01/27/2021
 5 minutes

Does a watch’s material influence how it performs financially?

By Tom Mulraney
Does a watch’s material influence how it performs financially?

Does a watch’s material influence how it performs financially?

Did you know that there are watch cases made entirely of sapphire? You probably did since they’re quite popular these days (relatively speaking). But how many watch enthusiasts realize just how difficult it is to work with this incredibly strong yet notoriously brittle material? This phenomenon (fad? craze?) of entirely transparent cases is relatively new, with a small handful of manufacturers having just perfected its production over the last decade or so. Those in the know, however, will tell you it was only a matter of time before this kind of timepiece would emerge. For an industry that’s hundreds of years old and allegedly over the hill, the mechanical watch business is surprisingly high-tech. Innovative brands constantly search for ways to evolve and diversify their product palettes, often borrowing ideas (and materials) from other innovative industries.

There’s no substitute for the classics with most watch lovers. For these enthusiasts, nothing beats an AP Royal Oak, a Vacheron Constantin Overseas in decadent rose gold, or perhaps a complicated Patek or Lange in platinum if life has been exceptionally kind to you. Meanwhile, the rest of us have to content ourselves with an ageless Rolex Submariner or Omega Speedmaster in stainless steel. Titanium and bronze watches have also grown in popularity over the last twenty years or so. Bvlgari’s Octo Finissimo and the Tudor Pelagos are prime examples of the former, while these days, the name Panerai has almost become synonymous with bronze watches.

Whatever your pleasure, there’s no denying that case material plays an integral part not only in how your watch looks and feels but also in how it wears on the wrist. For some, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of rocking a solid gold watch. But while it’s noticeably heavier than steel, especially when paired with a matching bracelet, it’s also a softer metal and, therefore, more prone to dings and scratches (some brands like Hublot with its King Gold have made some important improvements in this area). High-tech materials like ceramic and titanium offer additional benefits, such as being super lightweight and highly scratch-resistant. However, these substances are time-consuming to work, which adds to their cost. Some people argue that the finishing on these materials – particularly with titanium – is never as nice as that of their steel or precious metal counterparts.

With all this in mind, we thought it would be interesting to take a deep dive into Chrono24’s data and look at how different case materials have performed financially over time.

Rolex Day-Date 18038

Yellow Gold

What Chrono24’s data says:

The most popular brands for yellow gold watches (by number of sales in 2020): 

  1. Rolex (Day-Date)
  2. Cartier (Tank Américaine)
  3. Patek Philippe (Calatrava)

The bestselling yellow gold watches (by number of sales in 2020):

  1. Rolex Day-Date ref. 18038
  2. Rolex Day-Date ref. 1803
  3. Rolex Datejust ref. 6917

Analysis:

Back in the day, yellow gold was where it was at for luxury watches. From dress watches to sports watches and everything in between, all kinds of timepieces were offered in this warm precious metal. And while yellow gold continues to feature prominently within the catalogs of all the well-known brands, fashions change, and the number of case metals available has broadened significantly. Yellow gold doesn’t quite turn heads the way it once did. Although this isn’t necessarily reflected in the retail price of a watch, the impact on its financial performance can certainly be seen on the secondary market. Less desirable models predictably begin to decline from their retail value almost immediately, meaning there are great watches to be had at more attractive prices. That said, this does not hold true for all brands and models. For example, the classic yellow gold Cartier Tank Américaine has seen its value start to creep up over the past few months.

White gold watches
White gold watches

White Gold

What Chrono24’s data says:

The most popular brands for white gold watches (by number of sales in 2020):

  1. Rolex (Daytona)
  2. Patek Philippe (Pilot Travel Time)
  3. Breguet (Le Réveil du Tsar Classique)

The bestselling white gold watches (by number of sales in 2020):

  1. Rolex Daytona ref. 116509
  2. Rolex Daytona ref. 116519
  3. Rolex Yacht-Master ref. 42226659

 

Analysis:

White gold has become the go-to choice for many watch lovers who are looking for a precious metal case but prefer something less ostentatious than yellow gold. One of the great things about this precious metal is that, to the untrained eye, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate from steel – especially from a distance. This makes it a good alternative for the less flashy among us who like to fly a bit under the radar. However, once on the wrist, you immediately notice the difference between wearing a timepiece in solid white gold instead of stainless steel. This is what makes a watch like the Rolex Daytona 116509 so appealing: You can literally feel the value. White gold will also match just about anything in your wardrobe, making it a very versatile option. 

Stainless steel watches
Stainless steel watches

Steel

What Chrono24’s data says:

The most popular brands for stainless steel watches (by number of sales in 2020):

  1. Rolex (Explorer II)
  2. Omega (Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional)
  3. Seiko (Spirit SARB033)

The Bestselling steel watches (by number of sales in 2020):

  1. Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional ref. 311.30.42.30.01.005
  2. Omega Speedmaster Reduced ref. 3510.50.00
  3. Rolex Explorer II ref. 16570

Analysis:

Steel has far and away become the most popular choice of case metal for high-end watches in the modern era. There are several good reasons for this. Steel lends itself well to a great-looking finish; it’s relatively cheap to produce and manufacture; and it’s a tough, robust material that can take its share of nicks and scratches (some of which can be polished out). It’s no secret that steel sports models from brands like Rolex, and to a lesser extent AP, have seen their popularity and value skyrocket. However, look beyond these watches, and you’ll find a bountiful selection of attractive, remarkable, and even historical steel timepieces at very reasonable prices. The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional is a fantastic example of this; it’s no surprise to see that it was 2020’s bestselling steel model.

Titanium watches
Titanium watches

Titanium

What Chrono24’s data says:

The most popular brands for titanium watches (by number of sales in 2020): 

  1. Breitling (Avenger E13360)
  2. Citizen (Promaster Altichron)
  3. Hublot (Classic Fusion)

The bestselling titanium watches (by number of sales in 2020): 

  1. Tudor Pelagos ref. 25600TN
  2. Seiko ref. SBGA211
  3. Tudor Pelagos ref. LHD25610TNL

Analysis:

Titanium is a material that tends to polarize the watch community. Proponents extol the fact that it’s super strong, lightweight, and even hypoallergenic. Those that are less enthusiastic about titanium bemoan its lack of finishing and somewhat dull appearance. Whatever your preference, there’s no denying that titanium is here to stay, and it’s become a popular choice of material for sports watches. These days, most brands produce at least one or two options in titanium, with some offering cases featuring a mix of titanium and other materials. From a financial point of view, titanium doesn’t tend to fare as well as its counterparts. It doesn’t have the same head-turning shine as stainless steel, nor is it a precious metal. Still, many consider the titanium Tudor Pelagos one of the best mechanical diving watches on the market while also costing considerably less than its steel or precious metal counterparts. Just don’t expect it to go up in value anytime soon.

Read more

5 Categories, 1 Budget: How to Find the Perfect Watch Under $4,000


About the Author

Tom Mulraney

Growing up in Australia in the 1980s and 90s, there wasn’t much of a watch scene. There was only one authorized retailer of high-end watches in the city I lived in …

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