Mechanical watches are art: they’re beautiful to look at and their value, while subjective, can rise more steadily than Paul Hollywood’s sourdough.
The mechanical watch industry is by its nature conservative though, and so are buyers. That means the models that are most likely to stand the test of time – and deliver return on your investment – are the classics from the big-name brands.
Disclaimer: we can’t guarantee that these watches will go up in value (shout-out to the FashionBeans legal team), but with interest rates Rock-Bottomed for the foreseeable, consider this a good excuse to use that lump sum earning little to nothing to invest in some sweet, moneymaking wrist candy.
And unlike more intangible assets, if the market crashes, then at least you’ve got a good-looking watch that tells the time, and maybe even does other stuff too.
‘The crown’ regularly tops polls of the most valuable and recognised brands on the planet, not just in the watch world. Come at the king, you best not miss.
“Relatively speaking, Rolex is a young brand,” says Lloyd Amsdon, co-founder of pre-owned specialist Watchfinder. “But it broke records and gave us technology that we still use today: water resistance, self-changing date. That kind of heritage attracts collectors, which drives up vintage prices, and that solidifies residuals for newer models. For Rolex, it’s been a perfect storm.”
Rolex is famous for quality, accuracy and the glacial evolution of its models, many of which can rightfully lay claim to iconic status. The Submariner is almost the Platonic ideal of a diving watch: much copied, never bettered.
“Steel Rolex sports watches are a surer thing than money in the bank, and the black-bezel Sub is a classic choice,” says Amsdon. “There will be a small hit of depreciation from new, but as RRPs rise, they’ll bring pre-owned prices up with them. Most have doubled in value over the last ten years.” Beat that, Warren Buffett.
Omega Seamaster 300
Omega’s biggest claim to fame is putting a watch on the moon: its Speedmaster model remains the only timepiece certified for spacewalking (see George Clooney in Gravity).
But close behind it is putting a Seamaster on the wrist of James Bond in GoldenEye, a relationship that – unlike Pierce Brosnan’s tenure – has endured to this day. Although for what it’s worth, Pierce is ageing like a fine watch.
“Omega Seamasters don’t always hit the astronomic heights, value-wise, that Speedmasters do, but they have gone up in a solid and steady fashion in recent years,” says Chris Hall, deputy editor of specialist watch magazine QP.
And the Seamaster is about to get a rocket lit under it. “Omega recently overhauled the Seamaster’s movement, upgrading to the Co-Axial calibre, while the designs have simultaneously reverted to faithful 1950s tropes,” explains Hall.
“On top of that, they put a very smart version of the Seamaster on Bond’s wrist in Spectre – most covetable for the fact that there’s barely a trace of ‘novelty tie-in’ and it’s limited to 7,007 pieces.” See what they did there?
Omega Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial
Omega SEAMASTER 300 ‘SPECTRE’ LIMITED EDITION
TAG Heuer Calibre 11 Monaco
The 1970 Steve McQueen film Le Mans is a barely watchable vehicle for its star’s obsession with motor racing. But Steve, as ever, looks great. Especially his wrist.
At the time Jack Heuer had just struck a deal with hot stuff Formula One racer Jo Siffert, who was a stunt driver on the film and turned McQueen onto the brand. Fast-forward and the first-ever square automatic chronograph is, like its famous wearer, a style icon that we’re bound by horological cliché law to call ‘timeless’ even though it tells the time.
“It’s not only desirable, it’s a beautiful watch as well,” says Amsdon. “To capture the look and feel of an original Monaco with all the modern luxuries, the Heuer-branded Calibre 11 is an excellent choice, and backed up by its limited edition status of just 1,860 pieces.” This McQueen edition-alike even restores the left-hand crown, which, while authentic, is not terribly practical. But who cares when it’s as handsome as Steve himself?
“Vintage Heuer is starting to gather pace though, so you’ll need to be quick to get in there before prices go stratospheric,” Amsdon adds. Drive safely, folks.
Panerai Radiomir 1940
Rarity and heritage are the two main currencies for watch collectors, which at least partially explains Panerai’s rabid following. The brand was the supplier to Italian navy frogmen during World War II, and it produces watches in tadpole-sized quantities that get the ‘Paneristi’ (as its serious collectors are known) foaming at the mouth.
“Panerai’s core models are as old as the hills, and about as changeable in their looks,” says Hall. “This buys you impeccable ‘brand identity’ – they’re one of the few watches you’ll recognise from across the room.” Not least because they’re on the larger side, to both aid visibility underwater and turn heads at parties. The faint of wrist need not apply.
Their scarcity ensures that pretty much any Panerai is a fairly safe bet. “But I’d take a little bit of a gamble on the recently announced Radiomir 1940 42mm Automatic,” says Hall. “It’s got the classic looks and an in-house movement, plus at 5mm smaller than the standard model, it’s very wearable for most gents. Only 500 will be made, so grab one if you see it.” Hop to it.
Patek Philippe Calatrava
Not for nothing does its ad campaign say “You never actually own a Patek Philippe – you merely look after it for the next generation”. And we don’t mean that you won’t have finished paying it off.
Patek makes arguably the finest watches around. What is indisputable, though, is that it makes a lot fewer timepieces than it could sell, even at these prices. The limited supply and high demand – along with brand equity – all combine to keep those residuals ticking over nicely.
Indeed, when it comes to debates over the all-time classic dress watch, the Calatrava has to be up there. Its none-more-pure, nigh-on archetypal design has barely changed since the 1930s, while the movement inside is one of the most precise and best-finished that (a lot of) money can buy. It’s built to last – and deliver lasting value.
“The most elegant watch in the world, the Patek Philippe Calatrava will never be outdated,” says Amsdon. “Because of this – and the brand’s stellar reputation, of course – it’s a watch that can be bought with both the head and the heart.” Plus an arm and a leg.
Stowing your spare shekels in a bog-standard savings account might earn you something on your sum. But you can’t wear one on your wrist.
Invest in one of these fine watches and not only are they likely to appreciate, they’ll see your style soar too.
Which watch would you park your money in? Any others you’d suggest scoping out?
Share your advice below.