Feb 9 2019 · By Chris Mires
A common question that comes up about fine timepieces is which luxury watches appreciate in value. While there is no crystal ball that can tell us exactly which watches will gain value in the long run, there are past trends and current demand tendencies that we can explore to give us some insight.
The two top brands whose watches have historically retained or gained over the years are Rolex and Patek Philippe. In addition to Patek and Rolex however, there are other luxury watch brands, such as Audemars Piguet, A. Lange & Sohne, Vacheron Constantin, Omega, Breitling, and Tag Heuer that have specific models that appreciate in value. It is important to point out that in order to see some value gain, buying a watch at prices less than retail naturally already puts you in a better position. What’s more, appreciation rarely happens in the short term and can take up to a decade before any significant gain is noticeable.
With that, let’s have a look at seven luxury watches that are likely to appreciate over time.
There is simply no other dive watch as famous as the Rolex Submariner—it is a brand unto itself. As a result, the demand for the Submariner has always been healthy. These days, there is a shortage of Rolex Submariner watches at authorized boutiques, particularly in stainless steel. Therefore, thanks to basic supply and demand theory, this shortage drives up the value of the watch in the secondary market.
Steel versions of the Submariner gain more value than gold versions simply because there is more demand for steel. The growing demand for the Rolex Submariner spans across vintage and modern pieces and we estimate that interest in this famed dive watch will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
The story of the Rolex Daytona is a great example of how a slow-selling watch can turn into a blockbuster thanks to a celebrity connection. The first generation of the Rolex Daytona watches (circa 1963 – 1988) were manual-wound chronograph watches that did not sell that well, especially those with Art Deco styled “exotic dials.” These types of dials were later known as “Paul Newman” dials since the famous actor wore a Daytona with one—causing interest in the watch to surge. Today, the values of vintage Rolex Daytona watches are thriving and will likely continue to grow.
But it’s not just the vintage models that are booming; modern automatic Rolex Daytona watches (circa 1988 to present) are as well—mainly steel models. An especially in-demand model is the newest steel Daytona with a black ceramic bezel launched in 2016, which are selling for about double the retail price.
Yet another Rolex sports watch that we’re seeing solid value growth are the GMT-Master I/II watches. Characterized by a rotating bezel marked to 24 hours, these watches were first created for Pan Am pilots to keep track of multiple time zones while on the job.
GMT-Master and GMT-Master II watches have been popular with Rolex collectors (especially the ones with the blue/red “Pepsi” bezels) for decades. In 2018, Rolex launched a trio of new GMT-Master II models including a new steel model with a blue and red bezel. This particular steel model was an immediate hit and it is currently being sold in the pre-owned market for more than double its retail price. This has also raised the profile of the entire GMT-Master I/II collection, subsequently driving up the demand and increasing the likelihood of future appreciation.
Patek Philippe launched the Nautilus watch in 1976 and it was vastly different to the brand’s catalog of elegant gold watches and ultra-complicated gold timepieces. The Nautilus stood out for its stainless steel construction, sporty silhouette, and huge-for-the-era 42mm case size. Today, the Nautilus has remained as one of the world’s most coveted sports watches and Patek offers it in a range of materials and with a variety of functions.
Interestingly, the simplest of the new Nautilus models, the time and date version in steel, is the most sought after with prices in the pre-owned market hovering around double its retail price. Since Patek Philippe produces the Nautilus in such low quantities and demand for this model continues to flourish, higher prices in the future are likely to continue.
Patek Philippe is known for their complicated watches especially their Perpetual Calendar Chronograph watches. Make no mistake, these are ultra-expensive (starting in the high five-figures, averaging in the six-figure range, and ultra rare ones selling in the millions at auction) timepieces for serious luxury watch connoisseurs.
Yet, despite their already eye-popping prices, there is still room for price appreciation given that the perpetual calendar chronograph is a signature Patek complication. This is further compounded by the company’s low production numbers overall. Since Patek Philippe has been making Perpetual Calendar Chronographs since the 1940s, there are a host of references and material options to comb through and some are more desirable than others.
It was the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet that laid the foundation of the entire luxury sports watch genre. Prior to 1972, it was inconceivable that a stainless steel sports watch would be considered a symbol of status. Yet the steel Royal Oak, characterized by its octagonal bezel with exposed screws, integrated bracelet, and simple time/date dial decorated with a blue hobnail pattern did precisely that. With a price tag comparable to gold watches during that era, the Royal Oak was not just brash in looks but in ambition too. And the risk eventually paid off.
The Royal Oak has become Audemars Piguet’s hallmark watch with hundreds of different variations. However, the ones that are deemed the most collectible are those nicknamed “Jumbo,” which are direct descendants of the inaugural Royal Oak.
Although Omega introduced the Speedmaster more than a decade prior to Apollo 11’s mission in 1969, the watch became famous after the lunar landing. NASA selected Omega to supply all of their space missions with watches. As a result, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin wore Speedmaster Professional chronographs during their journey to the moon. And when Buzz Aldrin took his steps on the moon, strapped around his space suit an Omega Speedmaster Professional, thus cementing the timepiece’s “Moonwatch” nickname forever.
It’s important to note that there are so many versions of the Speedmaster watch and they are not all “Moonwatches.” Those associated with the moon landing (and likely to appreciate in value) are the manual-wound Speedmaster models with black dials, black bezels, and Hesalite crystals.
The running theme among collectible luxury watches that will likely appreciate in value is that they all have history and longevity. After all, achieving iconic status does not happen overnight.