luxury watch marketplace exploded. WatchBox, a digital resale platform, raised $165 million of equity capital to fund its global expansion, while the volume of watch sales at Antiquorum, Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s rose by 75 percent. Boutros says, “Looking across our auctions and geographic selling locations, the market for both contemporary pre-owned watches and vintage models has grown at a fast rate over the past couple of years.”

Demand from a wide spectrum of buyers drove resale prices for the top three luxury watches to almost 300% over retail in 2021.

#2 SALE IN 2021

Patek Philippe Ref. 2523 World Time Watch with 2 Crowns & “Eurasia” Cloisonné Enamel Dial.

Sold: CHF 7.05M ≈ $7.82M

Courtesy Phillips

Despite the huge demand, major watch brands and some of the leading independent watchmakers are not increasing production in order to maintain the highest quality standards. They research and develop their own movements. They also produce every component in house, some of which require long hours, even days, of patient artisanal skill.

This watch, which tells the hour with an automaton hand, was auctioned for nearly $5M.

#6 SALE IN 2021

F.P. Journe X Francis Ford Coppola, FFC Blue with Instantaneous Digital Hours Indicated by an Automaton Blue Hand.

Sold: CHF 4.5M ≈ $4.9M

Courtesy Only Watch

Alexander Schmiedt, Vacheron Constantin Americas President, says, “An increase in demand for our Historiques American 1921 and our complication pieces has created more excitement for our portfolio of watches, including the Overseas, whose popularity has been on the rise not only in the U.S. but also around the world since 2016. The tourbillon cage and bridges of the Overseas complication are completely chamfered and polished by hand, not just on the outside but also the inside. Machining can never achieve that level of finishing.”

Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin in rose gold with a blue dial had the highest resale percentage increase in 2021. It is powered by a 3-millimeter-thin movement that has been researched, developed and produced by the brand to achieve the slimness.

#8 SALE IN 2021

Philippe Dufour Duality No. 8 in Pink Gold with Double Escapement & Seconds Subdial.

Sold: CHF 3.66M ≈ $3.99M

Courtesy Phillips

The Philippe Dufour Duality is named for the two connected balance wheels that work together to achieve greater time accuracy.

“At the time of its invention, this was the world’s thinnest mechanical self-winding movement with a central rotor and date,” says Ginny Wright, Audemars Piguet North America and Latin America CEO. “The hand-finished brushed satin on the case, bezel and bracelet are a testament to its detail-oriented beauty.”

This Audemars Piguet had a 284% rise on resale.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo Extra‐Thin Selfwinding Watch in Rose Gold with Blue Dial. Courtesy Nicolas Boon

Rolex creates its own precious metals in its foundry, set up in the early 2000s. It has complete control over color and hardness by adjusting the amounts of silver, copper, platinum or palladium to make its 18-karat yellow, white and Everose gold alloys. Patek Philippe are masters of complication watches such as world timers, perpetual calendars and minute repeaters, with production volumes that are intrinsically limited by their complexity.

To ensure that their watches retain their investment value, a few brands are intervening directly on the secondary market. This will undoubtedly cause further changes in resale prices as aspiring watch investors search for the most iconic timepiece. The secondary market for luxury watches is expected to evolve continuously as the effects of supply and demand are met with changing consumer tastes.




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