Why pre-owned high jewellery watches are a great investment: from Van Cleef & Arpels’ timeless designs to Richard Mille’s diamond-encrusted RM 07-01, rare gemstones and pricey metals make a difference
The collectible luxury watch segment has been on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic – just as life ground to a halt, interest in vintage timepieces exploded. Auction houses were outperforming each other, setting new world records, week after week.
Christie’s did not know it then, but the auction house was about to have its best year ever for high-end timepieces – 2021 brought in a staggering US$205 million in blockbuster sales, which marked a jaw-dropping 257 per cent increase from the previous year.
Noticeable across the showroom were the price tags attached to the handful of women’s high jewellery watches on display. Estimates were half, if not two thirds, less than the men’s novelties. When asked why, Bigler shrugged. When demand exceeds supply, prices tend to rise and, historically, there haven’t been many women collectors, he explained. The result: bargain-basement prices.
When asked the same question, Sharon Chan, who leads Bonhams auction house’s team of watch specialists in Hong Kong said: “Men’s high jewellery watches have a wider demand in general and this means their second-hand market is larger and therefore prices can be more competitive than women’s equivalents,” she said.
Richard Mille, in particular, has become one of the hottest names in pricey wrist candy. The Swiss company’s ultra-macho novelties are hard to resist at auction, even for female collectors like Lung Lung-thun, a financier who runs her own brokerage in Hong Kong.
Thun wears a stunningly sleek RM 010 and said last year that watch brands often fail to provide women enthusiasts with mechanically complex models. “For a super-long time already, people have been complaining to brands saying, ‘It’s unfair that you create female watches like this, it’s just quartz, you don’t think about it.’”
For this release, out-of-this-world gem-setting techniques were combined with carbon TPT, an in-house material with a velvet-matt appearance. All this is offset against classic rose gold.
When appraising high jewellery timepieces, Chan explained that expensive metals and gemstones, as well as rarity, make a significant difference to a watch’s valuation. “The materials that are used to create timepieces are important. For example, pink diamond designs are very valuable in today’s market. The price of the piece is linked to the total carat weight of gemstones that are used,” she said.
Interest in these gemstones has soared since the 2020 closure of Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine in Australia, which provided 90 per cent of pink diamonds globally. Over 37 years, the mine produced more than 865 million carats of rough diamonds, which ranged in colour from cognac and champagne, to red and blue, and which propelled the secondary market for pink diamonds to appreciate by about 500 per cent in the last 20 years of its operation.
Stewart Young, who leads Bonhams auction house’s team of jewellery specialists in Hong Kong, agreed. “I’m also a fan of Van Cleef & Arpels, which continues to make stylish designs that will go on to be fashionable in the future. These watches consistently maintain their value on the second-hand market,” he said.
- The used luxury watch segment has been growing rapidly, but high jewellery timepieces at auctions – especially women’s – are still shockingly undervalued
- Such watches are more likely to sport rare gemstones such as pink diamonds, which make them an excellent investment – especially since Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine closed