Watch Mania – Explaining the desire for the watch masterpiece

By Neil Dolby
May 10, 2023

The recent online acquisition of a remarkable Patek Philippe has caused something of a stir in the watch-collecting community. Fetching US$5,815,300, the watch was the most valuable timepiece ever sold online globally and the most expensive object ever sold online at Christie’s Asia. This astronomical price for a Grand Complications Sky Moon Tourbillon has left some industry insiders wondering how high prices will go.

Buoyed by this massive headliner, the online watch sale at Christie’s Hong Kong in March proved a success with total sales comfortably exceeding US$8 million. Alexandre Bigler, Vice President and Head of Watches at Christie’s Asia Pacific believes this achievement is indicative of a vibrant market for watches across the world. He further opines that the sale cements Hong Kong’s status as an international epicentre for watch collecting.

He also attributed the success to the diverse selection of collectible watches. “Not only did we offer rare timepieces from reputed brands like Patek Philippe, Rolex, Cartier and Vacheron Constantin, but also iconic designs from other highly-sought after brands like Gerald Genta, Andersen, Hublot, A. Lange & Söhne., and Jaeger Le-Coultre.”

But just what is it that drives buyers to collect watches and pay such sky-high prices? Kenneth Or, founder of Hong Kong-based Ken’s Watches, a supplier of new and second-hand premium watches since 2002, says that for some, it is simply a hobby, just like any other pastime that gives pleasure, such as collecting arts or wine or cars or jewels.

But there are also financial motives. “It is now considered to be a kind of investment tool as well,” he notes. “Watches have their own value. A watch not only keeps its value but sometimes its value might also be increased as time passes by. One can enjoy collecting something they love while they know they can always get the money back.”

Or also believes the market is readily accessible for the avid watch lover. “Moreover, the international watch market is very mature nowadays. It is easy and convenient to sell a watch and get the money back,” he adds.

What drives up the value of a watch and makes it collectible depends on numerous factors, according to Or. “It is about the brand, the watch design and style, popularity in the market, production volume, demand in the market, and if there are any stories behind the item. All these criteria support the value of a watch and make it a collectible one.”

Technical complexity
Christie’s Bigler believes the value of some premium watches is derived from their historical significance, reflecting such things as technological advancements and design trends of their time. Some collectors also have an astute appreciation of the painstaking craftsmanship and technical expertise confined to a miniature work of art on the wrist.

As a case in point, he sees the price-busting Patek Philippe watch as one of the revered manufacturer’s most intricate and impressive creations. “ The reference 6002G seems to effortlessly combine immense mechanical complication with amazing aesthetics and readability,” he says.

“This inspirational double-face grand complication with hand-made blue cloisonné and champlevé enamel dial was launched in 2013 to replace the first Sky Moon Tourbillon model, reference 5002, launched in 2001 and formerly the most complicated wristwatch in the world.

“Boasting 12 complications, reference 6002G is housed in an extraordinary sculptural 44mm white-gold case entirely hand-chased and engraved with almost three-dimensional elegant scrolls which takes Patek Philippe’s master craftsmen over 100 hours to achieve,” he says. “In this superlative horological work of art, rare handcraft skills are combined with a mechanical tour-de-force, representing the very highest level of watchmaking and artistry.” Watches such as these will always retain their value. Bugler advises clients to only acquire watches they feel truly passionate about.