Watches are used to mark the milestones in a man’s life. They’re traditional gifts for graduation from high school or college. Your wife may give you one on your wedding day. And a gold watch is still the go-to tribute for years of dedicated service or retirement.
But watches have also evolved into so much more. They’re functional. They’re fashionable. They make a statement about who we are—especially since (besides wedding rings) they’re often the only bling guys wear. Certain brands give us status, but they can also be investments, increasing in value over the years.
As head of shopping innovation at eBay Inc., I spend a lot of time thinking about the shopping experience: What motivates me and other consumers to make a purchase and how do we buy the things we buy? No surprise here, I also spend a lot of time on the site. And when it comes to watches, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to learn about the industry. A watch is sold on eBay every five seconds—6.8 million of them every year. With prices ranging from mere dollars to hundreds of thousands, I’ve also learned it’s easy for almost anyone to start a collection. Here’s how to get yours ticking…
Healey Cypher is a Men’s Fitness adviser and head of shopping innovation for eBay Inc: a global commerce platform and payments leader.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re considering buying just one watch or starting a collection, researching what’s out there is the best first step. Visit the websites of brands you think you may like as well as some of the biggest watch retailers out there, like the Watchery, Tourneau, or Beckertime to name a few. Educate yourself about trends, styles, and prices, and dig deep—value and prices can vary greatly even for a single brand name, depending on the model or type of watch. For example, new Rolex watches vary in price from $3,000 to $30,000.
New vs. Vintage
When it comes to new watches, the options can be dizzying. Explore your choices before you commit to a purchase and go with the one that best suits your taste.
For example, I have certain tenets of how I dress. I lived in Saudi Arabia until I was 16 and men there don’t wear gold. Consequently, I don’t own any gold—I own only silver. I also never wear black. It was really important for me to find a watch that would match my aesthetic—one with silver elements and a nice, weathered brown leather strap.
Next, make sure the watch is something that thrills you every time you catch a glimpse of it on your wrist. If you don’t absolutely love a watch, don’t buy it. This is important whether the watch is for your collection or for investment purposes. The biggest mistake new collectors make is buying something they don’t absolutely love just for the sake of having it. Don’t purchase watches solely based on their value or brand if they don’t appeal to you personally.
Shopping for vintage watches requires even more research. Decide which brands you’re most interested in owning and research price ranges through online marketplaces like eBay. One of the best things about vintage watches is that there are great watches to be had at all price ranges, from a working, stylish Timex for less than $50 to a rare chronograph for $150,000 or more.
When looking at vintage timepieces, pay attention to condition. Focus on watches that are in mint, near-mint, or working condition and in need of nothing more than a cleaning. Buying a non-working classic could pay off if the price is right—just make sure the repair costs don’t exceed the value of the watch.
Wear It or Store It?
You should wear all of your watches at some point, even if you’re buying them as investments. Why buy a watch if you can’t show it off and enjoy it on your wrist?
Watch collector Robert Bryan, former men’s fashion editor of The New York Times Magazine, has hundreds of vintage watches from the 1930s and 1940s. “I wear a beautiful watch every day,” he shares. “I’m just interested in the look and style of these solid, quality devices.”
Care and Storage
If you’re going to wear your watches, you have to keep them in running order. Most modern watches use batteries that last for three to five years. If you are adept at using the special tool needed to open the back of most watches, then by all means, replace the batteries yourself. But most of us prefer to bring our watches to an expert. This also gives you the chance to have the watch and band checked and professionally cleaned.
If you’re not going to regularly wear your watches, you can safely store them—preferably in their original cases—in a cool, dry, dark environment like a chest of drawers or a box built especially for storing watches. Keep them neatly arranged and do not let the watches touch. If you don’t have the original box, and want to go to somewhat extreme measures, store your watch in a cigar humidor box. The humidity and temperature can be set up optimally for the preservation of your watch. It’s worth it if you have some fine, fine timepieces.
If the watch runs on batteries, follow the watchmaker’s instructions for stopping it. For most watches, you can stop the movement by carefully pulling out the time/date stem of the watch as far as it can safely go.
If you plan on displaying your watches— after all, they are little works of art—purchase a watch display box or vitrine to show off one or many of your prized possessions.
Best Brands to Invest In
When buying a new watch, recognized brand names that have been in business for a long time are usually the safest investment. Patek Philippe is considered by collectors to be the top (and most expensive) brand in the world, followed by Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, Breguet, and A. Lange & Söhne. Rolex is also a top brand and has been forever—regularly racking up 20% of watch sales on eBay.
Options are much more numerous for the vintage watch buyer or collector. Almost every good vintage watch has some value, whether it’s an old Timex watch, a vintage Casio, or a choice vintage Rolex. Some of the most popular and proven brands for collectors are Tag Heuer, Breitling, Blancpain, Omega, Seiko, Movado, and Girard-Per- regaux. The list is large so the key is knowing which ones are most likely to increase in value over time. When you can, try to always buy the best you can afford. And make sure it’s also what thrills you the most.
How to Start, Maintain, and Grow a Collection
Research is key. Learn as much as you can about watches by researching shopping sites and watch-centric blogs like hodinkee.com or watchreport.com. Reading posts by some of these knowledgeable and sometimes-obsessive collectors will increase your expertise almost immediately.
Keep your collection in top shape. Replace batteries and have your watches serviced and cleaned regularly.
Be ready to divest when the time is right. What you loved yesterday may not fit the bill tomorrow. Investing in quality pieces with good resale value will help you the most in the future when you want to add something to your collection that’s potentially pricier.
If you’ve followed these rules, reselling your watches for cost or profit to raise funds for your next coveted item should be easy. This simple buy-and-sell strategy is how most great collections were created.
As for me, I have one watch that I regularly wear—a Swiss watch by Mougin & Piquard with a weathered brown leather band. My wife gave it to me as a celebratory gift. It’s become a staple of my look and I love it.
That’s not to say I’m off the market: I figure I’ll have a new watch every two or three years as my aesthetic evolves. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll even have a great collection.
Did You Know: The Most Expensive Watch Ever Sold
Watch collectors have been known to be super competitive about getting what they want. And in recent years, there have been some absolutely insane prices paid for really beautiful timepieces.
The undisputed winner in this category is the Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch from the Henry Graves Jr. collection, which sold at Sotheby’s for $11,002,500 in 1999. The watch (which was created between 1928 and 1933) is engraved with the Graves coat of arms and was designed by Graves to best his watch-collecting rival, auto manufacturer James Ward Packard.
Until recently, the watch was also considered the world’s most complicated timepiece, with 24 “complications,” or special features. Most watches have just three.