Flipping The Script
WOW Singapore|Issue 61
Buying the watch you want can be a chore, but you could also see it as a hunt, which might be fun. We consult a few specialists for their perspective on trading, auctions, and the digital approach to both
Ashok Soman

A funny thing happened on the way to publishing this story. Actually, it began long before the first word got typed. If you ever attempt to address the question of investing in watches, you will quickly find that there is only one answer: buy what you love, not what the upside might be. In fact, whatever the language, the answer boils down to that message. Broadly speaking, that works just fine, unless you love only gold, like a certain classic Bond villain. Even then, it does not explain the phenomenon of brand new watches appearing at auction and fetching many times the retail price. It is enough to make a person who loves Rolex chronographs feel like the joke is on him.

Now, we realise that some of you reading this may very much want the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona, with the meteorite dial variant new for 2021. While we are not poking fun at anyone’s tastes or desires here, we are pointing out that virtually no one can just walk into an authorized distributor’s boutique and buy this watch. Actually, you could not buy the standard version in steel (pictured here) either. After all, these are versions of what happens to be the most valuable watch in the world. We will return to the word valuable later, but for the standard version, you can register your interest and wait for some undefined period and simply expect that it will eventually be your turn.

A thought may cross your mind though: why does no one seem to want to sell it to you immediately, or tell you how long the wait will be. Instead, it turns out that the watch is immediately available but at a totally different price, brand new, on Carousell and a random store in some quiet mall run by the equivalent of the DVD pirates of yore. That is the funny business we are referring to, and it is not only limited to just one watch, or one brand.

AVAILABLE NOWHERE, AND EVERYWHERE

Watches & Wonders 2021 just recently revealed many new timepieces to the world, and some of them are already unavailable. What is even stranger, to the uninitiated, is that some of the models that were replaced by new variants have waiting lists that stretch around the block and into the next century. Lest you get excited by all these points and sense answers coming your way, this is a dense and layered topic, rather like kueh lapis. Now if you know your cakes and pastries, you know separating those layers is an exercise in futility. Best you can do is digest it.

What we want to explore are two things - a tiny slice of cake really: First, what to do when the watch you want is unavailable from authorized dealers, and next, what happens when you do buy a watch you love, but then fall out of love (it happens with shocking regularity). Can you sell the watch, and move on? Or do you need to consign it to your vault, and just pretend that you never had anything to do with it? To the first question, do you take the deal the watch trader is offering, so you can avoid the qualifiers that the authorized dealer might put in your way? After all, you might have to buy many watches that you do not want, just for the privilege of paying retail on the one you want. The answers are important and have the potential to shape how you feel about collecting watches.

For some help here, we turned to our friends in the pre-owned watches space, which is where the trouble really begins - the aforementioned funny business. First, no brand (including those that try to control their own pre-owned market) would offer any official answer on the point about watches as an investment, other than to restate the “buy what you love” mantra. For Aurel Bacs, possibly the most famous auctioneer in the world, having hammered Paul Newman’s Daytona for US$15.5 million, watches are not expensive, they are valuable, which is a subtle distinction. “Expensive is something that is not worth the price tag,” he told GQ in 2019, intimating that any watch that hammers for a good price is one that has proven its value.

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