Is the Vintage Watch Market Plummeting and why I Welcome That

The recent auction results seem to have raised concerns around dealers and collectors alike, showing a downward trend of trading prices for the first time in about thirty years.

At the same time, sales appear to be slower than what we had gotten used to and the demand for the models that represented the everyday bread and butter of the market has definitely lost a little steam. It’s worth mentioning right off the bat that this phenomenon affects mainly watches that are relatively common stock. The culture of watchmaking has grown to a point where we now know what our Michelangelos, Da Vincis and Picassos are: I wouldn’t expect to ever find those watches pass unnoticed in a minor auction and sell for nothing.

I have received a few calls in the past weeks from other watch guys – both professional and non – interested in knowing what I thought about this. One asked, more specifically, “we all know the market for new and contemporary watches has taken a dive and that makes sense, but now vintage too?” Well, I am surely not an economist and probably not even the best informed in all things money, but have been around this block for a while and have witnessed firsthand the birth, the first demise, the steady growth and finally the explosion of our market, so I am confident I can offer an educated opinion those of you who may have similar questions.

First of all, a little history.

The vintage watch market started building momentum in the early eighties, showing a slow but consistent growth in demand for vintage and pre-owned timepieces and kept growing steadily for a decade, give or take. Until then, watches were generally regarded as consumers’ goods, and the idea that after having been used and surpassed by new designs, models and technology a watch wouldn’t hold any particular economic value – in spite of it possibly initial high price – was broadly accepted. Not that different from luxury automobiles, if you think of it: the average driver of a top-of-the-line Range Rover, Bentley, Mercedes or what have you, will gladly spend a couple of hundred grand on his dream car, lose half of his money over a three-year period, factor that in and merrily walk into a dealership to repeat the experience all over again. But in today’s world, tell that same guy that his watch hasn’t made him any profit or, worse yet, lost some of its initial value, and he’ll lose his fucking mind.


But how did we get here? You will find this story familiar. Across the eighties the market belonged to little more than a handful of dealers who found themselves in the right place at the right time: the demand for high-end watches growing fast, with an apparently endless supply from original owners – or their heirs – who had no clue that the watches they were getting rid of were passing hands for multiple folds their selling price, again and again.

The most successful of these dealers coalesced in a sort of cast that showed very little interest in opening up to younger generations or even just learn much more than the little they already did about watches and had so far sufficed to make them very wealthy.

To be fair, this doesn’t apply to all of them, but a good majority for sure. Their appearance of prestige and wealth also conferred them an aura of authority and credibility that made for us rookies very hard to make a name for ourselves. In the meantime, with the last rush of increasing prices, everybody had turned into a watch dealer: the barista at the coffee shop had a deal on two-tone subs, the optician around the corner was the go-to guy if you had a Daytona to sell.

Around 1990, however, things changed rapidly.

The market’s fast rise of the preceding last few years that had brought a steel vintage submariner from $ 1,000 to $ 5,000 and a Patek Philippe 1518 from $ 15,000 to $ 150,000 (today a good example brings $ 1M), started giving signs of collapse, reminiscent of the bursting of a speculative bubble. To my surprise, some of the dealers I was looking up to started offering some of their most coveted timepieces for two thirds of their lower estimate just a few weeks ahead, willing to take a loss on a single watch greater than my then meek entire working capital. I couldn’t fathom why: I was in the in the game to maybe make the dream of owning myself one of those watches come true some day and these guys, who could effortlessly afford to keep them, were getting rid of them! I was turning pro just when the pros were getting the hell out as fast as they possibly could. The market was flooded with watches that just a few weeks before were so much more expensive, their prices going up by the week.


The years that followed were, contrarily to my darkest fears – I had left my secure job to become a watch dealer! – the best I can remember. The market’s reset created opportunities of all kinds. I remember starting off with buying a steel Vacheron & Constantin chronograph from the late forties for about $ 6,000 as opposed to the $ 18,000 the same dealer had charged a few months before. I didn’t make much money on it, but having access to next level watches meant not only the coming true of my wildest dreams, but also access to next level clients.

From 1990 to 2010 prices kept growing again slowly, but reasonably and steadily, and so did a whole new generation of dealers and collectors. Around the end of that run, however, the world started witnessing what I believe must be the biggest boom the watch industry has ever seen.

Mainly thanks to the market that we had created, if you ask me: the big manufacturers saw their industry have a new spring after we had managed to revolutionize the culture of watches, transforming them from a decadent manifestation of wealth, luxury and prestige into an unprecedented, educated appreciation of the art of watchmaking and watch design. Along with that, however, also came the illusion that any high-end watch would turn into a commodity that would never fail to financially reward every “investor” as opposed to “end user”. A trading game, where the smartest of us couldn’t fail to succeed: and in an upswing trajectory market, everybody is a genius.

Sadly, “this watch will be worth a lot more money before you know it” became the most popular selling pitch you’ll hear from a dealer. Nothing delivers the desired reaction from people better than telling them what they want to hear and, soon enough, our world of vintage watches started becoming crowded with people who were in for the gain rather than the experience. And the bigger the game, the bigger the money, as prices were driven up, especially at the price range where the majority of buyers could afford to play. These are the people who realize they are not really into watches, after all, when the passion starts coming with a cost rather than a profit.

It’s just history that repeats itself: to quote William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I come from a place where vintage watch buyers – be them one timers or true collectors – used to buy their watch because they wanted to own it, enjoy the – unthinkable to so many – privilege of living an experience that was important to them, in the first place: and if that came with a gain, better yet. Today, things apparently work the exact opposite way. I know this is going to make me sound like an old fart, but I feel as though our world has been hijacked at some point, and we have been taken places we didn’t necessarily want to go.

