The Tantalising Appeal of Pre-Owned Watches

There can be many reasons to invest in a pre-owned wristwatch. The basest of which can be nothing more complex than stylistic preference or cost restraints. But beyond personal taste and astute budgeting, why should we look to the past as a good place to put our hard-earned cash?

The banks have long been a poor choice for lower-end investors. The stock market is always an attractive possibility, but it comes with risks. A lot of people who have a bit of money to put away have to work very hard for it, and may not have the time to monitor a stock’s progress from day-to-day, or even hour-to-hour.

Patek Philippe Geneve

And so we look for something more permanent, something that is tangible, functional, beautiful, even. Investing in financial instruments is a cold pursuit. It can be thrilling, engaging, and hugely rewarding, but it is a detached mental mastery of a non-physical realm. Vintage watch collecting can be just as exciting, but boasts an aesthetic appeal that market manipulation can never match.

There is something very human about watchmaking. The knowledge that a highly trained artisan has spent weeks, months, or years creating your watch is a wonderful thing. Sweat and human ingenuity go into your artefact, which, as well as being an artful reminder of man’s power over nature, is one of the reasons vintage watches often appreciate in value.

Provenance and Personality Win Every Time

Everybody loves a story. When you think about it, there is no such thing as money or fixed value. It’s just a construct by which we measure the relative worth of objects in the eyes of individual consumers. Two rings, made from identical materials, sporting identical diamonds, should have the same monetary value; but if one of those rings was owned and worn by Mari Antoinette, it is worth a whole load more.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Watch

And that’s really where the appeal of pre-owned watches can be found. It is the provenance of a piece that makes it desirable in a way that transcends preference or financial restraints. A watch need not have been owned by a prominent figure to be significant in historical terms. There is plenty of scope for first editions, limited models, discontinued stock, dial misprints, after-market customisations, one-offs, or watches boasting flawless purchase documentation (perhaps from certain storied retailers) to gain great amounts at auction.

Of course, we all dream of unearthing a battered gem at a local garage sale, and picking up a rough diamond for a few dollars at a flea market. I’ve known it to happen (never to me, but to a fellow watchmaker), and the thrill of this discovery matched any show of ecstasy I’ve seen from my friends on the trading floor.

Relatively speaking, it’s a cheap, fun, engrossing hobby that could result in the accrual of a varied, interesting, beautiful collection that could be passed down through generations. And, at the very least, you’ll end up with a few good stories to tell. And that’s all we really care about.

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About the Author:

Rob Nudds is a WOSTEP qualified watchmaker, working as a consultant in the UK market. You can read more of his work on