Value For Money and Avoiding a Bad Purchase.
One of the most common questions I am asked either when selling or discussing different watches is: is it good value for money?'. How we value watches varies from person to person, with some people focusing on the brand, others focusing on the general design features and others based on the movements, case materials and productions processes. Meanwhile others will focus on production numbers and rarity of a timepiece, or even celebrity connections.
If however you are open minded towards your next watch purchase and simply want to know that you are spending your hard earned money on a product that offers genuine value then here are some guidelines. Note, this applies to collectors who are not buying to gain profit but to wear and enjoy the watch.
1: The Movement
The movement is the engine of the watch and the most important component. The accuracy, power reserve, shock resistance, magnetism and longevity of the watch is all down to the movement. A high grade movement will use quality parts such as silicone hairsprings, decorated plates, improved escapements e.g. Omega's 'co-axial', higher frequencies, more complex reliable complications and more hard wearing fittings.
It is also the part that you do not often see unless the case back is removed. While there is a massive variety of beautiful, unique and well made watch cases, dials, hands and straps, to keep prices lower many watches are fitted with cheap Chinese movements. A watch may come in a large fancy box, with an attractive dial and case but if is using a cheap, low grade movement, you should think twice before handing over any good money.
Buying a watch from a well known brand offers instant reassurement that you are buying something of good quality, for example, very few people question the parts, movements and quality control of Rolex or Omega watches. Therefore little research needs to be done to ensure you are buying a quality watch, however this comes with a premium and with a little research other very well made watches can be bought at a fraction of the price. Brand is massively important though there are a lot of less known brands offering great watches. For example if you want a vintage timepiece old English watchmakers such as Smiths and J W Benson had some beautiful pieces that can be had second hand for as little as a £100.
Watches made in small numbers can fetch extraordinarily high prices, these were often either special timepeices made for a significant person e.g. a king or queen or celebrity, or low numbers were made because they were not popular at the time so production was stopped. It is however important to recognise the difference between genuinly rare watches and limited editions. 'Limited Edition' is used on many watches where often the only difference will be a different dial design and inscription on the back stating something like '073/1000', some brands have so many limited editions they begin to lose their meaning and become a clear marketing campaign. Its nice to have a watch that has been made in limited numbers though if you truly want a genuinly rare watch in original condition you may have to search for a number of years and pay a very high price. Also be careful that a dial has not been repainted in a strange colour and advertsied as 'RARE', which is something I see so often on second hand auctions sites. The best way forward is to find a watch you like and see what variations they made. e.g. if you like vintage Omega, you may begin the hunt to find an early Speedmaster or a Ranchero in good original condition. Not all rare watches are blatently obvious it may be the lugs are a slightly different shape or the font on the dial is fractionally larger or a different shade.
The original purpose of a watch should not be ignored. Military watches for example were tested more rigorously and some were made in limited numbers so these are great to explore and come with good provenance. If you are looking at buying a more modern one piece check the specs, a dive watch which only goes down to 20 metres or has poor lume or a fixed bezel shows that it is not acually suitable for diving and is simply designed just to look nice. There is nothing wrong with this but if you are paying good money for it, it really should do what it says on the tin!.
The value of a watch will of course change with it's desirability in the collectors market, though if you base your purchase on how well it is made (after all watches are tools), the merits and values of that brand and compare with the other options available within that price bracket then you should be able to buy with confidence and avoid a bad purchase!