Look, I don’t necessarily want to demonize speculators. Every market in rapid ascent will attract investors wanting to get on board to take advantage of the momentum. I am not expressing any judgment of ethical or moral nature: the money game intersects with all kinds of worlds and that’s that. It should not in the case of health care, education and politics if you ask me, but at the end of the day that’s just the way it is. And I am not even saying that these people are intentionally acting in ways that are detrimental to our market and community: in fact, I could tell you any number of stories where prominent members of this community have deliberately acted in ways that hurt literally everybody in the name of personal profit, to boost their own ego, or both. I am just pointing out their role in driving up the market sometimes to levels that don’t make any sense, like brand new watches retailing $ 50,000 traded at $ 200,000 on the open market, or classic pieces raked on the market in multiple examples to create offer scarcity and then resold when prices were much higher: we have to thank those guys for that. But it’s also true that the phenomenon brought some collateral benefits to the market as well, such as drawing the attention of global public and media, causing the passion we share and the culture of vintage watches to spread across all borders. And I will also add that this market was in fact financially underrated – in part I believe it still is, but this is a different conversation – and the speculation game has in some cases help align some prices to actual value. In fact, do not confuse the ordinary production watches selling for stellar prices with the important vintage pieces that are now selling for millions. These are two different markets: the first one is pushed up by speculation, the latter one is only making its way to a space of public recognition. Nobody is cornering the market of double crown world time Pateks.

When, however, for whatever reason – in this case geopolitical instability, uncertain economies and, especially, a market exploited beyond its intrinsic value (at least for now) – the market’s growth shows a tendency to fade, many buyers who joined for fun and curiosity realize they were not really in for the unique, extraordinary experience of being part of this culture as much as for the illusion only, or flat-out the monetary gain. Failing to meet these expectations they start selling, or stop buying at best. Which, in a market that’s catching its breath, is the perfect recipe for a deflation. And here we are, as expected.

Today’s world is certainly not that of thirty-five years ago, but we can all imagine what the consequences of an excessive offer to a diminished demand are likely to be.

It’s worth noting, however, that the last gold rush has not attracted only short-term speculators and imprudent investors, but also an incredible number of new – often younger – passionate aspiring collectors and dealers: and with them, a more deeply rooted culture of watches in general and vintage in particular, a more sophisticated knowledge of the art and industry’s intimate details with a new perspective for the appreciation of brands, models and styles.

Am I worried of what’s coming? Well, I certainly should be: like many of us whose livelihood depends on the vintage watch market, I worked my dream job for decades, owned some of the most extraordinary timepieces ever made and experienced a lifestyle like few others but, truth be told, I can’t really say I have put away any money: unlike many of my clients who are evidently smarter than me, all I saved over a lifetime in the game is a decent number of good watches, maybe a few very good ones.

This means that in a market’s crisis all I worked for my whole life could almost instantly lose 20, 30, maybe even 50%. But I know from experience that it’s only a matter of time before some of these watches, maybe all, maybe a few, will regain all they may have lost and then some. Which ones? As much as I like to think I should be able to tell, only the new trends and perspectives brought in by the latest and future generations of watch aficionados will set the parameters to make that determination. This is the time when the rats leave the ship fearing it’s about to sink, and the air will finally become more breathable: the tighter market conditions will make things a little harder, to the point that those who have not come to the hobby with a passionate heart will go looking for easier opportunities elsewhere.

Am I even disappointed? Do I wish I had sold that or the other particular watch when the market was more favorable? Maybe a little but, just to be clear, only because the liquidity would give me ammunition to keep buying the pieces I am drawn to, again and again, moving forward. This being said, I have never taken for granted that prices would only go up and I have always been ok with that. As I state – in a slightly provocatory title of this article – I somewhat welcome the moment. If what we fear is what’s actually going to happen, well, it’s not going be the end of anything good but the beginning of something better. I will quote my own website: “I never shopped for price and always strived to buy only the extraordinary. It’s a philosophy that has always paid back myself and my clients and, as far as I am concerned, the founding principle at the base of any collection that is meant to be a wise investment.”

I buy what I love and find extraordinary – if I can afford it – and regardless of its price, I will always be happy with it.

That is, in my vision, the wisest investment in watches, an experience we can gift ourself with to make the best of the only one life we have been gifted with. If that watch is worth more or less than what we paid will not make any difference for any of us soon enough, unfortunately. But if we feel joy looking at it, showing it to our friends or wearing it, it will be the wisest investment we have ever made. With my sincere condolences for those who miss out of this opportunity, seeing in the – sometimes fantastic – watches they have bought only the price instead of the value, fuming in rage if that’s gone down, instead of appreciating the privilege life has given them. But these considerations I will keep for a future story, if you will want to hear it.


The Base of All My Decisions

For a change, I will not write about watch restoration and the ways in which this affects, mainly in the wrong way, both the value and the market of a vintage watch. I would like, instead, to debate the assessment process through which we could – or should, in my opinion – be able to rate such value on a percentage basis or a zero to ten scale. This is obviously my own personal method that is surely susceptible of improvement, but that is the base of all my decisions regarding the buying or selling of a vintage watch.



