Mechanical watches of the twentieth century are highly collectable and stylish objects. They have often been made in small, limited editions, the movements are beautifully engineered and as objects they are sophisticated pieces of equipment. The outer case is an indicator of when a watch was manufactured, from forties elegance to seventies chunkiness, and brand names indicate geographical origins – Rolex, Omega and Patek Philippe point to Switzerland, for example.
As with any other commodity, the price of second hand watches fluctuates with fashion. Diver’s, yachter’s and driver’s second hand watches from the seventies are intermittently much in vogue, so much so that Tag Heuer reissued Steve McQueen’s favourite, the ‘Carrera’. As second hand, they are available for around £1000. The reissue of old models is very common. The classic Jaeger-Le-Coutre, known as the ‘reverso’ because it has a face on both sides, is another to again see the light of day recently, at £2154 new or £1200 used. Most independent jewellers sell second hand watches and they usually come with a guarantee; however, it is the dealers who are most likely to get what you really want if you’re after elusive items to add to your collection of second hand watches or want an investment item. You can find second hand watches for example at the Antiquarius and Chenil Galleries on the King’s Road in Chelsea, the arcades of Portobello market and the shop fronts in Hatton Garden and Clerkenwell Road.
Condition and working order are everything with second hand watches, so only bother with the best. Generally, the more complications a second hand watch has, the more valuable it is. A complication is any function in addition to telling the time. Complications include displaying the date, day and month. With the addition of a stopwatch function the timepiece is known as a chronograph.
While it is always advisable to buy something only if you really like it, there is no denying the financial returns possible in the second hand watch market. In the past 20 years Patek Philippe and Rolex second hand watches have outperformed a number of other investment sectors and there has been a surge in new buyers entering the second hand watches market recently, particularly from Asia, which makes for a promising future.
The typical second hand watch collector being male, there is a gap in the market for female second hand watches. You can buy a female second hand watch, even from the more sought-after brands, for a fraction of the price of the male version. Their relative cheapness makes them a good investment opportunity as experts believe they will grow in popularity in the future with the rest of the market.
While the second hand watches market is dominated by Patek and Rolex, there are other brands that perform well at auction and are worth having valued before arranging contents insurance. Cartier, well known for producing luxury goods, does well, particularly with its second hand watches from the 1920s to 1950s. The less well-known Audemars Piguet is also particularly sought-after, with its second hand watches from 1920 to 1960 being the most popular.
As with any vintage item, it is important to ensure that any second hand watch you buy is in good condition. Scratched glass can be replaced without too much loss in value, while the crown – which you turn to adjust or wind the watch and can often get quite worn – can also be replaced, although this can affect the working of the watch. Over-polishing can wear down angular second hand watches, changing the shape of the setting, which can result in a loss of value.
If you do decide to invest in a second hand watch, always ensure you ask for a certificate of authenticity and a history of any restorative work. If you want to know the value of a second hand watch you already own, the in-house specialists at an auction house will value it free of charge.