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Recent Watches For Sale From The 2000s
In our business, over the last thirty years we have often noticed that trends and events in the watch industry mirror those happening in society in general. This couldn’t be better illustrated than by an analysis of what has taken place over the last decade.
In Europe, the USA and the Far East, the first eight years of the 2000s were incredibly prosperous. The world economy boomed and particularly in the UK, property prices soared like never before, giving considerable paper worth to even average middle class families.
It really is stating the obvious that when money is being made in large quantities by a wide section of the population with a minimum of effort, there is likely to be a strong demand for luxury goods. And so it was with high quality watches. The branded Swiss watch became a universal status symbol and those who had never taken the slightest bit of interest in fine horology before were suddenly keen to spend large sums of money on flamboyant timepieces.
Feeding this frenzied demand, the Swiss responded with a plethora of new complications and ever more gaudy dial and case variants. Oversized, multi coloured watches that couldn’t have been ideologically further away from the elegant, understated classics of the inter-war years adored the wrist of every professional footballer and American rap artist. The market for high priced mechanical watches was lucrative and a lot of venture capitalists were keen to get a slice of the action, despite having no real understanding of this venerable industry. Breaking away from the traditional houses that had dominated the marketplace for more than a century were any number of new upstart brands, the majority of which simply purchased movements from corporate giant ETA and housed them in their own cases as required.
The problem with this scenario was that, rather like the overvalued property market at the same time, there wasn’t a great deal of substance behind it. Like all bubbles, it had to burst, which it spectacularly did in 2008. Suddenly, in the face of a worldwide recession, loudly coloured, complicated watches with the diameter of a dustbin lid seemed painfully embarrassing. The new brands largely vanished from the scene, leaving behind them the established houses that had been there since time immemorial.
Quality had been thrown aside on too many occasions in the frantic desire to bring something new quickly to market. An astonishing statistic published recently in one of the American specialist luxury watch magazines is that for every hundred watches sold by a highly trumpeted new Swiss maker in 2007, approximately seventy required remedial work to repair non-functioning complications in the first month after sale. This is clearly a totally unacceptable situation and one that was not sustainable. The British watch magazine QP ( issue 26, page 35) recently suggested that many of the newcomer brands were simply over ambitious and created models that, though in many instances were very pricey, were not capable of functioning as either watches or even as mechanical gadgets.
The old established houses continued to manufacture high quality, very reliable watches, but struggled to shake off a rather bland, mass produced image. Rolex watches today are beautifully made, albeit by computer controlled machinery and with a much lower degree of hand finishing than they were in the firm’s golden age.
What they lack in the eyes of many enthusiasts is any real degree of exclusivity. We can buy the same new Rolex, Omega or IWC model in any major city in the world and see several people with exactly the same model whenever we visit a restaurant or even our local supermarket. It is this lack of character that turns many enthusiasts away from an interest in brand new watches and points them in a vintage direction, where, literally, there may be only a few dozen examples of a particular model surviving in total. We can all buy a brand new Rolex or Jaeger LeCoultre watch, but unfortunately, so can our friends and next door neighbours. A lot of the satisfaction in owning high quality vintage watches comes from the knowledge that their rarity ensures that they cannot be purchased on a whim, even by those with huge budgets, and are often very difficult to hunt down in a worthwhile state. The same applies in the related worlds of fine antique English furniture and exotic classic cars, where much of the appeal is derived from possessing something unusual that has a sense of history attached to it.
The worldwide financial crisis resulted in a shake down of the luxury watch industry. The upstarts vanished into the ether and those established concerns in for the long term were forced to step back and assess the validity of their products. Over the last two years, we’ve seen a very marked trend back to classicism, with IWC, Jaeger LeCoultre and Zenith, among dozens of others, creating new models that attempt to recapture the elegance and timeless quality of their output from the 1940s and ‘50s.
Remarkably, throughout all the turmoil of the last few years, the market for good vintage wristwatches, those built pre-1970, has continued to rise. Well preserved material from the famous houses didn’t slide back in value even at the lowest point in the economic cycle, when the doom mongers on both sides of the Atlantic were warning of a meltdown on the scale of the Great Depression. In fact, rising auction results at Christie’s, Bonhams and Sotheby’s provided strong evidence to the contrary, suggesting that at a time of historically low interest rates and doubt over the safety of banking institutions, many investors were seeing good vintage watches by blue chip makers like Rolex, Omega and the rest as solid, certain assets that were immune from volatility.
Again, as mentioned on our summary of the 1990s, it should be stressed that we are not a specialist in very recent watches. We have nearly thirty years experience in the daily buying and selling of antique models, especially those manufactured between the two World Wars and those from the glory days of the Swiss watch industry in the two decades immediately after the conflict. We don’t turn our back on modern watches when we consider them to be worthwhile as investments for our customers, but we are choosy and this is not an area in which we profess to have any great expertise. The very modern watches for sale on our site and all exceptional examples of their type and better will not be found anywhere, but our selection from this period will be far more limited than that offered by dealers who focus on almost new models as their standard stock in trade.