You have certainly heard, especially with regards to watch restoration, an array of analogies between the collectible watch market and that of vintage automobiles or antique paintings, to mention the most common ones. There are, however, many other similar cases: from postage stamps to writing instruments, from antique silver to coins. In my opinion these are arguably categories that present some similarities to that of vintage watches, but are nonetheless quite different: in fact, all these different objects can be just as desirable, but for a different reason or, better said, a different combination of reasons. And, moreover, each of these categories reflect values determined by a combination of prerogatives that are unique to that very category: for a painting, its appearance is for sure more important than its state of preservation, for a post stamp it’s true the exact opposite; for an automobile functionality is a key factor, but for a silver samovar or a lantern, a detail of little importance.

Just as for any other category of rare and collectible objects, the evaluation criteria of a vintage timepiece include several elements, many of which in common with those of other categories, but still unique to that of vintage watches only: conversely, some other parameters, although applicable to different other objects, cannot be used to assess a vintage watch without doing some damage just like, at least in my opinion, it is actually happening. The elements that for me determine the value – both financial and “cultural-emotional” – of a vintage watch can be divided into two main categories: those of aesthetical nature and of technical-historical nature. My rating will be as much higher as the values within each of these categories are equally balanced, like the two plates of a scale bearing the exact same weight. The more aligned all the evaluation parameters, the more visible will be what I like to define as the “magic” of a given watch.

My rating will be as much higher as the values within each of these categories are equally balanced, like the two plates of a scale bearing the exact same weight.

Within the realm of the aesthetic perspective are, above all, the overall beauty and the visual impact of the watch: these are two elements that can actually prescind even from its preservation state or the absolute originality of its every component; the patina, or the whole visual effect given by the presence – or lack of – signs of aging; the preservation state, from the example untouched but totally destroyed, to the one that has been restored to perfection, from the one absolutely untouched and still like new, to others showing every shade in between; the combination model-color, like for example, a watch that has a particularly rare dial color and/or hands style, or in a particularly unusual metal for that model, like a steel and gold Patek Philippe chronograph.

On the other hand, belong to the technical-historical sphere all the elements that relate to the exact prerogatives of a given watch the day it left the factory. First of all, the originality of each component, that have to necessarily be – at least as far as there is any even minuscule visible difference – factory original; the consistency of each component, meaning that if not “born” with that very watch they be at least the exact same that was included in the original manufacturer’s design and plans; the period correct element, meaning that all components not only need being factory original, but also correct for the  watch’s production timeframe; the rarity of the timepiece as it relates to production numbers; its desirability and  availability from a demand/offer perspective; the presence of any original paperwork and accessories.



Theoretically, on a percentage scale a watch in absolutely “like new” conditions should always be the benchmark for a 100% rating, but in my opinion that is not necessarily always the case. In fact, it is well possible that a watch that shows some aging or some wear may still score the highest possible rating when some of the elements other than condition make up for the flaws. By the same token, it is possible that a well restored example may be more valuable than another that was never “touched” but aged badly, or that an example with very visible marks of aging – a perfect example would be that of the “tropical” dials – may be more desirable than the same exact model in absolutely perfect conditions. The “perfect” watch is not always, necessarily, perfect.

The generalized need to unify all the evaluation criteria in one one-size-fits-all code easily applicable by collectors and professionals alike worldwide has reduced this complex process to something similar, to use an example that I find particularly fitting, to that of antique postage stamps: if these are absolutely unused, perfectly “centered”, with a mint gum as originally sold by the post office, their value is 100/100. But the moment one only of these parameters is off, their value falls dramatically to a fraction of the full rating. When this same method is applied to vintage watches – that very, very rarely arrive to us in truly unworn conditions – the consequence is that these “ideal” conditions are often the result of invisible restorations or small improvements, such as the replacement of the damage components with same original parts, but in better conditions: agreeably accepted by dealers, but not shared with their buyers, this seems to be the only way to keep sustainable a market otherwise too resourceless to satisfy the often unrealistic expectations of the demand.



This situation has also contributed to the growth, between dealers and collectors, of the category – non-existent until just a few years ago – of vintage watch experts and consultants, a new profession that allows to profit from this market without paying the dues, finding or investing significant funds, exposing oneself to costly errors, scams, thefts or robberies. The experience matured by the “OGs” during the first decades of this experience is today available online for free: all one needs, is the time to study the available material – or at least enough of it to know a bit more than the next guy does – online, combined with some self-promotion skills, to be an “expert” who can charge for his services more than he could make buying and selling the same watches for which the consulting is offered. And, more often than not, without having ever owned one, or even a similar one, himself. Obviously, I do not have a high opinion of the category, but do acknowledge that whereas it does include a decent number of totally incompetent opportunists and a handful of unhinged haters, it also counts a few extremely educated individuals who, in my opinion, could help with their same work the future of this market rather than its demise. This is something that I promise to get into detail sometimes in the near future.



These are, for the most part, more or less informed archivists who excel in comparing all the data available online and/or the equivalent of laboratory technicians, perfectly able to spot an unknown or undisclosed restoration, but apparently unprepared to understand its value or to contextualize it into a true complete evaluation of the example at hand; to attribute monetary values relying on statistical data based on auction results, but unable to suggest any other value than previously attributed to a similar watch by a market precedent; and, especially and unfortunately, perfectly able to leverage on their clients’ fear of losing and desire for gain – both in terms of money or pride – to consolidate a method that grants their industry growing prosperity at the expense of the emotional, esoteric, stylistic and exquisitely aesthetical elements that have determined the very birth of this passion and market as we have learned to love it since its beginnings in the early 1980s. Deprived of its emotional content, that in so many ways make the way we perceive a vintage watch similar to that of a work of art, its unique prerogative to become part of its owner’s personality so similar – at least for most men – to that of some automobiles or motorcycles defining an object with cultural attributes absolutely unique to its own category, the incredibly rich world of vintage watches is on the brinks of following the fate of that of postage stamps and collectible coins.


