Not so long ago I came across a fascinating article about the markets in general, the stock market in particular and how our buying and selling patterns are influenced by non-rational factors. Interestingly, we view a particular object (or share) differently if we own it (and consider selling it) than we do if we potentially wish to acquire it. And how we irrationally look at it, differently than someone else who has access to the same information, according to the respective cost. And lastly, how we not only view the status quo and current value of an asset but how we project the future value onto it and let our buying or selling behavior be guided by the latter.
I know, this sounds complicated and I can assure you that it took many professors (sociologists, psychologists, economists etc.) years and even decades of observing, researching and studying these behaviors. What fascinated me about these studies was that I could see all of these theories being validated in the market of collectors’ watches and confirmed via auction results. But more about this later.
“Should I buy today, tomorrow or wait until next season?”
2016 was an historic year in the field of watch collecting and the autumn season in Geneva, Hong Kong and New York produced remarkable results. Of course, the main headline last autumn was the Phillips Geneva auction featuring the stainless-steel Patek Philippe reference 1518 (picture above), selling for an unprecedented US $ 11 million. I sincerely believe that enough has been written about it so I won’t need to further comment on this new benchmark result. With one exception: The link between the first paragraph of this column and the result of this auction. Basically, the final bidders and the buyer didn’t limit their bidding to the perceived, current value of this grail watch, but its future value. And all of them agreed that it will be more difficult and much more costly to acquire one of these grail pieces in the future; so why not already now bid accordingly and let time do the rest?
In other words, when all the bidders expect the value of a rare watch to be higher in the future, they will already bid higher at today’s auction, especially when there is little to no hope that another example will be coming around very soon.
Let us stick with the dial side and begin with its most immediately apparent effort: its proudly displayed tourbillon bridge and meeting. The bridge itself features a curve on each end that is observable from the slightest of viewing angles. Take a closer look and you will see what appears to be among the most difficult anglages ever: in the shape of a “V” the edges are bevelled and polished by hand. Both prongs result in a gold chaton using a diamond endstone inside — a long-forgotten element allowed for only the best pocket watches of old.The tourbillon’s cage itself comprises remarkably romantic curves and eye-wateringly mirror polished top surfaces. The next picture above reveals how that mirror finish works: it’s either silky-shiny whitened, or pitch black. Because the tourbillon stays so deep beneath the dial, mild finds humorous ways to make it into just some bits and pieces of the tourbillon assembly — a different, but brilliant light show on display.Lange state the tourbillon “overcomes the pull of gravity” and I am sorry, but I can not help but cringe every time I hear or read that. Jedi and astronauts onboard the ISS may overcome the pull of gravity, but not many others — and also a tourbillon certainly can not. It is not 2002 anymore, once the tourbillon is a mysterious thing that’s not possible to explain. I might be nitpicking here, sure, but what can it be if not attention and comprehension of such details that we expect from the big guns like Lange? The tourbillon, fully subjected to the pull of gravity, over time averages out the rate errors of this watch’s timekeeping manhood, something mostly and totally unnecessary at a wristwatch, unless we are talking multi-axis tourbillons.
We have seen the very same bidding pattern with all sorts of rare collector’s watches, at very different price points, but always resulting in new record results (in alphabetical order): an A. Lange & Söhne “Lange 1” in steel selling for a record-breaking US $ 145,000 or a Heuer Autavia surpassing the US $ 100K barrier (both at Christie’s). Rolex has of course also written history when a steel reference 8171, the legendary triple-calendar moon-phase model, fetched US $ 1,000,000 (Phillips). This trend wasn’t exclusive to wristwatches but also to historic pocket watches, clearly shown by the US $ 3.3 million achieved by the Breguet No. 217 “Perpétuelle” dating from the beginning of the 19th century (Christie’s).
Interestingly, we also see the opposite happening: collectors see certain models gently decreasing in value and consequently do not feel inspired to bid since, in their view, logically, this trend will continue and consequently their targeted watch will cost them even less in the future. Or, the longer they don’t buy it the less they will pay one day in the future. Many contemporary watches are currently facing this destiny and many collectors are simply too hesitant to jump on the wagon and buy their dream watch now. Why? Because they believe that they can secure it for less if they don’t buy now. The consequence is simple: Prices continue to lower – a perfect storm!
My personal advice: collect what you like and whatever you can afford at this very moment, and stop thinking about how much you can gain or lose if you buy now or later. Simply enjoy your favorite watch rather sooner than later because one thing is certain: Today is the first day of the rest of our lives and tomorrow is consequently one day less that we can enjoy a fabulous watch on our wrist. And there is no better dividend for your investment than the pleasure of wearing your favorite watch, believe me.