07/06/2016
 3 minutes

Luxury Watch Value

By Isaac Wingold
Nomos Zürich Weltzeit
Nomos Zürich Weltzeit

When discussing desirable vintage and modern watches with non-collectors, or even with watch enthusiasts, questions like, “Is this really worth it?” or “Why does it cost so much?” are almost guaranteed to come up. To answer them, it’s important to make note of the fact that luxury watches are, as their name suggests, luxury items. The seemingly exorbitant prices one has to pay for a watch in 2016 can indeed be rationalized to some extent. To demonstrate this, we are going to look at three factors that contribute to watch prices: marketing, finishing, and complications, and see how they justify the high price tags for luxury wristwatches. Let’s begin.

Marketing

As you’d expect, a brand’s marketing can certainly have an impact on the way you look at the prices of their offerings. In some cases, we see brands throwing upscale events on a weekly basis all across the globe. In others, we see brands strongly pushing the recently purchased name of a once defunct brand, established long ago. Regardless of the watch itself, it’s hard to see value in the short-lived brands that fit these descriptions. However, not all heavily marketed watches should necessarily be avoided.

One such example is the Omega Speedmaster Professional, or the “Moon Watch” as it’s affectionately known within the watch industry and collecting community. Each and every year, Omega spends a considerable amount on further marketing a watch that really hasn’t changed all that much in its near 60-year history. They do this because the watch is historically important and directly connected to one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments of all time.

At $5,500 USD, the Speedmaster isn’t a cheap watch by any means, but in the minds of connoisseurs and experts, it represents serious value. This is due to the impressive Lemania-based hand wound caliber 1861 that powers the watch, and of course, its extreme historical significance. The aforementioned features and status of the watch certainly justify its price, new or pre-owned.

Movement Finishing

The next factor to analyze if you’re trying to figure out why there are so many zeroes on the price tag, is finishing. If you’re not familiar with that concept, allow me to explain: While a caliber may be perfectly functional upon initial assembly, an unfinished mechanical movement can appear quite spartan to the eye with its bare, rough-edged milled bridges.

To create a truly beautiful movement that’s worthy of being fitted into a high-end timepiece, skilled watchmakers use a variety of tools and machines to apply a series of gorgeous finishings to the movement’s components. These include Côtes de Genève and anglage, the striped surface finish achieved using a lathe, and chamfered bevels around the bridge edges.

Lange & Söhne Lange 1 movement
Lange & Söhne Lange 1 movement, Image: © Bert Buijsrogge

Given the small scale of most movements, and the precision required when working on them, all of these finishing techniques are extremely demanding on the part of the watchmaker and can take countless hours to execute – and that only after years of training and apprenticeship have been completed. Knowing this, it’s easy to see how even a simple time-only watch like the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 can command upwards of $20,000. Having said that, it should be noted that a well-finished movement can also be acquired at a more accessible price, which is a notion best demonstrated by watches from brands like Nomos and Grand Seiko.

Complications

Last but not least, there’s one more way that a highly-priced watch can be justified: through the incorporation of high-end complications into the watch movement. For those not well versed in mechanical watchmaking, a complication is essentially an engineered function secondary to telling the time that the movement is capable of performing simultaneously. As one would expect, more complicated watches do in fact demand higher prices.

Notable examples of popular complications developed long ago, but now celebrated again in the 21st century include chronographs, perpetual calendars, alarms, and minute repeaters, among many others. Watches featuring complications like a perpetual calendar function are commonly accompanied by high price tags. This is due to the fact that a great deal of time is invested in ensuring the advanced calendar system will read correctly every time, and that it will not put too strong of a strain on the central movement’s power supply.

Patek Philippe 5270R-001-7061
Patek Philippe 5270R-001-7061, Image: © Bert Buijsrogge

About the Author

Isaac Wingold

Isaac is a photographer and author from Toronto with a passion for extraordinary timepieces. He covered a wide range of topics while writing for the Chrono24 Magazine …

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