What’s the difference between a watch and a collector’s watch? For some, it might be nothing more than semantics. But for serious horologists and collectors, there’s a world of difference between the average timepiece and one considered collectable. If you’re interested in learning more about collector’s watches – what they are, why they’re popular, and how to choose one that’s right for you – read on. We’ll cover everything you need to know in this ultimate guide.
As a collector’s item, a watch is often more than just a way to tell the time. It can be an extension of your style or a prized possession that you keep close to your heart. Many collectors also see watches as an investment, where second-hand value is often the focus.
Most prestigious collector’s watches on the market
It is usually a long history combined with inclusion in historical moments that have made certain brands particularly valuable on the market. Also, famous users throughout history have been instrumental in establishing different models as more desirable than others. Here are the most prestigious collector’s watches on the market right now:
The Rolex Daytona is a classic chronograph wristwatch that has become one of the most sought-after models from the renowned Swiss watchmaker. It was first introduced in 1963 and has been evolving ever since, with several iterations over the decades. The classic design features a three-subdial display for measuring elapsed times and a tachymeter scale on its bezel for calculating average speed.
The original design was based on an early racing stopwatch created by one of Rolex’s founders, Hans Wilsdorf. It quickly gained popularity among professional race car drivers who needed to track time accurately while driving at high speeds. As it became more popular among racing enthusiasts, collectors began to recognize its value and demand for the watch quickly rose.
The Rolex Daytona also has historical significance in terms of its association with actor Paul Newman, who famously wore a version of the watch given to him by his wife Joanne Woodward as a gift — it is now known as the “Paul Newman Daytona”. It can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction. Its aesthetic appeal, historical significance and technical mastery make it a timeless classic.
Did you know? The most expensive watch that has ever been sold at auction in North America is the Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona. It fetched 17.75 million US dollars in New York on 26 October 2017.
The Omega Speedmaster was introduced in 1957 as Omega’s first chronograph wristwatch and is best known for being the only watch certified by NASA for space exploration.
It gained international recognition when Omega supplied watches to all Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, who wore it during his moonwalk in 1969 – making Omega part of history. The Omega Speedmaster went on to be worn aboard every subsequent Apollo mission, cementing its status as an essential tool for professional divers and adventurers.
Over time, Omega improved upon the design of the Speedmaster, adding features like automatic winding, water resistance up to 50 meters, and a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. Omega also made the Speedmaster more accessible by producing several model variations, including special edition models to commemorate iconic events or celebrate anniversaries.
Due to its robust design, impressive history and collectable status, Omega Speedmasters have become popular among watch collectors who appreciate their unique style and remarkable accuracy.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso watches have a long and rich history dating back to the early 1930s. The idea for the watch came from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s director, Jacques-David LeCoultre, who wanted to create a timepiece that could withstand harsh conditions on polo fields. Together with Cèsar de Trey, he hatched the idea of a reversible case with a steel back to protect the delicate dial from knocks and blows.
In collaboration with the engineer René-Alfred Chauvot, they developed a model that was patented in Paris on 4 March 1931. Externally, it was a rectangular watch in the prevailing Art Deco style, with elegant proportions and sparse decoration. It had a cradle-shaped case that allowed it to be pushed sideways and turned around with a simple push.
It was not only polo players who would come to appreciate the newly created watch. It also became a favourite of the world’s rich and famous, not only for its beautiful design but also for the smooth back that was perfect for engraving.
What few people know today is that the outbreak of the Second World War put an end to the production of the Reverso. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the brand’s Italian distributor would find several old cases of Reverso at the Le Sentier factory. He brought them home to Rome and fit them with movements. These sold out in no time, paving the way for the relaunch of the model series in 1984.
Since then, it has been one of the most sought-after of all dress watches on the market.
TAG Heuer Monaco
TAG Heuer Monaco was first released in 1969, making it one of the earliest automatic chronographs watches ever produced. The TAG Heuer Monaco quickly gained notoriety due to its striking square shape and vivid blue dial colour, which set it apart from other watches of the time.
Since then, the TAG Heuer Monaco has become a staple for collectors and enthusiasts. Its iconic design has been featured in films such as Le Mans (1971) and worn by celebrities like Steve McQueen and Lewis Hamilton. The TAG Heuer Monaco also stands out thanks to its reliable performance and quality construction, making it a timeless classic.
The Cartier Tank watch is a legendary timepiece renowned for its classic design and timeless appeal. It has been a staple of Cartier’s collections since the early 20th century when Louis Cartier first designed it. While inspired by the Renault tanks used during World War I, Cartier’s Tank design was revolutionary in its own right, featuring an innovative rectangular shape with rounded corners that set it apart from traditional wristwatches of the day.
Cartier’s Tank watches have become popular among collectors due to their unique style and history. Whether manufactured in steel or precious metals such as gold or platinum, Cartier Tank watches remain highly popular items today.
In 1989 Cartier introduced the Cartier Tank Americaine, a modern version of the Cartier Tank that featured an even more unique rectangular shape. This variation quickly became popular among watch aficionados and continues to be manufactured today. Today Cartier Tank watches continue to be considered the ultimate symbol of style and sophistication.
