We’ve got an in-depth look at our extensive Watch Collection data set, drawing on more than 3.7 million registered watches from over 1.3 million Chrono24 users. We also have a special interview guest: Dr. Brendan M. Cunningham, economics professor, Hodinkee contributor, founder of Horolonomics, and author of Selling the Crown: The Secret History of Marketing Rolex.
The total value of all Watch Collections tracked within Chrono24 is more than €46.6 ($49.7) billion – which, according to LuxeConsult, makes up almost 7% of the estimated €700 ($748) billion value of all watches in global circulation. Chrono24 used an anonymized metadata set to develop this report.
A Bit of Context:
Why are these Watch Collection insights relevant?
You’ve probably seen the Watch Collection link in the top bar on Chrono24. Here, users are able to track the changing values of watches they own or would like to own. This tool isn’t for everyone, but if you’re an investment-minded person who likes following the stock market, give it a go.
31% Lifetime Return - A Profitable Passion
The Chrono24 Watch Collection tool allows everyday watch collectors to track the financial performance of each of the watches in their personal collections, much like popular stock tracking apps. When users add a new watch to their Chrono24 Watch Collection, they can see at first glance the value development compared to the purchase price.
Perhaps the biggest watch story of 2022 was the newly weakened demand for many watch brands after years of runaway growth on the secondary and gray markets. Using this dataset, we can see that Chrono24 collectors on average lost 5.3% on the value of their watches compared to this time last year. As a general trend, the collections with higher-than-average values also saw higher-than-average value depreciation, as the top of the watch market was most affected by the downturn.
Using millions of data points from collectors around the globe, the tool shows that collecting watches is nevertheless a profitable hobby. Overall, all Chrono24 users were able to record an average increase in value of 31% from the purchase date to the present day. As with any market, the watch market experiences periods of volatility, as evidenced by the past twelve months. This illustrates that even with the volatility of the last twelve months, collectors fare well in the long term.
The returns of watch collectors in Japan (40%), Switzerland (40%), and Hong Kong (38%) are particularly high. Germany's watch fans were not quite so lucky, but still managed to make a profit of 25%.
“Often what we see during recessions and turbulent times in the economy is a flight to those kinds of assets that have low or minimal default risk,” explains Dr. Brendan M. Cunningham, Professor of Economics and Founder of Horolonomics. “One of the advantages [of watches] is that they can be a somewhat stable store of value, although you do have to be careful because, as we've seen, some particular references have seen corrections in their value.”
Despite the tougher watch market cycle of the last year, Dr. Cunningham remains optimistic about the future of the industry and the watch market. For evidence, he points to Rolex, the most popular brand collected by Chrono24 users by a considerable margin. “There's been recent announcements that Rolex is actually putting online new factories to expand production. And I don't think a lot of people have made a lot of money betting against Rolex and Rolex's decisions.” He adds, “The reverse of ‘everything that goes up must go down’ is that ‘everything that goes down must go up.’ So, I do think that the future is bright for watch collectors, and watches themselves, and the industry as a whole.”
The median collection values per user highlight how hot the watch market has been over the past few years and how passionate the collector base is. Mechanical watches are no longer a necessity in modern life, where there’s a cellphone in every pocket, and yet millions of enthusiasts around the world are dedicating five-figure amounts towards their watch collections.
Comparing the median values of international watch collections, the top six places in the ranking are all occupied by Asian nations. The median values of collections in Thailand (€97,800/$104,000), Hong Kong (€77,600/$82,500), Japan (€64,200/$68,300), the United Arab Emirates (€63,600/$67,700), Singapore (€58,600/$62,300), and Malaysia (€47,800/$50,800) are all well above the global average (€38,800/$41,300). The most valuable collections in Europe come from the watch motherland, where Swiss watch enthusiasts own timepieces worth €45,500 ($48,400).
Popular vs. Under the Radar
This article is focused on the watch market; more specifically what people are buying, what they’re selling, and what collectors are holding onto. By analyzing the collecting habits of over one million users, we can get a good idea of what’s hot and what’s not.
