We don’t really need wristwatches anymore — cell phones and smart phones do a perfectly adequate job of timekeeping.
If you’re thinking that collectible wristwatches are still the province of stuffy antique shops, think again.
All the major auctioneers — Antiquorum, Bonham, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, for example — have regular timepiece auctions and numerous companies sell them online, too.
Although sales prices haven’t achieved the levels seen in fine art auctions, it’s not uncommon for rare watches to sell for over $1 million, and the top prices paid have surpassed $5 million.
Still, this doesn’t mean watch-investing is limited to the wealthiest investors.
Charles Tearle, director and watch expert at Antiquorum’s New York office, says that his firm’s clients trade vintage watches ranging in cost from a few thousand dollars to over a million dollars.
Much of the demand for both new and vintage wristwatches is being fueled by growing disposable wealth around the world.
According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, Asia accounted for more than half of Switzerland's watch exports last year, and Hong Kong was the largest single market for the industry.
Overall, auction activity and prices have recovered since the onset of the financial markets’ crash, says Tearle.
“Right now, I think, people are looking at assets that are not simply on a screen and that have an international market, as well,” he said in an interview.
“Wristwatches fall into that same type of category as diamonds, certain antique jewelry, gold, etc.,” he explained. “They are an international, portable commodity and really can’t be replaced, either.”
It’s not just individual collectors who have noticed watches’ financial performance.