This might strike some as strange: Why on Earth would you collect unpopular watches? By unpopular watches, we mean the watches that others, especially collectors, don’t want to purchase.
The best example of why it could be a good idea to buy an unpopular model is probably the Rolex Daytona. At some point in time (up until the 1980s), Rolex dealers were stuck with the Daytona chronographs. Not only was there low demand for mechanical watches, but the people who did buy mechanical watches thought it was a bit strange to spend money on a Rolex that didn’t have an automatic movement inside, but rather a common Valjoux hand-wound movement. Thus, these watches could be picked up for relatively little in the late 1970s and mid 1980s. Boy did that change, right? If you bought a Daytona then, you could likely buy a seriously nice car from the profits if you sold it today. Better yet, you could put a down payment on a house!
There are a few more of these examples out there, but the question remains, which “unpopular” watch could you buy today that might turn into something collectible in the future? However, another logical reason to collect unpopular watches is that it keeps the hobby of collecting watches a bit more affordable.
You could say that the Rolex Milgauss or Rolex Explorer II might be interesting “unpopular” purchases for a collection, as they are the less-desired sports models compared to the Submariner and GMT-Master II, for example. However, everything is relative and since Rolex produces a high number of watches each year, these two do sell well compared to watches from other brands. However, if you are set on sticking with the crown from Geneva, have a look at a white-dialed Explorer II model, for example. It offers similar functionality to the GMT-Master (except for the rotatable bezel), but can be found for a much lower price.
Another interesting contender from a big brand is the Omega Seamaster Professional 300M Chronograph. It is essentially the same design as the famous James Bond watch used in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, but with a chronograph function. This model is not as popular as the simple automatic version, but it’s still a rock solid watch with a Valjoux movement. It was released before the Co-Axial escapement and Omega’s own in-house movements were around. The watch is available in stainless steel (cheapest), titanium (slightly more expensive, but still under 2,000 euros), or one of these materials combined with (rose) gold or tantalum. This is a sleeper watch for sure.
A pre-owned Ebel chronograph, on the other hand, has lower production numbers and a lower demand. At less than 2,000 euros, you can purchase a 44-mm chronograph with an incredibly nice Ebel calibre 137 movement on board (based on Lemania). If size doesn’t matter, you’ll pay a similar price for a bicolor 18-karat gold/stainless steel Ebel chronograph with the El Primero movement.
Though it is highly praised by collectors, only few know about this watch. It was worn by Don Johnson in Miami Vice, which was sponsored by Ebel at the time, and underlines the “coolness” this brand enjoyed in those years (it is almost invisible today, and mainly focused on ladies’ watches). Also take a look at the Ebel BTR chronographs.
Another interesting collecting theme might be quartz or even digital watches. Some big brands like Breitling, Seiko, Omega, and a couple of others made some of these in the past, and some still do. A good example of this is the Breitling Chronospace from the 1990s and early 2000s. While it’s not as well known as the Breitling Aerospace, for example, it is nevertheless a Breitling made for their “Professional” line of pilot watches. For a good 1,200-1,400 euros, you can buy a Breitling Chronospace in original or good condition; plus, it gives you a number of interesting complications (digital complications, of course) that are also interesting for those of us who aren’t pilots.
With the right bracelet or strap, you could really make something interesting out of these neo-vintage digital Breitling watches. Take a look at the Chronospace reference A7836534, for example. Will these become valuable down the road? Well, that’s difficult to say, but at least they’re fun and their value likely won’t decrease.
If your wrist can handle a smaller watch, it will surely save you a bit to purchase a smaller version of a popular watch. Whether it’s a mid-size Omega Seamaster 300M, a 33-mm vintage dress watch (Patek Philippe’s Calatrava, for example), or a vintage 36-mm diving watch, they’re all often more affordable than their bigger brothers. Even 34-mm Air Kings and Rolex Oyster Perpetual reference 6694s are much cheaper than their slightly larger (at 36mm) relatives like the Explorer or Datejust.
Did you know that the discontinued Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Perpetual Calendar in 37mm with a platinum case is much cheaper (pre-owned) than its current 39-mm version in stainless steel? Go figure. If you are keen on buying “sleeper” watches, or those pieces that will become more sought after and thus more valuable over time, you’ll need to do your homework. A model’s history, movement types (think Ebel with the El Primero movement), the collector’s scene, and the current market can all influence prices significantly. Also, there is no guarantee that the watch you choose will become collectible in the future. That said, it is pretty safe to say that a well-thought-out purchase probably does better than the current interest rate on your bank account.
If you are keen on enjoying the hobby (or passion) of collecting watches, there are plenty of perfect opportunities to purchase your own “unpopular” watch.
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