The Formula 1 fans among our readers will enjoy this next bit, because we’re taking a look at the top 10 brands on the grid. Coming in at number one, the most purchased brand on Chrono24 is – no surprise – Rolex. The crown is far and away the most popular brand on the platform, making up an average of 30-40% of Chrono24 watch collections around the globe. Rolex is like Max Verstappen, a runaway favorite, and not too friendly either.
Omega sits at #2 and makes up about 10% of watch collections. Omega is almost twice as popular as Tudor, though sitting at #3 has got to be a confidence booster for the Tudor brand and Tudor fans – that’s like Alpha Tauri getting on the podium behind Red Bull and Mercedes.
Perennial favorite Seiko sits at #4, followed by heavyweight Patek Philippe at #5. The bottom half of the top 10 includes Breitling at #6 and TAG Heuer at #7, ahead of Audemars Piguet, IWC, and Cartier.
The takeaway here is this: If you want a watch that’s easy to sell, focus on the top brands. And if you want a watch that’s a little more unique, either avoid those same brands or dig a bit deeper into their archives and catalogs.
No Support for the Home Team
For our final segment, we’re looking at brand preferences by region. This is a fanboy census, and the results reveal some surprising details. Let’s start with some instances of national pride, where collectors buy from watch brands based in their home countries. You may not be too shocked to learn that Germans buy the most NOMOS watches on the site, the French buy the most Bell & Ross, or that the Brits love Tudor more than anyone else.
However, it’s not always root, root, root for the home team. Who buys the most Panerai? It’s not Italy. In fact, Taiwanese collectors purchase three times more Panerais than the Italians. When it comes to Seiko, Japan is not their #1 base of support on the platform. That honor goes to Finland. And the French – stylish and sophisticated as they are – are not the primary buyers of Cartier. Mexican buyers collect twice as many Cartiers as anyone else, including the French.
Switzerland is known for chocolate, bank accounts, and watches. So, what are they buying? Well, like everyone else, they love Rolex the most, with the crown occupying about 35% of Swiss collections on Chrono24. However, the neutral nation is also the top market for IWC.
If you’re looking for a deep cut, consider vintage Heuer or vintage Eberhard & Co. Those brands only make up a fraction of a percentage of collections on average, despite rising popularity among collectors and auction houses.
Next, let’s follow the money and look at Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. The top 5 countries for Patek collecting on Chrono24 are all in Asia. Thailand (13.3%), China (10.9%), Taiwan (8.8%), Indonesia (8.3%), and Hong Kong (7.8%) lead the pack. It’s a similar scenario for Audemars Piguet, with the brand making up about 12.7% of brand share in Chinese watch collections on Chrono24. Taiwan comes in second at 7.2%.
We’ll end this segment with an observation from one of our data analysts, who pointed out that more hierarchical cultures tend to gravitate toward higher priced watches. Essentially, the more layers of status a society has, the more people collect traditional status symbols. That might explain why Patek and AP are so popular in Asia. There’s also an emphasis on longevity in these cultures typically, and what’s the Patek tagline? “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”
Now what do those egalitarians in Scandinavian countries collect? Well, they tend to buy more Omegas than anywhere else in the world. And doesn’t that fit with the brand? A recognizable symbol of quality, but not something that begs to be recognized either.
For more market insights, watch price developments, and buyers guides from our editors, make sure to check out our upcoming articles and our Video series Time Is Money. Because time only moves in one direction, but the market does not.
About Professor Brendan Cunningham
Professor Brendan Cunningham has published articles about the watch industry in outlets including Hodinkee, Time and Tide Watches, and Quill and Pad. In 2022, he published his book, Selling the Crown: The Secret History of Marketing Rolex. In 2019, he launched his blog, Horolonomics, which applies economic analysis to issues in the watch industry. Professor Cunningham's analysis of the vintage watch market was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, and he also appeared as a guest on Tim Mosso’s podcast Talking Time with Tim. He is currently a Professor in the Department of Economics and Finance at Eastern Connecticut State University, and he was previously on the faculty at the US Naval Academy. His peer-reviewed publications in fields such as industrial organization and media economics have been cited over 600 times. Professor Cunningham earned a PhD in Economics from Columbia University.