The importance of Luxury Vintage Watch Investments during the Coronavirus

If you are looking at purchasing a brand new luxury watch, then I would probably recommend (with an unbiased opinion of course) to look at luxury vintage watches.

Before we go into why, let’s look at what happened in Switzerland this past month.

Switzerland is the home to Rolex and Patek Phillipe, among many others luxury watch brands

Among the world’s great watchmakers, Rolex became the first to announce it would briefly shut down as the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic worsens. Now, the rest of the (non-vintage) watch world is speedy following suit.

Less than a day after Rolex announced that it would be closing its production on Tuesday, Hublot ended up doing the same. A few days later, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and MB&F had delivered themselves to the list of manufactures that were following suit. In Patek Philippe’s case, each its main office and production facilities would be closed until March 27, same as WWD.

Covid-19 (corona virus) has impacted many corporations around the world

Audemars Piguet made its announcement on Twitter, where it stated the enterprise would close a portion of its workplaces, production websites and shops. “In this period of uncertainty, people’s safety stays at the coronary heart of our priorities. This is why we have determined to shut our Swiss production sites as well as some of our offices and boutiques in various countries till the stop of March,” its Tweet read.

Beyond a feel of corporate responsibility, the closures had been precipitated by way of Switzerland’s state of emergency, which limits crowds and has pressured maximum non-essential companies to cease regular operations. That declaration calls for all shops, restaurants, bars, leisure and entertainment facilities to shut till similarly notice.

With a number of the field’s maximum vital players down for the count, chances are high that the ones still status will soon adjust path and shutter the parts of their very own operations they can.

Those owned with the aid of conglomerate LVMH––Hublot, Tag Heuer, Zenith, Bulgari––may additionally flow at a slightly unique pace due to the fact they function greater independently than their peers at other luxury conglomerates.

Swatch Group––which owns the likes of Omega, Breguet, Harry Winston, Blancpain, Glashutte Original and Jacquet Droz––has but to make any most important statement, however its pass can be the most telling. Though it owns several excellent watch manufacturers in its personal right, the business enterprise also acts as a main element dealer to different watch manufacturers.

“Buffett said, “I just hope I see a lot of recessions.” Some of Berkshire Hathaway’s best investments have come during periods of economic turmoil.”

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Is it worth it to purchase a watch now? Well, if you believe in the value of priceless luxury items, or even Gold, then yes. All you are doing is investing in your own future.

As stated from a, “In an interview with CNBC, Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRK-B) chairman, was asked if he sees a recession coming—especially since the yield curve briefly inverted last week. Buffett said, “I just hope I see a lot of recessions.” Some of Berkshire Hathaway’s best investments have come during periods of economic turmoil.”

What does Vintage mean?

We always hear about the word vintage. In fact, it is plastered all over this website. But what does it exactly mean?

Are we even using the word correctly? Let’s read further and take a look at the history behind the word “vintage.”

History of the word “Vintage.”

The word ‘Vintage’ was first utilized and brought to life in the mid fifteenth century. Taken from an old French vendage, “vintage” meant “wine harvest.”

So what exactly does ‘Vintage’ refer to that is not related to the wine category?

In our context, meaning what we are concentrating on here on our website, the word vintage is used primarily for the luxury watches, cars and other collectibles we are showcasing.

Geneva archive extract for 1962 18K Patek Philippe automatic ref 3440

Vintage is an older item, that has deep history to it. In many cases, the item will in fact increase in value if maintained properly. We usually mean an old item, which carries certain nostalgic value, and potentially is of high quality. It would be classified as antique and not be less than two decades old.

When it is applied to collectibles, if it is more than 100 years old, it would be considered antique. Again, if it is between two decades to 100 years old, then we would classify it as vintage. Many of the watches that are showcased on this site are not only vintage, but they are restored and repaired in such was that makes them more valuable then the time they were purchased – subsequently giving the buyer an opportunity to pass it down as an heirloom.

Do not mistaken vintage with retro

There is quite a significant difference between vintage and retro. Retro would be labeled as something that is taken after a vintage item. In other words, it is copied to look like vintage. It does not have the history, nor does it have the opportunity to be passed down with class, as a vintage watch would have.

Many of the great watches we have here are not only vintage, but they are restored in a way that makes them timeless, sophisticated and in even some cases – rare.

Here are just several of the a list of some of the watches below that are available for purchase:

S/Steel Rolex Milgauss ref 6541 from 1958

18K Patek Philippe automatic ref 3440 from 1963

18K Patek Philippe automatic ref 3440 from 1962

S/Steel Rolex Explorer ref 1016 from 1966

S/Steel Rolex “Ovettone” ref 6206/84 from 1953

S/Steel Rolex gilt GMT-Master ref 1675 from 1966

S/Steel Rolex gilt GMT-Master ref 1675 from 1965

S/Steel Universal Genève Tri-Compax from 1975 circa

Panerai and the Italian Special Forces

When you think special forces, what immediately comes to mind? If you thought of the United States Special Operation Forces, then you are most likely in the same mindset of anyone else reading this. Though, there are other countries out there that have some of the most powerful armed forces units in the world. From Israel’s “Sayeret Matkal,” to Russia’s “Alpha Group,” special forces around the world work tirelessly to protect its land and citizens. In special circumstances, some of the most elite forces even go out to help other countries in need, most of the time during periods of war.

For the Italian Navy Unit (COMSUBIN), Panerai plays a pivotal role for its members, by providing this elite forces team with special professional divers watches. If you think about their daily routine and circumstances, the watches must certainly be made to be most effective under extreme situations.