Patek Philippe Nautilus
Patek Philippe is renowned for its timeless design and exquisite craftsmanship. The first foray into sport watches was the Patek Philippe Nautilus, designed by Gerald Genta in 1976. This watch is renowned for its strong lines, octagonal shape, and distinctive pushers on either side of the case.
Through the years, Patek Philippe has released numerous iterations of the Patek Philippe Nautilus, including chronographs, perpetual calendars, and minute repeaters. Patek Philippe has also continued to produce the Patek Philippe Nautilus in different materials, such as stainless steel, gold, and platinum.
Today, Patek Philippe has become one of the most desirable brands in the watch industry, with a Patek Philippe Nautilus being one of the most coveted watches. It is extremely popular among collectors right now, and this has caused the price to rise rapidly among both new and used watches of the model.
Did you know? At an auction in Geneva, arranged by Christie’s on 9 November 2019, Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010, sold for 31.19 million US dollars. That is the most expensive watch ever sold at auction worldwide.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, released in 1972, is widely regarded as one of the most iconic watches of all time. It is a luxury sports watch that was revolutionary for its time, featuring an unconventional design and avant-garde materials never before used in watchmaking. At its release, the octagonal bezel and integrated bracelet shocked industry experts who had assumed that Patek Philippe Nautilus was the epitome of contemporary design. With its bold steel case and tapisserie dial, the Royal Oak became a symbol of wealth and status amongst collectors.
The story behind the launch of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak is legendary. CEO Georges Golay gave designer Gerald Genta just 24 hours to create a unique design for the watch. Genta crafted a stainless steel case with an octagonal bezel and integrated bracelet, an unprecedented combination of formal elegance and sportiveness.
The Royal Oak is an enduring symbol of luxury and status and is revered amongst watch enthusiasts worldwide. It has become one of the most sought-after watches ever made, consistently fetching high prices at auctions.
Panerai Luminor was launched in 1950 and was initially designed as an underwater tool for commandos in the Italian Navy. In 1993, Panerai released the first Panerai Luminor watch to the public. The design combined elements from Panerai’s two previous models—the Radiomir and Mare Nostrum and featured a patented crown protection device (called “crown guard”) for improved water resistance. This feature has become one of the main characteristics of Panerai watches and is a large part of why they’ve become so popular with collectors.
The Panerai Luminor line has been continuously refined over the years, but its classic design remains largely unchanged. It continues to be one of Panerai’s most well-known offerings, finding fans among watch enthusiasts and those who appreciate its unique aesthetic. Its combination of classic design elements and modern technology makes it an ever-popular choice for collectors searching for vintage style combined with cutting-edge construction.
The IWC Portugieser was launched in 1939 out of the desire to create an elegant, precise timekeeper for IWC’s Portuguese customers. Crafted from high-quality materials such as stainless steel, 18K gold and platinum, IWC Portugieser watches are recognized for their classic design and robust construction.
The IWC Portugieser first gained attention due to its remarkable accuracy. It featured a pocket watch movement with a balance wheel, which allowed for exact timekeeping. Over the years, IWC has continued to innovate with new features added to the Portugieser, including the IWC-manufactured calibre 89361 and IWC’s patented Pellaton winding system, adding to its accuracy and power reserve.
IWC Portugieser watches remain popular with collectors thanks to their timeless design, precision engineering and robust construction. IWC has released several limited editions over the years and unique models created in collaboration with other brands, such as Aston Martin Racing and BMW Motorsport. The IWC Portugieser is also available with various dials, straps and materials that allow for personalization.
No matter which version you choose, it will be an investment in quality timekeeping that looks just as good today as it did in the 1930s.
Vacheron Constantin American 1921
Vacheron Constantin’s American 1921 watch is a timepiece with a special place in the horological world. It was designed as a tribute to Vacheron Constantin’s founder, Jean-Marc Vacheron, who was born in France but moved to America and established his business there. The American 1921 is known for its classic design, which features an 18K gold case with a solid silver dial, blue steel hands and Vacheron Constantin’s iconic Maltese Cross logo on the crown.
The Vacheron Constantin American 1921 is also part of Vacheron Constantin’s Heritage Collection, which includes some of the brand’s most iconic timepieces from its more than 250-year history. As such, it holds an essential place in Vacheron Constantin’s legacy as one of the oldest watchmakers in continuous production. It is also symbolic of Vacheron Constantin’s commitment to quality and excellence, making it a coveted piece among collectors.
30 watch terms you need to know
1. Movement – This is the internal mechanism of a watch that powers its functions, such as telling time and powering complications (additional features). The movement of a watch dictates how accurate, reliable, and long-lasting it will be. Movements come in two main types: mechanical or quartz.
2. Mechanical Watch – A type of watch movement that uses springs for power rather than batteries. It may have manual winding or an automatic rotor to keep it going. These watches are more complicated and typically more expensive than quartz watches, but they also tend to have a much longer lifespan.
