We’ve all read stories about a collector whose ultra-rare watch sold for millions, or when someone discovers that their grandfather’s exhausted vintage timepiece is worth thousands. But how good an investment are watches, really? According to the latest Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index, fine watches rose in value by two percent over the previous 12 months, outperforming wine, cars and jewelry. In fact, over the past decade, fine watches have increased in value by 60 percent – a trend that’s partly driven by women’s timepieces.
The very first wristwatches were designed for women: in 1810, the Queen of Naples commissioned a timepiece that was fastened to her wrist with strands of hair and gold thread. ‘Wristlets’, as they were known, became popular among aristocratic women. It was considered impolite for a woman to check the time in public, so watchmakers collaborated with jewelers to create precious bracelets containing hidden dials. The diamond bracelet that Queen Elizabeth II wore at her coronation was a Jaeger-LeCoultre secret watch, fitted with the world’s smallest movement. The 101 Reine watch remains one of the house’s most exquisite pieces.
Towards the end of the 20th century, most watchmakers focused on their men’s collections, but more recently there has been a proliferation of design-led women’s ranges. “Savvy brands realized that, increasingly, women were earning their own money and buying luxury items for themselves, so ill-thought-out designs no longer cut it,” says Tracey Llewellyn, editor of Telegraph Time. The days of women’s watches being smaller, pinker, bejeweled versions of the men’s ones are thankfully gone.
Go for a limited edition of a high-demand piece… or a jewelry watch with the finest and rarest gemstones”
Llewellyn highlights Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Rendez-vous and Vacheron Constantin’s new Egérie as two dedicated women’s watch ranges that combine “a beautiful aesthetic with ergonomic engineering and a mechanical heart”. Elsewhere, female-focused extensions to men’s watch collections are completely redesigned to suit smaller wrists: IWC Schaffhausen’s Portofino collection ranges from pared-back, everyday steel models to diamond-dusted versions, and Audemars Piguet’s pink-gold Royal Oak makes just as much of a statement at 33mm or 37mm as it does at 41mm.
The women’s designs that stand the test of time are sought after on the second-hand market. “Ladies’ watches have benefited greatly from the boom in vintage sales,” says Ken Kessler, editor-at-large of watch magazine Revolution. “Because there aren’t enough of the older pieces to go around, contemporary classics are enjoying revived interest. Cartier’s Tank remains the go-to purchase, Piaget has reissued exciting pieces, and ultra-feminine stalwarts like Chopard’s Happy Diamonds have acquired gravitas.”
Watch and jewelry houses such as Cartier, Piaget and Chopard excel in creating ‘jewels that tell the time’, and limited-edition high-jewelry watches by these brands will likely retain their value. Cartier has a history of reissuing watches from its archive, casting a spotlight on vintage models such as the Panthère and Baignoire – proof that great design is timeless.
Fashion houses have also entered the fray, with brands such as Hermès and Gucci building a following for timepieces that complement their runway aesthetic. With its distinctive H-shaped case, the understated Heure H by Hermès is the epitome of elegance, while the house’s preppy Cape Cod watch, designed in 1991, has become a modern classic. The ability to change the strap color, material and length makes these fashion-forward watches endlessly versatile.
“Women are starting to accumulate ‘watch wardrobes’ in the same way that men have done for years,” says Llewellyn. “Complications and cocktail watches are likely to find their forever homes from the time of purchase.”
When it comes to the tricky question of return on investment, it’s worth remembering that there are no guarantees. “If holding value is really important, then go for a limited edition of a high-demand piece such as the Royal Oak, or a jewelry watch with the finest and rarest gemstones,” says Llewellyn, who advocates buying a respected brand with a long and successful watchmaking history to best hedge your bets. “But like the stock market, prices can go up or down. I would recommend only buying pieces that you genuinely love and want to wear.”