Quick History of Panerai

Officine Panerai, or affectionately called Panerai to most, was founded in 1860 in the city of Firenze, and ever since has been one of the world’s most leading and innovative watches out there.  Granted they are part of the Rolex family, this very unique watch holds a natural blend of sophisticated Italian design, Swiss technological details and a passion for being underwater.

Between 1938 and 1972, Panerai was made for the Royal Italian Navy. Designed for extreme conditions, the utility designed luxury style watch truly made its mark in Italian history.

A glimpse of one of our Sold Watches, the Panerai 6152-1 for the Italian Navy

Additionaly, Panera’s limited annual production makes this watch have a value that is quite expensive – coupled with the fact that it sits under the umbrella of Rolex. Between the start of World War II and the early 90’s, Panerai was really never a brand. According to ex CEO Angelo Bonati, Panerai was “nothing.” He goes on to further explain, “It had only one watch, an enormous big watch not in line with the trends at the time.”

The rise of the Paneristi

While in Rome, in 1995 to produce the action movie “Daylight,” Sylvester Stallone became, the lead aficionado of the Panerai’s transformation. Stallone had a chance to see the Panerai Luminor Marina. In fact Panerai was the leader and trendsetter in creating watches that were over-sized, which ultimately became popular with other brands. Slytech was then created for Stallone back in 1996, and they went for roughly $20,000 each. He ended up handing them to his cast and crew.

Since Stallone’s inception of the Slytech, there have been hundreds of aficionado’s all over the world that would consider themselves a Paneristi. This devoted fan group, created twenty years ago, even had a dedicated limited-edition timepiece designed to this groups’ specific liking, back in 2010. They created it to their specifications, and thus the Luminor for Paneristi fueled this special following.

Today, the Panerai continues to create some of the world’s most beautiful watches. Down to the details, even the straps undergo a series of tests to check their supreme quality. Tension and torsion, abrasion, sweat, humidity, UV rays, water resistance test, saltwater test and finally the wear resistance test.

For more information on the Panerai we have recently sold, please click here.

What makes a Rolex so special?

Out of all the watch brands out there (e.g. Patek Phillipe, Audemars Piguet, Tag Heuer, Hublot, etc.), Rolex stands out distinctively as having a very special, yet specific aesthetic. Not only are they elegant and world renown in its class, they are sporty, active and more importantly considered “tool watches.” In fact, that is how they originally started. In the 1950’s, Rolex came out with the Submariner, the Milgauss and the GMT. They were all designed to be used as tools.

So when you look at it from that angle, that is their main target – and in fact that is how Rolex is known for even to this day.

How interesting is that? They started off as tool watches back in the day, and now have turned into luxury watches.

“Of the main Rolex collection of gold bands, the 20 mm. Oyster is the hardest one to source.” -A. Ciani

Some of Rolex’s lower priced watches, such as the Submariner, has three qualities that still help keep it above ground when comparing to other watches. These qualities being that they are: self-winding, precision and waterproof.

More importantly, the fact that it takes about a year for the watch to be made shows how much they focus on quality.

Nice Rolex Submariner ref 5512 with open minute track four lines gilt dial, comes with original warranty, chronometer certification and instructions. Right from 1966! – A. Ciani

The testing is quite intense, along with the other variables they run through: accuracy, chronometer, and most importantly – timing.

The watch is tested so many times, including the clasp, so if you can be rest assured it won’t break when you get it.

If you take care of it accordingly and have it serviced properly. Or more importantly – restored by someone that understands the very specific details behind it. Then most likely you can relish in its infinite glory. In other words, reap the benefits of what makes a rolex so special.

One of the nicest things about Rolex is that anyone can wear them. They are made to be quite unisex and that is what makes them quite intriguing and refreshing. Since a lot of female watches carry diamonds and such, it makes it hard for men to wear them. Rolex watches carry the distinct feature of being presentable to both male and female.

At this point, you can say… “What makes a Rolex so special is that if you take care of this ‘prize of a watch’ properly… restore it when necessary… you win. Now you’re in a position where you can pass this treasure down to generation after generation, since ultimately it now can last you beyond a lifetime.”

What We Have Learned From The Geneva Auctions

The aftermath of the Geneva auctions week gets definitely the attention of most dealers and collectors alike.  Of course, I reckoned I’d have to write something about it to update my blog with something new. But as the days passed by, I got also really intrigued by the idea of trying to answer the questions that I am punctually asked by friends and clients every time a watch does not bring in auction at least the same price that everybody asks on the market: how can a Paul Newman sell for less than $ 250K? That watch sold for nothing, why? Is the market collapsing?

First off, I would like to give you a basic understanding of how auctions results should be interpreted. For this purpose, I have asked the four major international auction houses in the watch department – Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Antiquorum and Phillips – for their results in detail, and namely for their total sales before buyer’s commission, the exact number of lots offered for sale after lots withdrawn and the total of the low estimates of these watches, which we know of course generally also represents the reserve price offered to the sellers (except of course for the lots offered without reserve).

I thank all of them for having kindly submitted the requested information, albeit all in a different way: except for one auction house, the other three have provided partial data and, as I have realized sourcing my own information, did that apparently for a reason. Because, of course, the three numbers I asked for are all easily obtainable online, save naturally for the tedious task of extrapolating them manually. Honestly, I initially just meant to spare myself the leg work, but as I saw the info coming in different forms from different auction houses I couldn’t help thinking there was a reason for that.

