Traditional watch brands, such as Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, have taken pride of place in collectors' showcases for generations. But will the most prized timepieces of the future include new names such as Shanghai Watch Co? Carson Chan Kai-shun, managing director of Bonhams Asia and its watch specialist, says 'it's only [a matter of] time before China will have its own international brand on the same level as Western luxury brands'. He notes that the mainland brand to watch out for is Shanghai Watch, started in 1955 and said to be a favourite of former premier Zhou Enlai. Collecting watches is much like amassing art - do your research and buy what you like, the experts advise. While classic brands, such as Rolex, will continue to attract strong demand, there is a decided move towards newer timepieces with the same quality and originality as traditional pieces. Chan advises only buying watches you enjoy and appreciate. 'While this is the priority, there are several steps you can take to make it into a meaningful collection and something of potential value,' he says. If you are buying purely to make money, the first thing to consider is whether you are traditionalist or a risk taker, as with any investment. A risk taker may consider one of the upcoming brands, while a traditionalist will tend to go for a Rolex or Patek. 'You can take the classic direction and buy household-name brands with a very long history and heritage - brands that will still be around when you need to get your timepiece serviced,' Chan says. 'The other option is to look at the recent flow of independent brands, which are not entry level but start at HK$500,000 to HK$5 million.' These are watches with a much shorter history, so Chan advises collectors to have a clear understanding of what the brand represents. In this case, aside from rarity such as true limited editions, which Chan says should not exceed 99 pieces, it is also important to buy something with a 'meaningful movement' that has been designed for a reason and is not a gimmick. 'There are just too many new brands that are trying to stand out and in recent years we have seen a lot of brands come up with very different functions or movements that have never been seen before. But buying a new piece of technology is not necessarily a meaningful movement,' Chan says. An example of a meaningful movement would be one made by a company that can trace the movement's polishing skills back to the same way it was done 200 years ago, and not on the computer as is the practice today. Be wary of widely used marketing terms such as 'in-house movement'. Only a handful of manufacturers make their movements in-house. Most buy their parts from different manufacturers and assemble them in-house. Vanessa Herrera, head of watches for Sotheby's China and Southeast Asia, says she recommends clients understand the 'ABCD' of collecting before selecting a watch. 'A is auction value. It is critical for one to know the resale value of a timepiece and understand how retail price relates to auction estimates. B stands for brand. Collectors must understand a brand's positioning and select iconic models. C is condition. Try to buy as close to mint condition as possible. This will affect the long-term value of your collectable timepiece. D equals demand. Rarity is important, but the number of collectors desiring your rare watch will determine the ultimate value of your timepiece.' Christie's watch specialist Sam Hines says, whether buying a modern or vintage watch, the overall condition is one of the most important considerations. 'In today's market, watches that have been enhanced in any way from the original way they were manufactured are not very popular and not good to invest in. Always try to buy watches that are original in the way they were manufactured. The market is very unforgiving and it will become more selective in the years to come.' For vintage watches, the single most important quality for a collection is provenance - where it was purchased, who owned it and how long did they own it for. A 'clean' provenance, or one that can be clearly traced, is top priority in addition to rarity. For instance, a Rolex vintage military diving watch will fetch a high price if it comes with the name of the army diver who owned it, his diving log book and the service record. Hines also advises to look for watches that retain their original certificates and presentation boxes, especially for more modern timepieces. Traditional brands, such as Rolex, Patek Philippe and Panerai, are popular on the secondary market, Chan says. Vintage brands, Audemars Piguet and Cartier, are also popular with collectors around the world, Hines says. Newer brands to watch out for are Laurent Ferrier, which limits its output to about 20 pieces a year; and Greubel Forsey, with its Double Tourbillon 300 featuring two tourbillons, one rotating inside the other, Chan says. Hines says pieces by newer watchmakers, Richard Mille and F.P. Journe, are a good investment. For instance, F.P. Journe only makes about 850 watches a year. 'Their styles are cutting-edge and break the boundaries of traditional watchmaking,' Hines says. Herrera says Sotheby's has seen exceptional prices this year for independent watchmakers such as Greubel Forsey and Richard Mille. 'Collectors seek sophisticated and technically innovative timepieces that are exclusive and unavailable through retail channels.' Since 2008, the percentage of mainland buyers has tripled, she says, with new buyers making up about 30 per cent of buyers at Sotheby's watch sales in Hong Kong. Herrera adds: 'Several new trends have emerged in 2010 that continue to provide opportunities for collectors. In the wrist watch market, collectors seek rare, fresh timepieces from important private collections. 'Top-end exclusive timepieces from established brands and independent watchmakers have fetched extraordinary prices. In this selective market, with retail stores saturated with watches, collectors only want to buy the best and the rarest pieces, preferring highly limited editions or discontinued models. 'As a response to growing demand from Chinese collectors, pocket watches, particularly enamel and decorative pieces, are emerging from European and American private collections, and present a unique buying opportunity for collectors. As a lost art form, enamelled timepieces offer incredible craftsmanship for affordable prices.' Herrera says experienced collectors look for innovative complications, such as double or chain, and fusee tourbillons, and minute repeaters with exceptional sound. 'Traditional new brands must show their technical superiority to attract the most sophisticated collectors.' Hines advises buyers to do as much research as possible if they are thinking about investing or just want to upgrade their watch. 'There are many online forums and magazines, and even the catalogues we publish become reference guides for collectors. Check the condition first-hand if you can before you buy and only buy the very best you can afford. Think rarity, condition and which brand is manufacturing the watch,' he says.