The meteoric rise of the vintage watch market is no accident. That is thanks in no small part to a global pandemic that has forced nearly everyone indoors and has given us the luxury of time: to write that screenplay, bake some sourdough, or pick up a new hobby. Others are using this time to dive deeper into an already existing hobby, like watches.
Whether you’re an avid collector or new to the watch game, you’ll learn that what old watches have over their newer counterparts is not just that they’re already out of production—they’re inherently limited and therefore typically scarcer – but don’t fret. Our team at Lane Crawford is proud to present the latest collection of highly desirable timepieces and we chat with horologist John Ng, who gives us the unvarnished truth about current market trends, undervalued gems in our trunk show, and his tips on all things horological.
What is the difference between a pre-owned and vintage watch?
While there isn’t a clear-cut definition of the word “vintage” in watchmaking, my rule of thumb is that anything older than 20 years can be considered vintage, before the turn of the millennium, which lends itself to a category of watches that were more artisanal in approach.
Why buy pre-owned and vintage watches?
The luxury market has been confronted by significant difficulties since the beginning of the pandemic, but the vintage watch market has seen unprecedented growth. The significant drop in supply from dealers due to closed factories has prompted watch enthusiasts to look online. The result is an online boom in the business of buying, selling and flipping pre-owned and vintage watches. A McKinsey Global Institute report estimates pre-owned watch sales hit US$18 billion in 2019 and could top US$30 billion by 2025. Demand is expected to continue to outstrip supply, at least in the near term, so it’s a good time to invest now.
What trends are you seeing for the pre-owned and vintage watch market?
Stainless steel sports watches with a Tiffany blue or dark blue dial are popular. Watches from Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron Constantin are highly sought-after in the secondary market as they are impossible to buy at retail, with long waiting lists and scarce allocations. The value of these timepieces are climbing.
I’ve also been seeing a younger generation of women seeking out and wearing men’s watches, blurring the lines between traditional gender boundaries. Men are also more open to wearing watches with fancy diamonds, some even prefer rainbow diamond encrusted bezels.
What are some of the key investment pieces from the trunk show?
It is definitely the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona in yellow gold featuring a Gibeon meteorite dial. There’s nothing more magical than to wear something from the cosmos on your wrist.
My other favourite is this Rolex vintage Daytona Cosmograph Paul Newman. It’s a cult watch and the mother of all collectors’ chronographs. The intricate details are unrivalled. Exotic dials didn’t sell well before they were worn by Paul Newman. Rolex therefore only produced a limited number of them. Defined by the rarity of the watch and the association with the legendary Paul Newman, Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona is now one of the world’s most sought-after watches of all time.
Any gems to look out for?
Many vintage watches from Rolex or Patek Philippe are worth investing in. As for specific pieces from this trunk, I would say this piece by Hautlence, an independent watchmaker, when they collaborated with Mclaren. They are masters of non-traditional time display watches but have made a name for themselves in Haute Horlogerie. I love the movement of the piece. It is not simply a functional object driven by an incredible mechanism, but pure kinetic art that’s one-of-a-kind.
Rolex produced a limited number of complicated models and the Rolex 4767 from this trunk show represents one of the scarcest examples of more complicated Rolex timepieces. Historically, the company was focused on professional, reliable timepieces rather than grand complications. The brand never produced a calendar wristwatch; overall, few models went beyond dual-time timepieces, simple calendar, or chronograph watches. There’s also sentimental value to this one because it has included Hong Kong as one of the time zones. Modern timepieces now include Beijing and not Hong Kong as one of the key time zones on display.
What should we look out for when investing in these timepieces?
The condition of the watch comes first. From a watch collector’s perspective, I would say look out for the dial, it is the most crucial as it consists of almost 60% - 70% of the watch’s value. However, from a watchmaker’s standpoint, the watch’s movement is more important. Also, pay close attention to the watch’s case. It should not be over polished, and even better if the watch is unpolished.
What’s the most unique customisation you’ve done?
I was commissioned to personalise a watch for a celebrity with his name on the watch’s dial for his 50th birthday present.
How should we take care of these timepieces?
My advice is once you buy the watch, wear it and have fun! Scratches and scuffs can happen even when you are being careful, but they can often be polished out. Aim to have your watch serviced every 3 – 5 years by a professional with the right equipment to keep your watch in top condition. The watch case will be opened, and the delicate moving parts inside will be assessed, cleaned, and repaired as necessary. This helps to keep your timepiece in working order and keeping accurate time.
Shop our thoughtfully curated pre-owned and vintage watches below or book an appointment with John Ng here to learn more.