The main piece of information all auction houses will make public is the total of all sales, inclusive of buyer’s commissions: the higher the number, the better the performance will appear and well, that extra 25% that’s added to the bill makes that number look even bigger. I do think that is an important piece of information anyway, because at the end of the day that is what the watches have really brought on the market. For example, if a steel Paul Newman sold for $ 160K hammer, therefore $ 200K including commission, it would be more appropriate to assess its market value around the higher figure, because that’s what the end user is evidently willing to pay for it. On the other hand, as a seller you will need to consider that you would be getting $ 160K selling that watch to auction. Auction sales’ outcomes are unpredictable, but there are stats that can help you steer your choice as a seller towards the safest direction: that’s when the other numbers come into play. So, let’s look beyond the two basics figures we’re normally offered: the total of the proceeds inflated with the buyer’s commission and, occasionally, the percentage of watches sold over the number of lots offered for sale.

The reason why knowing the total of all estimates is useful, is that it can be opposed to that of the total sales before commission. This percentage generally ranging from barely below the 100% threshold and somewhat more over it, will tell you the average ability of that auction house to score above the minimum promised to the consignor. Generally the reserve price is fixed somewhere around half of what the watch is expected to potentially express including commission, as that’s more or less as high a number that can be reasonably guaranteed the seller, yet allowing the deal to sound attractive to potential buyers. Needless to say, the lower the reserve price will be, the easier it’s sale is going to be and the higher the selling price over reserve ratio will prove: conversely, sellers will be less and less easy to convince to consign as the offered reserve price lowers.

Believe it or not, the lower the reserve price of a  lot offered for sale, the higher the odds that it’s going to perform well. So when your auction representative will push for a lower reserve price, he will actually be doing something that works best for you: he will leverage on the high estimate to convince you to let go, using it to raise your best hopes. This is where the average percentage above reserve an auction generally strikes can be an indicator of what you can expect: if your watch’s estimate will be $ 100K to $ 300K,  and auction house that generally scores 90% of the low estimate in total sales before commission, it is likely to either fail at selling your item or will sell it at the very minimum you were guaranteed (plus the commission, that goes to them) which in this case will be $ 100K; if their average is 20% over the the low estimate, that will suggest that the odds you are going to sell your watch for $ 120K or more are relatively significant.

I did run all these number for all the above mentioned auction houses and did get a good picture of what happened in this particular season. Although I will not share this analysis at this time, I do recommend that you do such study when pondering which auction house you will entrust with the sale of your watches. What I will share, however, is that one of them provided a detailed, already made analysis including all of this and even more data in a surprisingly exhaustive document; another one provided all the information I had asked for in a more informal way, allowing me to run the numbers without scrambling online and pull my own results; the third provided part of the requested info, just so there could be no complaints, yet presenting it in a way that certainly wouldn’t help to easily get a very clear picture; and the last one volunteered only their press release, a manifesto celebrative of their more significant sales and the total amount of the sales scored.

Including premium, not the naked figure. In a way, each of these auction house’s individual performance related in its own way to how the statistic results were disclosed. One last thing I think is worth noting is that everyone sold as an average  closer to the low estimate than the high, this time, something that everyone has noticed for sure. The market is apparently going through the expected slow down after a few years of consistent growth. Nonetheless, a total of 55, 717,756 Swiss Francs (roughly the same in USD) have been spent in watches during the week, excluding Christie’s Only Watch charity event, that bought another CHF 38,593,000 with the Patek Philippe 6300A-010 alone that sold for CHF 31,000,000. Definitely not too bad, I would say: this is obviously a market, and a serious one. I still can’t help imagine it aligning itself with that of contemporary art and vintage automobiles over time.

Let me try to explain why, in my opinion, watches offered at a much lower price of what we are educated to believe to be their market, occasionally sell for an even lower one, if they sell at all. The concerns that such events trigger, and the idea that these are  necessarily signals of a crashing market, derive from the generalized misconception that the vintage watch market is somewhat similar to that of the stock exchange. I have many a time received calls from clients who had bought a watch – mostly a model appealing a vast audience, like a Rolex Daytona – just a few weeks before, asking “what are they quoting now”, as if there were department in Wall Street for watch dealings or something, and I were their trade agent.

And other calls, at times even confrontational, if a watch similar the one they owned was advertised by another dealer or sold in auction for less than they had  paid for theirs. Again, all examples of how the expectation of new watch collectors are occasionally a bit confused and often, I will ad, because of what their trusted watch dealer has deemed reasonable- if not convenient- let them believe. The truth of the matter is that although high-end watches haves turned out to prove exceptional investments over time for many collectors, they haven’t done so for all of them. Inevitably what you buy, how long you hang on to it and at what particular time you sell it have a critical impact on this particular aspect, and selling your watch is not exactly the same thing as calling your bank investments’ desk agent and tell him to get rid of all your General Electric stock at the same price you’ve seen on the morning’s WSJ.

In auction especially, many factors come in to play. First of all, a good number of buyers is made of dealers. Dealers do generally buy their inventory at market price minus some 10 to 20%, but that doesn’t mean they will buy each and every watch of the same make and model they will run into: especially at today’s prices, they will likely have to wait until what they already have in-house is sold, to then replace it. Exceptions may happen when the “multiple” comes stupid cheap or, more likely, when its characteristics are so outstanding that he will buy out of pure passion alone: and that’s when extraordinary comes into play.

