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A guide to buying the perfect timepiece


Beth Druce talks to some of Switzerland’s leading watch insiders about the finer points of what to look for when buying something that will stand the test of time.

Beth Druce portrait
Beth Druce,

Be brand aware
When you invest in a luxury timepiece you are buying into a long history and tradition, and it is this that defines the art of watch making. A new buyer’s first point of reference should always be a brand’s signature styles, the watches for which a house has become known.

Take a look at the Cartier Santos, Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, Breguet Classique or Piaget Altiplano, for instance, which are excellent examples of classic, iconic designs with various degrees of complication.

Consider complication
As the term suggests, complication refers to anything that goes above and beyond basic timekeeping. It could be as rudimentary as an added stopwatch or as complex as a Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon, but it is a key consideration when making such an important purchase.

The higher the level of complication, the greater the craftsmanship that has gone into making the watch, which is what sets luxury timepieces apart from automatic wristwatches. You might not desire an immensely complicated piece, but you should be aware of the level of craftsmanship that’s involved in any particular model.

Rarity value
As with many of the finer things in life, exclusivity scores highly, so an important consideration should always be what sets any particular watch apart. It could be anything from a limited run to an unusual feature.

Stéphane Belmont, marketing and technical director for Jaeger-LeCoultre, comments, ‘The [1930s] steel Reverso, with a blue-enamelled or red lacquered dial, has sold for €30,000-€40,000 at auction, which is a remarkable result for a steel watch.’ It might not be made from the most expensive materials, but in investment terms ‘interesting and unusual’ is sometimes more important than base value.

Precious metals
When it comes to material, there is a rainbow of precious metals over which to deliberate, from platinum to white, pink and yellow gold and steel. But before you set your heart on that Rolex Datejust with a chocolate dial, it is advisable to try it on. Some will find platinum too heavy, while skin tone can alter the appeal of certain precious metals. These small but pertinent details should be explored before, rather than after, a watch purchase.

Define your style
It was not so long ago that thin, elegant watches were reserved for occasion wear, travel watches for leisure pursuits and jewellery watches for women. Thankfully the rules have changed so you don’t have to be, say, a naval officer to enjoy IWC’s Portuguese collection or male to sport a bold, chunky timepiece.

As Nicolas Mohs, a brand manager for Piaget, explains, ‘Women are more and more interested in the technical side of things. There has been an evolution. Before we never used to see women interested in cigars or sports cars, but as with everything there is change.’ What should we take from this? Choose a watch that will complement your lifestyle.

Avoid passing fads
It may sound obvious, but succumbing to current fashion trends is one of the biggest mistakes a first-time watch buyer can make. Getting to know a house and its signature models will provide a context for your final selection. You may have a clear idea about what you desire, but you’ll be less likely to opt for the latest timepiece from a brand born yesterday.

As Mohs notes, there are some very extravagant, very covetable timepieces currently on the market. ‘But,’ he asks, ‘would you be willing to wear them in 15 years?’

When it comes to watches, while it’s crucial to understand the industry in which you are about to invest, the value of a timepiece will ultimately be defined by the wearer. ‘The watch has to have an emotional appeal to the owner,’ Belmont explains. ‘One should first of all like the watch, before considering it as an investment.’ 

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