Has traditional luxury watchmaking given way to the digital age? We spoke to the experts from London’s Hatton Garden-based Trilogy Jewellers
Wristwatches have been a mark of individual style and class since 1868, when Patek Philippe created the first ever one, for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. Although originally developed as a strategic military tool, the wristwatch gradually evolved into a luxurious fashion accessory and gained worldwide popularity in the beginning of the 20th century.
But has tradition dissolved to make way for the digital age? We’re living in a moment where smartphones tell the time, and smartwatches demand the real estate on our wrists. Does that mean the Rolexes and Cartiers of the world are gathering dust?
Quite the opposite. The luxury watch market exploded in 2021, after taking a hit in 2020 amidst the pandemic. The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry announced that in October 2021, the industry saw a 12.5% boost compared to the previous year. This was also the highest recorded monthly figure for seven years.
Collectors of luxury watches know that part of the attraction is rarity; it’s finding that elusive piece you don’t see anywhere else. Demand has always outstripped supply, partly because of the labour-intensive nature of watchmaking. But that demand has hiked even further over the last few years – despite the digital competition. Now, it seems that waiting lists are twice as long for a Rolex, Patek Philippe and other iconic names.
So how are experts today sourcing and valuing these collector’s items that have proven their ability to stand the test of time?
Sourcing Luxury Timepieces Today
Keen collectors are facing a more turbulent journey on the search for their dream pieces, faced with empty shop fronts and increased competition from investors looking to hedge their portfolios with a universal liquid asset. “The Great Rolex Shortage” appears to also apply to other timeless brands, and now collectors are having to look beyond the usual avenues to get their hands on a particular watch.
The key is in finding experienced jewellers that can embark on the journey with you. Jewellers that specialise in the luxury timepiece space have a network of trusted advisors, collectors and experts in the space, and they usually have some tricks up their sleeve to unlock access to even the rarest pieces.
Being listed as an authorised dealer helps, but it isn’t enough. Collectors should seek to partner with a jeweller that has global connections and a strong track record in sourcing ultra-rare timepieces.
They can provide a personalised sourcing service, which includes vetting every piece to make sure it’s genuine.
London, alongside New York City and Geneva, is one of the best places in the world to buy luxury watches. The UK, in fact, is the fifth largest market for Swiss luxury watch exports.
The Value of Luxury Watches
The luxury timepiece space is seeing significantly higher price tags of late. The most expensive watch on the market right now is the Graff Diamonds Hallucination, unveiled in 2014 at Baselworld for a tidy $55 million USD. Shares in some major retailers have as much as trebled over the last three years, as more investors buy their share of the industry.
Like with most assets, the market drives the price. And right now, the market’s booming.
More people identify themselves as collectors and enthusiasts over the last few years than ever before. But buying high-end new or second-hand watches on the ‘Wild West’ of online marketplaces isn’t guaranteed – especially now that there’s more at stake. It’s difficult to know whether watches are genuine or whether they’re working properly, or whether they’re being valued accurately.
This is where experience of the detail comes in. For example, 90% of the value of a wristwatch is down to the condition of the dial. This is where collectors and jewellers should focus their attention when determining not only the cost, but the originality of a piece. You want to make sure it hasn’t been repainted.
A jeweller with both experience and expertise can properly assess and value watches.
The luxury timepiece space is a traditional industry that has only grown more powerful in the digital age. It’s an industry that collectors continue to advocate, despite challenges from investors and a pandemic. And now, it’s an industry that rejects digital, where the most effective way to source and value pieces is by working directly with a jeweller that knows the space inside-out – and not by logging onto eBay.
Based in Hatton Garden, Trilogy Jewellers is London’s home of luxury watches and bespoke jewellery. As the foremost experts in high-end jewellery, Trilogy brings some of the world’s most exclusive pieces to the UK at discount prices.