Imagine if you could have predicted how iconic certain watch models would eventually become. Think of watches like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak that were nearly a flop and now a legend. Consider that a stainless steel model was once thought to be inferior to an all-gold one. Now, there are multi-year waiting lists for a Rolex Daytona or Patek Philippe Nautilus in stainless steel. It’s easy to feel like there’s no way to know if a model is going to be collectible until it’s too late. However, you can keep an eye out for certain things that might help you anticipate the next hit.
Popular by Association
The moment a particular model becomes associated with a certain celebrity, event, or franchise, run don’t walk. Watch brands are keen to the power of the people, places, and things they align themselves with. I’m not just talking about your run of the mill celebrity endorsement. Today, most watchmakers are inundated with brand ambassadors, and, in fact, their pull has been somewhat diminished. Instead, consider what the James Bond franchise has done for the OMEGA Seamaster. Or, think about what Steve McQueen did for the TAG Heuer Monaco in the film Le Mans. When a model becomes a symbol of a specific pop culture icon, it’s likely to become a collectible for decades to come.
Limited edition models are probably the most obvious indicator of a future collectible. The allure is within the finite supply. It’s also common for a limited edition to commemorate a particular occasion or innovation. This further adds to the model’s story and perceived value. That said, limited editions can also be one of the most challenging collectibles to procure. Limited edition models typically come with a higher price tag right off the bat. This is true whether it’s simply for exclusivity’s sake or an actual indicator of the complexity of the timepiece. They can also be difficult to obtain without being on a pre-order list. If you’re interested in collecting limited edition models, we recommend keeping a pulse on your favorite watch publications for announcements of releases. It’s also a smart idea to make friends with your local authorized dealer.
Avant-Garde or Controversial
Let the story of models like the Royal Oak or brands like Hublot be a cautionary tale for those who listen to the naysayers. When the Royal Oak first launched, it was highly controversial. Now, it’s one of the most instantly recognizable models and sells for upwards of five figures. When Hublot first introduced a watch with a rubber strap, they didn’t attract a single customer. Now, nearly every major watchmaker offers a model with a rubber strap option. If a watchmaker releases a model that is particularly avant-garde or sparks controversy, don’t brush it off. It may just be the next collectible.
Sometimes, what makes a model collectible is all in the details. Watchmakers can be subtle. A new model isn’t always about something bold like a new colorway or remarkable like a new movement. Oftentimes, it can be the addition or subtraction of a more minor feature. Take, for example, the Rolex Sea-Dweller. Up until the model’s 50th anniversary and the introduction of the Reference 126600, the collection lacked a Cyclops magnifier. This addition remains a part of the collection to this day. Ultimately, it made the Sea-Dweller a bit more similar to other Rolex models, like the Submariner. For that reason, the last iteration of the Sea-Dweller without a Cyclops lens has become collectible.
No, you can’t time travel back to the 1960s and procure an OMEGA Speedmaster before it went to the moon. However, you could have noted the date of the first lunar landing and recognized 2019 marked the monumental 50th anniversary. Watchmakers love creating commemorative models to celebrate a milestone moment in the history of the brand or in our world. This may be a special edition, or perhaps it’ll be a reissue. If you have a favorite model from the past, be sure you know its date of origin or whatever significant date it’s tied to. When an important anniversary is on the horizon, you might just be able to get the next collectible.