When you set out to make money from watch collecting, you’re shouldering a heavy load. The practice seems attractive because you’ve no doubt heard about the one-in-a-million instances when some average Joe sticks an unworn watch he’s had in his drawer for decades on eBay for a laugh and it ends up going for tens of thousands of dollars. That would be nice, you think. And right you are. The problem is that it’s exceptionally rare, and increasingly unlikely to happen to you. Making money from watches is really, really hard.
Popularity Breeds Understanding in Watch Collecting
In the years that followed the dark days of the Quartz Revolution for mechanical watchmaking, it was very easy to find bargains all over the place. Pawn shops, garage sales, peer-to-peer trades… It was a unique time born of unrepeatable industry conditions. Those days are gone.
Nowadays, people do their research, which, luckily for them and unluckily for you, is a piece of cake thanks to Internet search engines.
So, what can you do if you still want to put your money into watch collecting? What kind of brands should you approach if you want to have some confidence in your cache out-performing more run-of-the-mill financial instruments?
What’s in a Name?
Simply put, a lot of a watch’s bankability comes down to the maker (Rolex being the number one lure). Luxury mechanical watchmaking as we know it emerged about 250 years ago. Any name that has more than a century under its belt is a good place to start. Not only are there many, many more examples of early pieces to explore and hunt down, the position of the brand is solidified in the minds of fellow collectors and, most importantly, the annals of the industry’s history.
Companies that have been in continuous production are, in most cases, preferable for watch collecting, but there are some high-profile exceptions. Most notably, in my opinion, is Glashütte-based brand A. Lange & Söhne. Lange watches are some of the finest pieces available (with understandably high prices), and are perhaps the leading example of classic German watchmaking.
What separates Lange from other companies that stopped production (seemingly forever), only to be revived by an entrepreneur unrelated to the original founder, is Germany’s political strife throughout the 20th century marking many brands from that country as outliers.
During the post-war GDR period, effectively all luxury watchmaking ceased in Germany, and the skills and knowhow of the Saxon watchmakers were harvested by the Soviets and employed to create functional, low-cost mechanical watches for the masses.
Modern Lange watches are a true evolution of the original brand and have been a leading light in non-Swiss manufacture since the company was reborn under the watchful eye of the late Walter Lange in the early nineties. If you’re looking for a timepiece that is both modern in execution and classical in design to kick-start your collection, you can’t go wrong with a model from this storied German manufacture. A. Lange & Söhne watches start at around £19,400.
About the Author: Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.