At the end of 2014 one could virtually hear the sigh of relief within the community of watch collectors, especially for vintage watches. Despite the political turmoil around the world, the ongoing instability in the financial markets, some of the world’s most important consumer’s markets softening… (and the list could go on!), the market for vintage watches has impressed us all with incredible stamina and stellar sales. Auction houses and dealers reported record sales, the community of collectors is growing by the day and The Henry Graves Supercomplication by Patek Philippe was sold for US $ 24m – a price level usually reserved for top impressionist paintings, Le Mans winning Ferrari sports-cars or Blue diamonds ticking every box on the gemmologists’ wish list.
But what about 2015? Is it business as usual? How will the prices be affected by the ever-changing exchange rates? Will values change when some markets have reduced appetite? How will the offer change when there are, season after season, more dealers and auction houses competing for a piece of the cake? What’s the impact of digital media? Let us put this puzzle together!
It is my belief that 2015 will be an overall good and healthy year for the market of vintage collector’s watches. First of all, demand is growing by the day, across the planet. Like with art or vintage cars, vintage watches are now understood as the ultimate distinction of exclusivity for the man (and woman!) who can afford otherwise anything newly made, available off the shelf.
And thanks to an ever increasing knowledge spreading amongst collectors, seasoned or novice, the buyers are more then ever before confident paying top prices for top objects. Money is clearly not missing in the system – thank you FED and ECB! We can now find out, with a mouse click, which watch is restored and which isn’t, who has paid at auction a new world-record and why and which watch was just recently stolen. So, are the digital media the new religion and are watch-bloggers some new type of messiah for the newcomers? Let me say this word of caution: on blogs, Instagram and Facebook, like “in real life” during a meeting, the loudest voice isn’t always right. In other words, do your homework first and find out who are the true scholars and who are the impersonators…
Does it mean that vintage watches are now simply going up 5%? Or 10%? Or even more? First of all, it depends on the watch, model and, very importantly, its condition. Regardless of its absolute prize level, be it a few thousand (euro, francs, dollar – what’s the meaning these days anyway?) or even in the millions, only the rarest and most original examples will enjoy a strong demand and, consequently, will be fiercely competed for. But I am sure that an intelligent buy in the spring will be worth 10% more in the fall. For anyone around the planet? Well, here we are in the hands of the currency markets, since a clever buy in Swiss francs may no longer be profitable in the fall if the franc gains 10% or more over one of the anchor currencies over the same period.
In fact, is there such a key currency in the market for vintage watches? Yes and no. Unlike the gold, oil or diamonds, the market for out-of-production watches is not determined by one currency alone, as supply comes from all parts of the world. It is notably The euro-zone and the US together with countries with currencies pegged to the US $ (such as Hong Kong, for example). Thankfully, this will bring quite a lot of stability to the prices – to everyone.
What about supply – are there enough good watches for sale to meet the demand? First of all, I cannot remember having seen such a large number of dealers and auction houses offering their services to collectors and chasing the finest pieces for their inventory. Is this good or bad for the market? I believe it is good, as there will be fair and efficient competition between the many players – all courting the collectors and making massive efforts to obtain their business. What efforts are these? Lavish catalogues, competitive seller’s rates and commission, special service to mention but a few. Will all of them survive the year? Probably not, but those who do will have carved their own niche, be it sports watches, low or high end, vintage or contemporary…