Vintage watches rob corder
WATCHPRO editor-in-chief and co-founder Rob Corder.

CORDER’S COLUMN: We are past peak insanity, but a long way from sane

I am seeing bargains everywhere in the Spring auctions, and it can only be a matter of time before people realize that Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet watches being flipped for 2-3x retail are still crazily overpriced.

Peak insanity among casual and professional traders of Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet watches — products made in industrial quantities — was reached in the first few months of last year.

More than 12 months since the market turned, and with prices of the watches most widely traded down by over one third, it would be tempting to think that sanity has returned and the relationship between prices and value in a broadly healthy place.

I wonder.

Value is a hard thing to define. Is a MoonSwatch, which can be bought for $240 and sold on eBay for $500 of more value than a Panerai or Cartier with a retail price of $10,000 that loses 25% of its price as soon as it leaves an authorised dealer?

Desirability may be a better term, and this is where I think genuine watch lovers will see that the watches still being flipped for over their retail prices are seriously over-priced.

This dawned on my when I was looking at recent auction prices.

I will give examples from the Bonhams New York Fine Watches sale, which ended this week, but I could have picked any other recent auction.

First, take a look at the latest prices for a few of the flippers’ favourites using bottom estimates from Chrono24:

  • Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo. Market price $85,000
  • Rolex Submariner “Kermit”. Market price $21,985
  • Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711. Market price $125,145
  • Rolex Milgauss. Market price $12,318

Then look at what you can buy with a bit of imagination and appreciation for the lasting beauty and reliability of vintage watches that will keep time many decades after being made.

And, bear in mind, that smaller watches are much more fashionable these days. Anything over 40mm is starting to look clunky, and sub-38mm makes you look far more on trend.

A few gems that jumped out at me from the Bonhams results:


Black and yellow gold is a hot color combination right now, and so is the 1970s retro look.

So, what price this 1977 35mm Rolex Oyster Perpetual with date in 14ct yellow gold?

$5,100, including fees.

You could get four of these for the price of what I would say is a pretty unfashionable Kermit on the secondary market.

ImageOr, what about a 1980s Audemars Piguet automatic calendar watch with moon phase, double signed by Tiffany & Co.?

OK, it is more of a ladies’ size, even in the current market at 31mm, but it is a hell of a lot of watch for a hammer price of just $8,925.


Your friends at the golf club might not instantly recognise this 18ct gold Audemars Piguet automatic tourbillon watch from the 1980s, but why would you want them to think of you as the sort of sheep that would copy everybody else and spend $35,000 (retail) or $85,000 (market price) on a Royal Oak?

This is a statement piece with an art deco twist, probably best worn to the annual golf fundraising ball, but would demonstrate a true collector’s eye, and could have been yours for $25,500.

ImageYour average rapper has realised that gold on gold makes the ultimate F-you statement, and what’s right for rappers will be on your wrist in no time.

You could have got ahead of the pack for a mere $12,750 to score this Rolex Day-Date ‘President’, Ref: 18238 from around 1994.

It’s even got diamond hour markers. Boom!

I could go on, but my conclusion is simple: if you concentrate on buying what you love, there are myriad bargains to be had out there in the form of undervalued brands and retro styles that are coming back into fashion.

And, for those that care about the investment side of watch collecting, I get the feeling the vintage market is the place to put your money over the coming few years.

It may not be as simple as flipping Oyster Perpetuals, but will be a whole lot more rewarding.

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