05/31/2023
 7 minutes

Are Watches Still a Good Investment in 2023?

By Kristian Haagen
Rolex-Sea-Dweller-2-1

There are collectors, there are enthusiasts, and then there are people who only buy watches to flip them and make a buck. But are there still watches worth investing in if making money is your goal?

When I was asked to write an article on the subject of whether watches were still a good investment, I immediately shook my head in denial and thought of my standard line: “I have never invested in watches; rather, I collect them.” This is a pretty typical comment that you hear from seasoned watch collectors, but honestly, it’s a bunch of old man mumbo jumbo. It’s along the lines of your grandfather, slightly drunk on Christmas Eve, starting with, “when I was your age…” You immediately start to look, but not listen. You already know what’s coming, and it probably makes little sense to you.

Another line I tell young collectors is that it’s about investing in yourself and your own happiness; that, and only buy what you can afford. I go on to describe how falling in love is the same as insanity, and that you don’t know what you’re doing when you’re mad. I often add a monologue about that sunny day in Monaco in 2009, when I bought a steel Patek Philippe Nautilus Chronograph ref. 5980 that I couldn’t afford. “The wine had me. Two bottles in. It seemed the most sensible thing to do at the time,” I say with a smile on my face – a little guilty, but also a little proud.

I often end my monologue with these words, “However, on the plane home from Nice to Copenhagen the next day, I kicked myself and promised I’d never drink again.” Five thousand bottles of wine later, I don’t regret my purchase that fine afternoon in Monaco. Au contraire. Last year, two minutes before the Ukrainian crisis killed the overheated watch market, I sold that watch, and admittedly made quite a profit. No need to lie here; the watch that strained my finances in 2009 turned out to be the generous sponsor of not only a new kitchen, but also an extra bathroom upstairs for the kids and a full gym in our house.

Access to those funds, without having to beg our bank, now brings me daily joy. I didn’t spend it on another watch or more wine. Instead, I “invested” in a different group of products: an Instagrammable kitchen, an extra bathroom that keeps the kids cleaner than ever, and a gym that sweats away my daily wine consumption. Money well spent.

So who am I to say that collecting watches is not an investment? This is obviously a bit contradictory, but when I started collecting, it was about something other than making money from the watches I bought. It was more about a passion for watchmaking. Mind you, this was in the early 1990s. The internet was new to us all, and the online discussions about watches were fascinating and eye-opening, as mass communication about our favorite brands had never existed before.

Returning to this article’s subject, I must admit that in today’s market, it can seem rather challenging to pick tomorrow’s winners in terms of monetary investment. However, in my watch collection and when browsing listings on chrono24.com, there are some gems to be discovered. And yes, some Rolexes are among them (surprisingly).

Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 16600

Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 16600
Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 16600

With a production period between 1989 and 2009, the Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 wouldn’t usually be described as the most collectible watch. It was promoted as a slightly more expensive version of the Submariner ref. 16610 and advertised with a water resistance of 1,220 m (4,000 ft). Let’s face it, few felt the urge to pay the extra money needed to wrap it around their wrist as a daily wearer. If you had to compete with a no-date Submariner, a ref. 14060 would do the job just fine. Plus, you’d save enough money to take your date out for a nice dinner and flash your “Rollie” to the waiter – less money paid, but still in the club.

But hear this: The ref. 16600 is in a league of its own. Not only is it water-resistant to 1,220 m, the ref. 16600 is also rock solid, and without the magnifying Cyclops lens above the date display, it stands out. The ref. 16600 will never fail. It will never let you down. It will never be “just another diving watch.” The Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 is about as cool as a diver gets. Yet it’s not the most expensive neo-vintage Rolex sports watch on the market; in fact, a fine example of this reference will cost you less than a modern Milgauss, and only slightly more than a 1990s sapphire crystal Datejust. At the moment, a ref. 16600 – without the box and papers – can be yours for around $8,500 to 10,000.

 

With its conservative look and robust construction, the ref. 16600 belongs in every Rolex collector’s collection, but there are some who doubt this model. This makes it a watch worth considering if you are just starting your collection now. How far down the retailer waiting list are you for a new Rolex Submariner, anyway?

Rolex Milgauss Ref. 116400

Rolex Milgauss ref. 116400
Rolex Milgauss ref. 116400

When Rolex introduced the Milgauss in 1956, the watch appealed to our inner space-age technologist. With a Faraday cage to protect against magnetism – which can be fatal to a mechanical movement – the Milgauss was useful to engineers, pilots, electricians, and other professionals exposed to magnetic fields and tools. There was little doubt that the Milgauss had anti-magnetic properties, as the watch’s second hand was shaped like a lightning bolt; a design that was also used on the Milgauss ref. 116400.

