So, you want to invest in watches do you? Well… don’t. Horological speculation is, to put it bluntly, a fool’s errand. Sure, there are the success stories of guys that held onto Paul Newman Rolexes they got for a pittance way back when – but they’re the exception, not the rule.

The fact is, even if a watch is going to appreciate, it’s not going to do so by a huge margin. Compared to property, classic cars, art or wine they’re just not worth the time it takes to research the subject. Still, there is the plus point that they rarely drop in value.

A good watch shouldn’t really degrade that much. It’s not a Lamborghini, after all. If you keep it regularly serviced and avoid getting hit wrist-first by a car, it should be fine. But like all safe bets, it’s not going to net you a huge win. It might not even appreciate at all.

The problem is that watches, unlike most other investments, follow trends. They’re high-value mechanical marvels, but when you boil it all down they’re simply an accessory. And while trends are cyclical, you don’t want to have to wait 20 years for your watch to come back into style. You’re at the whims of fashion, and to paraphrase Flight of the Conchords, fashion is danger.

Go Vintage

Warning out of the way, if you still insist on giving watch investment a try, there are a few ways to go about it.

One way to get a good return on watches is by going vintage, focusing on some of the cooler, lesser-known brands out there which have yet to take off. A few years back that would have been Omega, but the ship of cheap buys has long since sailed now. Older Cartiers are surprisingly good value, and if you’re just after an entry-level timepiece then Seikos are always worth a punt.

The problem is, thanks to the internet (curse you, technology!) it’s now near-impossible to get a good deal. When sellers know what everything’s worth, they’re going to want just that. Sometimes even more. Unless of course you try your hand at auctions; Fellows usually have some interesting pieces with low reserves – at least compared to big three of Bonhams, Sotheby’s and Christie’s – and there are hundreds of small auctions going on across the country you can check out on bidonthis.co.uk.

New Watch Recommendations

If you’re insistent that you want to invest in a new watch and avoid waiting for the right lot to pop up, then I’d suggest going for one that you genuinely wouldn’t mind being stuck with. It’s not going to depreciate more on your wrist than in a box, so if you’re waiting for it to go up in value you may as well start showing it off. The only downside is that if it does go on to become a collector’s item, you might not be able to let go. I say downside; most would be happy to be in that position.

Now, I’m not about to make predictions about what watches will or will not go up in value. Anyone who guarantees that is worth giving a wide berth; they’re probably Nostradamus. There are however a triplet of brands you can always rely on to be a nice little earner, none of which should come as much of a surprise.

Rolex

Rolex GMT-Master Oystersteel & Everose Gold, Ref 126711CHNR
Rolex GMT-Master Oystersteel & Everose Gold, Ref 126711CHNR

First you have Rolex – the golden crown that can do no wrong. All of their sports watches have a waiting list, so if you manage to get one you can probably turn it around there and then, especially if you get your grubby little paws on the latest Daytona.

For my money though, I’d go for the rose gold “root beer” GMT-Master II. Firstly, gold holds its value like nothing else; secondly, and most importantly, it’s just stunning. It’s also inspired by a famous vintage model, so it has a hell of a lot going in its favour.

Patek Philippe

Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time 5524G
Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time 5524G-001 White Gold

Second up, there’s the brand often called the most prestigious in the world: Patek Philippe. They produce low numbers of high-end pieces so you’re looking at a bit more of an investment than Rolex and a slightly smaller market, but bigger margins if you secure a cool model. The Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time 5524G, to give it its full name, is definitely that.

A. Lange & Sohne

A. Lange & Sohne Datograph Up/Down Lumen
A. Lange & Sohne Datograph Up/Down Lumen

For the last sure-fire bet it’s best to leap over the border to Germany, Glashutte specifically, and the brand that made it the Saxon watchmaking mecca it is: A. Lange & Sohne. They don’t have quite the power of Patek and Rolex when it comes to numbers of collectors, but those that they do have are voracious. So, forget their classic pieces and try to get hold of the Datograph Up/Down Lumen.

The Datograph is already one of the brand’s most sought-after pieces. Transform it with a smoked sapphire dial and enough lume to make a Geiger counter nervous and you have a serious collector’s piece. You also happen to have one of the coolest Langes ever built, which is just a bonus.

Conclusion

The best thing about these three models isn’t that they’re guaranteed to make you money (they probably will – they’re about as good a bet as you can get). No, the best thing is that they’re watches you’ll want to wear in the meantime. They’re not some cheap flip, but serious pieces and should be treated with more respect than some awful painting by a tortured artist deciding to inflict it on the world via canvas.

Just please, please don’t come running to me if your watch investment career doesn’t pan out. I put the warnings at the beginning for a reason.