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We in­ves­ti­gate the me­te­oric rise of the vin­tage watch mar­ket and ask the ques­tion: is Rolex re­ally best?

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Ly­dia Tewkes­bury

Are old time­pieces a good in­vest­ment?

With Paul New­man’s iconic Rolex Day­tona sold for a record­break­ing $17.8 mil­lion at auc­tion last year, it’s clear that vin­tage watches are big busi­ness. It’s sur­pris­ing to learn, then, that the mar­ket is a rel­a­tively young one. Vin­tage or me­chan­i­cal watches, now reg­u­larly sell­ing for five fig­ures or more, were con­sid­ered worth­less only 40 years ago when highly ac­cu­rate bat­tery­pow­ered mod­els flooded the mar­ket in the 1970s. It wasn’t un­til the late 1980s that these dis­carded watches resur­faced af­ter en­thu­si­asts be­gan to look at time­pieces from the 1920s on­wards with an eye for their de­sign and crafts­man­ship, rather than sim­ply their func­tion­al­ity.

In the 30 years since, prices have climbed at light­ning speed, but not ev­ery watch is sell­ing at Paul New­man prices. Prospec­tive buy­ers should ex­pect a gen­uine vin­tage watch by one of the renowned Swiss brands to set them back by at least the up­per hun­dreds of pounds.

More sought-af­ter brands of course come with a heftier price tag, but are none­the­less sta­ples of any col­lec­tion – the Rolex falls into this cat­e­gory. Prob­a­bly the most de­sir­able and recog­nis­able brand out there, it’s syn­ony­mous with James Bond, lux­ury and sta­tus.

It’s funny that such a rel­a­tively modern brand should have such a stran­gle­hold over the vin­tage mar­ket – other well known brands such as Omega and Zenith have been in pro­duc­tion far longer – but, ac­cord­ing to the ex­perts at vin­tage­watches-col­lec­tion.com, Rolex gained its promi­nence by adopt­ing the wrist­watch early.

Rolex watches be­gan sell­ing in earnest dur­ing the First World War, when mil­i­tary men serv­ing in the trenches started wear­ing wrist­watches in large num­bers for the first time. Be­fore the war, watches worn on the wrist had been pri­mar­ily a woman’s ac­ces­sory and, de­spite their grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity with male buy­ers, most of the ma­jor clock mak­ers were slow on the up­take, be­liev­ing they were a phase that would soon end. As the early, fully com­mit­ted adopters of the wrist­watch, Rolex had the ad­van­tage.

De­spite the pull of the Rolex hype ma­chine, and their un­doubted ex­cel­lence, the wise col­lec­tor should be open minded about other man­u­fac­tur­ers as well. There are other key brands avail­able at a bet­ter price with no sac­ri­fice in qual­ity.

Vin­tage Longines come rec­om­mended; watches ev­ery bit as high in qual­ity as a Rolex at a frac­tion of the price. With their stun­ning at­ten­tion to de­tail and in­tri­cate de­sign, Longines were high fash­ion watches that were ac­tu­ally con­sid­ered by many at the time to be far su­pe­rior to those by Rolex .

The Longines is the choice of the savvy col­lec­tor, look­ing for a beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of a vin­tage time­piece without break­ing the bank. And, for those hop­ing to make a profit in the fu­ture, ex­perts in­sist that the Longines’ day in the sun is com­ing.

With such a young, ever-evolv­ing mar­ket spurred on by en­thu­si­asts around the world, it’s an ex­cit­ing time to start your own col­lec­tion.

‘De­spite the pull of the Rolex hype ma­chine, the wise col­lec­tor should be open minded’

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