History creates tomorrow’s valuable watches
The value of premium second-hand watches has ticked up even in the tough economic times of late.
With watches, it is the make and how rare they are that are important. A sale of 50 Rolex Oyster Daytonas, a model that dates back 50 years, at Christie’s in Geneva last month raised $13.2m (£8m).
The top item wasn’t even made of any precious metal; it was a 1969 “Paul Newman” model, which sold for more than $1m (£610,000), many times the original estimate. And it wasn’t even worn by the film star – merely named after him because he wore that model in the Seventies.
Closer to home, a Rolex owned by a prisoner of war went up for auction in October. It belonged to RAF pilot Gerald Imeson, who was imprisoned at the notorious Stalag Luft III camp, made famous in the 1963 film The Great Escape. Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf gave watches to prisoners of war who had had their own timepieces confiscated when imprisoned, although he asked them to pay for their watches after the war was over.
Flight Lieutenant Imeson, who died in 2003, paid about £170 for his (£5,000 in today’s money). At the sale at Bourne End Auction Rooms in Buckinghamshire his watch was sold for £50,000 to an overseas buyer. By comparison, a watch of the same model but without the PoW story sold for £24,000 earlier this year.
Probably the world’s most expensive watch is the 201-carat Chopard timepiece that fetched $25m (£15m today) in 2000. However, the multicoloured diamond piece is more jewellery than a watch. It is a “monstrosity” according to Dan Wade of Paul Fraser Collectibles.
A more traditional piece is the 1933 Patek Philippe Henry Graves Super Complication pocket watch that sold for $11m (£6.7m now) in 1999. It was made for US banker Henry Graves, who was competing with car-maker James Ward Packard for ownership of the most complicated watch. It took three years to make and it includes a chart showing the stars over New York city.
The priciest traditional wristwatch ever sold at auction was a 1944 Patek Philippe that sold for $5.6m in 2010. Indeed Patek Philippe is generally considered to be the best name in luxury watches: of the 100 most expensive pieces to be auctioned, 80 carried its name.
Mr Wade said Patek Philippe watches commanded high prices thanks to the long history of the company (it made its first piece in 1868) as well as “renowned workmanship, innovation, superb movements, the high quality of its materials and crucially their small production numbers”.