Second, non professionals and collectors still tend to be very shy about buying in auction, because the distance can make it hard to personally inspect  the desired watch and there is no return policy in case you just don’t like it; because of the payment terms that are likely to be less flexible than those offered by dealers; because of the pressure of having to commit to a price in a matter of seconds if you bid personally or on the phone; because of the occasionally unfriendly shipping and customs logistics that can come into play if they’re buying from another country. On top of it all, it takes at least two bidders who want that same watch, on that same day, in the same time zone, against all the similar lots offered by other auction houses, to compete on that same lot and bring the price up to real market values. Also, we must not forget how low reserve prices generally are. As you can see, there are so many factors that may affect an auction result, that I am more surprised when I see  watches selling exactly in their retail price range than the other way around.

That Question, Again!

Rolex 5512 from the early 60s before and after “sensitive” case restoration

One question that prospect clients invariably ask me nowadays, whilst going through the process of assessing if a watch is worth buying or not, is: “is the case polished”? This question is legitimate, since the market demands higher prices for untouched watches so – fairly enough – they want to know how the price they are asked reflects the actual condition of the watch, if they are getting the most possible for their money and if the watch they may be about to buy has the prerogatives necessary to be easily re-sold at some point in the future, possibly performing as a good investment too.

Yet, when I hear the question I can’t help rolling my eyes, thinking how ironic it is that so many people expect to make a selective choice based on a difference they obviously cannot see and, occasionally, even understand. I mean, when people ask me if a Rolex GMT has “its super dome” crystal, or a Submariner from the late seventies the “stretch” Oyster bracelet and the “red triangle insert”, they obviously don’t know what they’re talking about. So they want a watch with prerogatives that do not exist or would not be consistent with what they are wanting to buy, just because they heard someone mentioning those items. Likewise, the want a watch that was never polished, mostly because they heard someone saying that that is something you must want.

I know that as long as you’ll just give the answer they want to hear, based on what they heard in some casual watch talk or read on an occasional visit to a collectors’ online forum, you will eventuality score a sale: and some

Unpolished Rolex Submariner ref. 6204

watch dealers will do just that. Conversely, if you give them an honest picture of the watch you are representing, explaining all the pros and  the cons that make it a good collector’s piece altogether and actually a good deal in the bargain, next thing you know your prospect buyer will run to take the offer from the less honest guy.

Doing your homework every day can be boring at times, that’s out of the question, but if you want the reward that comes at the end, it is also an inevitable endeavor: you want to be a doctor, an architect or an attorney, there is no other way to access the stage and get that degree than going through all the motions involved. Trust me, you’re not getting that diploma from Harvard just asking around what a PhD is all about, and then showing up at the ceremony. If you want to be a true watch expert yourself, you need to devote many years to accomplish the goal, make a lot of mistakes and inevitably lose a lot of money, just like I and others like me have done. Or, you can decide to entrust a true professional to make the best choice for you. My advice is that if you are ill, want to remodel your home or need a good defense in a lawsuit, you better hire the most qualified and experienced doctor, architect or attorney money can buy: rather that look online or ask a multitude of amateurs, opinion makers, bloggers, aficionados and the like how your case ought to be handled, just so that you can at that point hire are a professional and tell him what needs to be done and how. This been said, let’s try to understand a little better what’s what and talk, this time, about where this “unpolished case” thing comes from, what it really represents and what it means in the evaluation of a vintage watch; why people would re-polish cases if everybody wants them unpolished anyway, and other fun stuff like that.

For Part II, click here.

That question, again! (Part II)

The old fashioned way – almost abandoned, today – to rebuff scratched up cases or remove dents or nicks from beat up watches was an invasive procedure that could literally deform the original shape of a watch case, or at best remove forever that particular finish – whether sanded or lapped – that was unique to the factory’s specifications.

A gold Vacheron & Constantin ref. 4178 chronograph badly polished the old school way and after proper, sensitive case restoration.

To a true lover of watch design like myself this practice was nothing short of sacrilegious and since the very early days of my career I started growing a particular passion for untouched – or barely touched – vintage watches. Only that condition would preserve the purity of the original design that determined the uniqueness of every model. Just like today, however, the buyer’s preference was determined by what the mass – driven by the market – privileged: back then it was the shiny, freshly re-polished watch. Trust me, refusing to re-polish an untouched watch – which I did several times – simply meant losing the sale and having to wait for another day and another buyer. And these clients were experienced, veteran collectors too! Only the least expert would let me decide for them, and accept to maintain their watch’s original condition even if that involved living with a scratch or a small dent on its case. I will keep blood chilling stories of beautiful, original dials refinished because of collectors’ intolerance to a small halo or patina for next time…

Some of my hometown’s biggest names in watchmaking would proudly include in the service a heavy re-polishing job that would often permanently remove all outer engravings, including case serial numbers and brand logos, like the Rolex coronet on snap on case backs. Sadly, even major manufacturers like Rolex and Patek Philippe would return watches with cases that were literally violated as part of the “official” service process, along with replacing original hands, dials and bezels with later replacement parts that would eventually devastate the integrity and value of the vintage piece. But all this for a reason: it was exactly what clients wanted. Slowly, however, things started to change in favor of preservation, and people – gradually absorbing the education offered from a handful of dealers – started appreciating the occasionally rough beauty of an unmolested watch over the glittering allure of the over-polished case. The request to service centers – factory authorized or not – to overhaul the movement without replacing any original visible part and leaving the case be started becoming so frequent, that they had to start considering to change their views on what was right or wrong regarding maintenance.