Introduced in 2007, this 40-mm Milgauss was not only available with a black or white dial, but also with a black dial and green sapphire. As the most contemporary of the three in Rolex terms, the latter has always attracted the most attention, especially after the “Z-blue” dial version was introduced in 2014.

However, the Milgauss ref. 116400 was never as popular as other steel sports models in the Rolex range. Only recently did it become a steel Rolex with a waiting list, and then, this year, it was gone.

If you’re looking for a decently-sized steel Rolex that is still available at a reasonable price, look no further. And if you can live with the somewhat anonymous look of the black dial ref. 116400, then you are in for a treat. With prices starting around $10,000, the purchase of this model leaves room for a good deal of upward movement, especially once the rest of the world realizes that the Milgauss is no more and starts drooling for one.

 

Tank Américaine

Tank Americaine Rose Gold
Tank Américaine Rose Gold

I won’t blame you if you don’t think of the Tank Américaine as a very collectible watch. After all, a Tank is a Tank, right? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s not the case. The illustrious Tank Américaine of 1996 may have been the slim fly in the web that never made it to the spider’s belly, but it’s nevertheless a very attractive watch that sits comfortably between the entry-level Tank Classique and the more expensive Tank Cintrée.

The Tank Américaine has been around for years, right there in the middle of display cases. You’ve probably politely ignored it, as the Tank Classique, and even more so the Santos, have received colossal attention in recent years. This explains why Cartier has gone from being “somewhere in the upper echelons” to being second only to Rolex. On the wrist, the Tank Américaine offers an elegance that CEO Cyrille Vigneron recently described in an interview with Watches and Wonders as “the brand’s finest complication.”

Vigneron is right, of course. Cartier isn’t about tourbillons, minute repeaters, or perpetual calendars. Instead, Cartier has a particular code of elegance that has no rival. With this in mind, the Tank Américaine will become a collector’s watch in time.

Available in steel, rose gold, and white gold, the Tank Américaine satisfies most tastes. Pre-owned, precious metal versions of the now-discontinued Tank Américaine are available at a third of the MSRP and are yet to be discovered as a watch worth having in your collection.

Get it now. It will never be cheaper, especially considering that Cartier introduced a new, slimmer and more elegant generation of the Américaine during Watches and Wonders 2023. This is a watch that I wouldn’t hesitate to call a future collectible.

 

Possible Future Collectibles

Speaking of Watches and Wonders novelties in 2023, it’s also interesting to take a look at some of the new watches and discuss whether they might be collectible in the future. But what makes a watch collectible?

A watch can be considered collectible if:

  •  It’s a limited edition that is very attractive; for example, the 100th anniversary Cartier Cintrée that was offered directly to collectors in 2021.
  • It has a rare complication, or better still, a world first; for example, last year’s Parmigiani PF Tonda GMT Rattrapante or this year’s Minute Rattrapante.
  • It has an exciting and world-renowned provenance. The “Paul Newman” Daytona perfectly exemplified this when it fetched more than $17 million at auction in 2017.
  • It’s a Rolex.

Of course, the latter is not always the case. The launch of this year’s Perpetual 1908 is a good example of a Rolex that is likely to sit in shop windows without an “Exhibition only” sign in front of it. But why is that? Well, in short, it doesn’t look like a Submariner, GMT-Master, or Daytona, three of the best-known and most recognizable models from the manufacturer with the crown.

We have seen this happen with other non-Oyster-case models, e.g., the Prince from 2005 and the now-discontinued Cellini line from 2014. People are tempted to look elsewhere for an elegant watch if it doesn’t look like a Rolex. That said, watches that aren’t popular today may be the collectibles of tomorrow. The four-figure Daytona was a dog in the early years of its production, the Explorer II “Freccione” sat unsold for years, and the Nautilus was considered an oddity by Patek Philippe when it was launched in 1976. Now look at the prices of those models: they’ve soared, and the watches are among the most collectible in the industry.

At the end of the day, the moral of watch collecting should be: Buy for yourself, and with your own wallet – not the next owner’s. And when you look at your watch, forget about telling the time. Instead, look at it with love and feel as if time has stood still, because, you know, love is more important than money (as is my new kitchen, second bathroom, and gym, by the way).


About the Author

Kristian Haagen

I've been collecting watches since I was about 20 years old. I like vintage watches most; they often come with a fascinating history or a cool provenance. Provenance makes a watch far more interesting than any brand-new watch.

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