A good wristwatch does more than tell time. Of course, many expensive watches can display the phases of the moon, the time of year, the precise second that just slipped away, and can even remind the wearer of an appointment. But the great ones complement your life, accessorize your wardrobe, becomes an heirloom to pass along to future generations and, as James Bond has taught us, in a tight spot become a very handy knuckleduster.
The thought of knocking out someone’s teeth with $50,000 worth of watch wrapped around your fist might seem a bit extravagant. Watches in this price category are also works of art. They are exquisite mechanisms created by talented craftsmen who do the seemingly impossible with gold, diamonds, springs, gears, and tiny tools. If you ever wondered why the best Swiss watches cost so much, just imagine a microchip, and then imagine it was made by hand, and you begin to comprehend the layers of delicacy, skill, and precision we’re talking about.
That is why at the top of the watch chain, so to speak, the price of a Swiss-made Patek Philippe or Breguet can equal and quickly surpass most Americans’ annual salary. For those people fortunate enough to be able to afford one, or more, of these high-end timepieces, the decision on which one to buy is rarely just about how well it can tell time.
For many connoisseurs, what makes a watch desirable is the number of complications it can pack within its slender case. (Complications are mechanical functions of the watch other than the hours, minutes, and seconds.) The more complications, the more valuable the watch. In December, 1999, Sotheby’s sold a watch with 24 complications for $11 million. The watch that holds the record for the most complications is a pocket watch Patek Philippe created in honor of their 150th anniversary in 1989. It has 33 complications including the date of Easter and a celestial chart with 2,800 stars.
Other watch fanciers are less enthusiastic about the complications than they are about the bling. These customers want diamonds on their diamonds and often favor larger watches that can better display them.
For both first-timers entering the world of high-end watches or chronophiles who have been collecting for years, one of the best ways to buy is to go with a well-known and trusted brand. But the best-known luxury watch brands are not always the most sought-after by collectors, nor do they demand the highest prices.
In a recent survey of the top 17 ultra luxury watchmakers by the Luxury Institute, a Manhattan-based research group that tracks the wealthiest consumers in the U.S. and the companies that cater to them, Rolex and Cartier were the two best-known brands. But in terms of brand status and overall quality, the respondents to the survey, each of whom has a minimum net worth of $5 million, said the winners were…