Why Some Watches are Worth Millions

In November 2016, a 1943 stainless steel Patek Philippe reference 1518 set the world record for the value of a wristwatch at a Phillips auction as part of Geneva Watch Auction. With a hammer price of $11 million (£9 million), this rare steel variant took the title with ease (the previous record holder sold last year for a paltry £6 million). Astounding as that may be, the value of historically significant watches is almost certainly set to rise.

1943-stainless-steel-patek-philippe-reference-1518
Image courtesy of Phillips

The bar has been reset. £9 million is now the ‘upper limit’ that a watch has sold for. It’s old news. It’s the new normal. It stands to reason this sale will do nothing but increase the value of its peers. And it’s totally possible the Patek Philippe reference 1518 will have a legitimate chance to beat its own record next time it goes under the hammer (there are reputedly four examples of this reference in existence).

One question we, as investors, should be asking is whether there is anything on the modern market that might one day be as valuable as the Patek Philippe reference 1518?

If you have a huge amount of money to invest, I would still recommend one of the seriously limited pieces from world-leading talents like Roger Smith, Kari Voutilainen, or Lang & Heyne, simply because they are made in such small numbers, largely by hand. These items are perhaps the closest current counterparts to the Patek Philippe 1518.

voutilainen-watch
Image courtesy of Voutilainen

But the truth is that nothing modern is as likely to overtake the 1518 in the record books. The stainless steel Patek Philippe reference 1518 was commissioned to be the most complicated watch in the world. Despite the madness of some modern timepieces, nothing is as far beyond the pale as the 1518 would have been in its day. Bizarreness is, regrettably, a crowded category.

Watchmaking was not a luxury playground in the past as it is today. Luxury timepieces from an era during which horology existed out of necessity are rare. They will always be more desirable than today’s mechanical marvels, because their existence, as well as their workings, begs belief.

The current record holder was so exceptional because of its case material, which is unusual for this model. If you’re looking for a cheaper purchase and hope that might appreciate over time, look for dial misprints, market-testing first editions, or maybe a stylistic outlier that divides expert opinion.

It’s hardly the same as investing in penny stocks, but it is certainly a lot more fun if you buy something you believe in. Watching a personal choice flourish into a leading classic, is just about the most rewarding thing for a watch aficionado can experience.

About the Author: Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.

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About the Author:

Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.