The Good, The Bad And The Ugly of Buying Luxury Mechanical Watches
Few people need a watch to tell the time anymore. At home, at work and in our cars we’re surrounded by digital clocks on appliances, on electronic equipment and in the corners of our computer screens. When we’re out in the “real world,” a quick glance at our smartphones tells us not only the time, but also the temperature, what’s happening in the ballgame and whether one of the Kardashians has done something we don’t really need to know about.
That means the primary purpose of a watch in the 21st century is as an accessory, and luxury watches are the ultimate accessories. The proper high-end watch completes an outfit; more importantly it conveys elegance and style, and makes a distinct personal statement.
Vintage and antique timepieces, passed down through generations of families, may have special meaning to the owner and become a conversation piece when worn in public, even if they weren’t manufactured by a well-known watchmaker. “Necessity watches” that some people wear because they’re not regularly near clocks – or simply out of habit – are virtually invisible.
Wearing a luxury watch sends a powerful message to colleagues, employees, clients, social acquaintances and even potential employers. It is a sign that you are living a good life and that you care about making a good impression.
It can be as confusing and difficult to choose the right watch as it is to buy a new car. Their specifications, functions and features are important, but the most crucial factor is whether the timepiece just seems right for you.
The car-buying process is often tricky and fraught with peril. Unfortunately, the luxury watch buying process can be as frustrating and treacherous as a trip to the auto dealership if you don’t know what to expect, what to look for or who to trust.
Groom+Style don’t want you to go into the trenches unarmed; here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of buying luxury watches.
What Is A Luxury Watch, Anyway?
It’s probably a good idea to start with a quick definition. A luxury watch is usually defined by three factors: its designer or manufacturer, its internal workings, and its price.
The brand name attached to a timepiece often immediately qualifies it as a luxury watch. Venerable watchmakers such as Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe are revered for their complicated movements, outstanding craftsmanship and impeccable design, and any watch produced by one of those companies is automatically assumed to be a luxury watch. High-end manufacturers such as Rolex and Cartier sit on a slightly lower tier but are immediately identified with “luxury” because of their iconic brand names.
To understand the inner workings of a luxury timepiece, you have to know a little about how they’re built. Watches can have two types of operating systems, known as movements. Lower-end quartz timepieces use an internal oscillator and are powered by batteries. If manufactured well, they are extremely accurate and relatively inexpensive to produce – but not considered luxury watches. You can normally tell a quartz watch by the “tick-tick-tick” of the second hand.
Mechanical movements are quite different. They utilize energy that’s stored in a spring to power the gears inside the watch and must be painstakingly created by hand, with the highest-quality “complications” requiring an inordinate amount of work to perfect. This method of operation can make a watch slightly less accurate, which is why the best Swiss mechanical movements are certified for accuracy by independent authorities. The “telltale sign” of a mechanical watch is a second hand that sweeps instead of ticks.
Luxury watches will feature mechanical movements, with the best timepieces boasting prestigious certifications for accuracy. You may be asking why a watch subject to accuracy questions would be more valuable and desirable than a quartz watch; it’s for the same reason that a Porsche 911 is a luxury automobile while a Ford Focus isn’t. The Focus may reliably get you where you want to go, but a Porsche – well, you don’t have to be told the difference.
Finally, price plays a major role in defining a luxury watch. The finest brand-name luxury timepieces available to the public (that is, not limited-edition or special order watches) often cost well above the $10,000 price level, sometimes approaching or even exceeding the $100,000 mark. What could say “luxury” more than that?
Buying Luxury Watches: The Good
Quite simply, a luxury watch makes a first impression that might otherwise take you minutes, days or months to convey. The right timepiece can send messages like “success,” “style” or “judgment” with just one flash of the wrist. Wearing a luxury watch that isn’t as commonly-seen as a Rolex or Patek can send additional messages like “exclusive,” “discriminating” or simply “very wealthy.”
The finest luxury timepieces will have the ability to keep near-perfect time as well, thanks to their finely-crafted mechanical complications lovingly created by skilled artisans. They may also have features impossible to find on more mundane watches, such as aeronautical gauges or staying waterproof up to 100 meters. The high quality of a luxury watch can also ensure that you’ll own your timepiece for many trouble-free years. Romain Jerome even have a collection of watches made with parts from the titanic.