3. Quartz Watch – A type of watch movement powered by a battery instead of springs or gears, which creates electrical pulses that drive the watch hands. Quartz watches tend to be less expensive and more accurate than mechanical watches, but they are typically less durable and have a shorter lifespan.
4. Chronograph – A type of watch with additional features such as a stopwatch or timer. The chronograph usually has two or three sub-dials that can be used for timing events and elapsed time measurements, along with the regular hour, minute and second hands.
5. Complication – An extra feature on a watch which is not strictly necessary for telling time, such as an alarm, date display or moon phase indicator. Complications require additional components in the movement and therefore add complexity (and often cost) to a watch.
6. Automatic Watch – A type of mechanical watch which winds itself using the movement of the wearer’s arm. This type of movement is generally more reliable and accurate than manual winding, but it needs to be worn regularly in order to keep running.
7. Manual Winding – A type of watch that must be wound by hand periodically for the timekeeping functions to remain accurate. Although this type of watch can require extra maintenance, it also has its advantages: a longer power reserve (the amount of time between windings) and a smoother running motion.
8. Power Reserve – The amount of time a watch can run before needing to be rewound or have its battery replaced. High-end mechanical watches often have long power reserves, while quartz watches typically have shorter power reserves.
9. Water Resistance – The ability of a watch to resist water penetration and damage from moisture. The higher the rating, the better protected the watch is against water and pressure. All watches should be tested periodically and checked for any signs of wear or damage.
10. Bezel – The outer ring on a watch that can rotate to measure elapsed time, calculate speed or direction, or serve as a timer. It can also feature decorative elements like diamonds or gems.
11. Crown – A knob at the side of a watch is used to adjust various functions, such as setting the time and winding the movement. It may also be used to set certain complications, such as an alarm or calendar display.
12. Case – The housing of a watch, typically made from stainless steel or precious metals such as gold or platinum.
13. Dial – The face of the watch, often featuring numerals and markers to indicate the time and other functions.
14. Lugs – The two metal loops at the ends of a watch case that holds the strap or bracelet in place.
15. Strap – A leather, rubber, fabric, or metal band that attaches to the lugs on either side of a watch case and is used to secure it to the wrist.
16. Bracelet – A strap usually made from metal links that can be adjusted for comfort and fit around the wrist.
17. Movement – The mechanism inside a watch that powers its functions and keeps the time accurate.
18. Balance Wheel – A small wheel connected to the mainspring of a mechanical movement that oscillates at a constant rate, keeping time.
19. Mainspring – The coiled spring in a mechanical watch responsible for providing power to all of its functions.
20. Escapement – An electromechanical device within a watch movement which regulates how much power is released from the mainspring, allowing it to keep track of elapsed time accurately.
21. Hacking Feature – A feature on some watches which allows the second hand to be stopped while adjusting the time, allowing for greater accuracy.
22. Chronometer – A label given to watches that have passed a series of tests set by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC), which measure their timekeeping accuracy.
23. Quartz Movement – An electronic movement powered by a battery and regulated by a quartz crystal, used in most wristwatches today.
24. Analog Display – A display featuring hour, minute, and second hands arranged around a dial with markers indicating certain times.
25. Digital Display – A display featuring numerical digits rather than analogue hands, usually featured as an LCD panel or LED lights.
26. Perpetual Calendar – A feature on some watch movements which automatically accounts for leap years and other irregularities in the calendar, allowing it to remain accurate over time.
27. Moon Phase – A feature on some watches which displays the phases of the moon and allows for tracking lunar cycles.
28. Tourbillon – An intricate mechanism featured in some high-end mechanical watches which consists of a rotating cage containing a balance wheel, escapement, and gear train; its purpose is to counteract the effects of gravity on accuracy.
29. Skeleton Dial – A watch dial with most of its material removed to allow for the viewing of certain components, such as the movement’s gears or jewels.
30. Complication – Any additional functions beyond simply telling time that can be found on a watch, such as a stopwatch function, calendar, power reserve indicator, etc.
Collector’s watches FAQs
A collector’s watch is a timepiece collected as an investment, with the potential to appreciate in value over time. Collector’s watches are often associated with such items as vintage watches, limited-edition models, and rare pieces that can be difficult to find.
Collecting watches can be a highly rewarding activity; offering collector’s the chance to appreciate and enjoy the craftsmanship associated with quality timepieces. Collector’s watches often appreciate in value over time, providing potential financial benefits. Additionally, collectors can build a personal connection with their pieces, enjoying the process of learning about the history and design behind each watch.
For Collector’s watches, some of the best picks include Swiss luxury brands such as Patek Philippe, Rolex and Audemars Piguet. These renowned watchmakers produce exquisite timepieces with superior craftsmanship, unique designs and timeless appeal that can be passed down for generations.
Popular Collector’s watches include Rolex Daytona, Omega Speedmaster and TAG Heuer Monaco. Each of these watches has a unique blend of features and designs that make them highly sought-after collector’s items.
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