Unpolished Rolex GMT-Master ref 1675

So we arrive to our days, when people on one hand ask: “has the case been polished?” – obviously unable to tell themselves, thus not having a real personal opinion or preference – and watch repairmen or service centers daring not touch a case any longer if they have the slightest hunch they’re looking at an untouched one. Unfortunately there are still a few out there that haven’t got it yet and never will, but they represent a truly sparse minority. In the meantime, however, re-polishing cases has not disappeared as a practice, but has evolved into a new concept that I like to think of as “sensitive” watch case restoration, something that a few extraordinary artisans have brought to a level of a real art. In fact, some incredibly talented hands today are capable of working on a previously devastated case and make it look like it was never touched in the first place. As a matter of fact, as far as I am concerned this is the only case in which this kind of intervention is justified. Different hands and different work styles offer different kinds of results, with a general tendency of the individual artisan to strive for a like-new effect as testimony of his/her professional virtues: I see it a little differently, but that’s something I like to share with my restoration clients only. In the meantime, new collectors keep on worrying about an issue that hardly exists anymore, just like traffic occasionally thickens for hours on a same spot, where there seems to be absolutely no cause for this to happen, other than for an accident happened hours earlier and yet not a single trace of it is still visible. Let me remark this: re-polishing the case of a vintage watch that has never been touched before is a very, very bad idea; likewise, leaving an already badly re-polished one…badly re-polished, is just as stupid, if you have a good opportunity to have it done right.

For Part III, click here.

That question, again! (Part III)

What do we do, now? Keep paying a “never touched” premium to dealers who have learned the way to have their watches perfectly restored for a fraction of that? Or finally learn our own standards and go by those? Is it worth paying other people who will charge us money to tell us NOT to buy based on easily obtainable, public evidence – as that’s the easiest way to make profit at zero risk with zero investment – while exposing us to the same chances of buying a re-polished watch because they couldn’t tell themselves themselves anyway?

Or should we maybe finally accept the fact that what makes a watch truly valuable is its beauty, it’s perfect balance between original condition, organic aging and reasonable wear and tear for the life it has lived, over half a century or more, with no VISIBLE signs of bad restoration attempts to corrupt the picture? Because this is what we are really buying most of the time. And when the unquestionable, history proven, “virgin” condition of a watch is truly available, are we willing to pay the real price, which is three, four or more times the average market? And, do we even need to?

“Let’s stop asking questions the answers to which we would risk using against our own interest anyway; let’s stop allowing dishonest people to make profits by simply lying to our face; let’s stop paying last minute experts a fee for telling us things we could easily figure out by ourselves, as if they made a real difference anyway.”


With the advent of “preservation” as the new standard, restoration too has changed gear to a point that today’s results were unthinkable just a few years ago. In the meantime, the general public has  only come to understand that a “polished case” is bad, even if just because back in the day “re-polished” meant a violated, vandalized case, awful to look at, even though today that’s really not the case any longer. How does that affect the market? Well, in the first place asking “has the watch been polished?” is likely to possibly provide the enquirer either with a lie or an incorrect answer, unless the watch has been polished by the very person who is offering it, in which case he would know: because in most cases it’s just simply impossible to tell. So, if you really care to know what you are buying, much smarter


questions would be: “does this watch show evident signs of poor re-polishing work?”, or “what quality score would you give the case on a 1 to 100 scale?”, and “is there any visible restoration attempt that corrupts the watch’s original condition?”. Questions that will more likely get a true answer on which a wise decision can be made. And if somebody tries to sell you the idea that they can tell if a case has been re-polished based on millimeters or milligrams differences, they’re just blowing smoke up your ass: a modern, electronic, numerically controlled milling machine has a tolerance of plus or minus 0,2% for a total potential difference in size of two different examples of the exact same finished product of a 0,4%.

Imagine what are the odds that hand finished parts, cut with analogically operated machinery at least half a century older could deliver anything even close to that “non” precision.

So here’s the deal: let’s stop asking questions the answers to which we would risk using against our own interest anyway; let’s stop allowing dishonest people to make profits by simply lying to our face; let’s stop paying last minute experts a fee for telling us things we could easily figure out by ourselves, if they only made a real difference anyway; let’s start instead developing a personal sensitivity that can finally allow us to make our own decisions, guarantee us that we will love what we are buying and, if we don’t feel technically and professionally prepared to make such decisions on our own, have the humility to go out there and trust a supplier who has the experience, knowledge and taste to make the best possible decision for us.

You guessed it, just like we do when we choose our doctor, interior designer or attorney.

Worn but unmolested: Rolex Milgauss, ref. 6541

Don’t trust blindly those who will always tell you what you like to hear, but try to appreciate and understand the truth. You will find herds of bottom feeders who will volunteer criticizing whatever you are offered from other dealers, and that for sure will protect you from making a bad deal or two. But they will never compensate you for all the good deals they will make you miss either, and that could be just as big, if not bigger, damage; instead, there are a few truly experienced dealers with their own – not yours – skin in the game, who have the experience and knowledge to walk you safely through a true extraordinary experience and, should they ever make a mistake, will not hesitate to own it and stand by it. If you don’t feel confident enough to choose the right watch for you, just try to wisely choose the right dealer: learn about his history, his reputation, his publications – if any – and ask him to help you understand your watch and investment with clarity, standing to his proven experience and not a bunch of controversial information based on online hearsay. Check out what his return policy is, and ask around if he’s known to truly keep his promises.


We’ve gone through the phases of watches that would sell only when well re-polished; then, only if with box and papers; then, only if with a “tropical” dial; now, only if “never polished”: what next? Are we ever going to consider watches that just look great enough and that’s it? And by the way, if you are looking at the photos I attached to this post and don’t really see a difference between the properly polished watches and the untouched ones, well…that’s what I’m getting at.