Purchasing a high-end designer watch can be a pleasure instead a nightmare, if you deal with a reputable boutique or dealer specializing in luxury timepieces. When you choose the proper vendor you’ll receive the perks of being a valued buyer, from solicitous advice and white-glove treatment to outstanding customer service; these dealers consider you a client, not just a customer. There are some sellers who are less trustworthy, however, and we’ll deal with them when we discuss the “ugly” of buying luxury watches.
There’s certainly no guarantee that a luxury watch will hold its value forever, let alone appreciate. Yet many top brand-name timepieces do indeed retain much of their worth over time, and some do appreciate in value as they age; for that reason, some purchasers see their purchase of a luxury watch as an investment. On the other hand, previously-owned designer watches are easy to find on secondary markets. Many which have not grown in value can be acquired at prices substantially below the cost of a brand-new luxury watch – allowing buyers to own and wear a statement watch they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.
Then, of course, there’s the obvious. A luxury watch adds a look of sophistication and style to a man’s appearance, and can give a woman’s outfit the appropriate finishing touch of elegance, flash or glamour. Dazzling necklaces, rings, pendants and other accessories are obvious and sometimes gaudy symbols of wealth, but high-end timepieces are subtle and often more effective in making an impressive personal statement.
Buying Luxury Watches: The Bad
Groom+Style have one word for you: price. You would naturally expect to pay quite a bit more for any luxury goods, but designer watches carry high price tags that might surprise first-time buyers. After all, it just goes on your wrist and tells time; how much can any watch cost?
A lot. The world’s most expensive luxury timepieces sell for more than a million dollars, and you’d be hard pressed to find “ordinary” high-end watches for less than four figures. The designer watches that are often used as examples of luxury pieces regularly sell for anywhere between $10,000 and $50,000. That’s not necessarily “bad” if you can afford to spend that much on a fine watch, but price is the number-one drawback for most would-be buyers.
The other drawback is the potential for depreciation. Most watches do lose at least some of their value over their lifetime, so buying luxury timepieces as investment vehicles is not a game for the novice. If you’re purchasing a high-end watch for its many attributes or to pass down through your family over time – rather than as an attractive lottery ticket – its expected depreciation isn’t really “bad” at all. It’s simply what you should expect when making any purchase.
Buying Luxury Watches: The Ugly
There are bad people in the world. Some have found that there’s big money to be made by producing counterfeit luxury watches and selling them to unsuspecting customers. It’s illegal for any number of reasons including trademark and copyright infringement, and fraud. It costs legitimate manufacturers billions of dollars per year.
The market for fake high-end watches has given rise to many snake-oil salesmen, both in stores and online, who try to pawn off counterfeit watches as the real thing. The scammers have gotten so good at reproducing luxury timepieces that even many jewelers and dealers can’t tell the difference. If you’re not patronizing a reputable dealer or online vendor, you could be among those paying big money for fake goods.
Not every seller is trying to scam thousands of dollars on each watch. Many of these counterfeits are sold for prices far below the market price of the genuine article so it’s easy to tell that you’re purchasing a fake; you’re not going to be able to buy a legitimate Jaeger-LeCoultre for $400. Some websites even tell you up front that the merchandise is a “replica.” It’s very tempting to grab a timepiece which appears at first glance to be a Rolex, in order to impress those you meet casually or in business or social settings. But that harms the industry, and if it’s not immediately obvious to others that you’re wearing a counterfeit watch, they’re likely to discover it sooner or later and think less of you for it.
There is also a so-called “grey market” for luxury watches, where you can purchase a legitimate piece at a lower price. Whether or not these timepieces have been acquired through honest means, they won’t have a factory warranty or be eligible for any sort of luxury mechanical watch servicing. Be aware before you buy.
Should You Buy A Luxury Watch?
If you can’t afford it, of course not. If you can, and you’re searching for an accessory which will make the ultimate statement about your fashion sense, your sophistication and your style, a luxury watch will provide greater personal satisfaction and rewards than almost anything else you can purchase – except, perhaps, that Jaguar 911. Follow the links below to find Groom+Style’s pick of the top 10 best luxury watches for men and women.