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 7 minutes

Collecting Luxury Watches: Should your next watch be more expensive than your last?

By Chrono24

Whether it’s about a job, house, car, or vacation, some people always need to be on the way up. The philosophy is: bigger, faster, further, and pricier than ever before. It’s the belief and hope of perpetual individual economic growth. The desire to reach the next rung on the ladder of success doesn’t stop when it comes to our hobbies.

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably very interested in luxury watches. There’s a good chance you own at least one if not more expensive timepieces, or are even a collector of high-end luxury watches. By the way, according to the platform’s data, 95% of Chrono24’s buyers are men with an average age of 42.

Are you the type of person described above, and hope your next watch will surpass your last in terms of price or technology? Our two editors Sebastian Swart and Pascal Gehrlein have differing opinions – what do you think?

Sebastian Swart
Sebastian Swart

Sebastian: “Having fun with watches is important”

When I started to take a serious interest in watches around 30 years ago, I was still a horological greenhorn. After a couple of years, I became interested in beautifully designed quartz chronographs – mainly by Junghans. Costing just a few hundred Deutschmarks, they fit my budget, were well made, and looked chic.

At some point, I became fascinated with mechanical watches, which opened up a whole new universe. My first automatic watch was a Russian-made Vostok Amphibia that I got at a flea market for around 35 Deutschmarks. For such a low price, the watch was quite well made but unbelievably imprecise. So the next mechanical watch I bought had to be higher quality, meaning that it would probably also be more expensive.

In the years – or decades – that followed, I was on a roller coaster ride through all kinds of watch brands and wannabes. That also included direct-sale models by “Swiss” microbrands that put out frequently-copied diving watch designs. If you choose the right manufacturer, you can get a well made watch for just a few hundred dollars – “Swiss Made” label and all. That’s all you really need. Or is it?

After Swiss underdogs like Epos and Titoni, who offer very good watches, came well-known manufacturers like TAG Heuer, Longines, and Tudor. The latter brands deliver excellent quality at a price that won’t give you sticker shock. However, in terms of workmanship, the differences from the former price class grew smaller and smaller, if they were noticeable at all to the naked eye. At the time, all of those manufacturers used ETA calibers in their models.

Then I started being drawn to in-house movements. The next step up was an Omega Speedmaster Broad Arrow with the manual caliber 1861 – my most expensive watch yet, and one that stayed with me for several years. What was then missing was the cult brand with the crown – Rolex. GMT watches had always fascinated me, but even 10 years ago I found the prices for the GMT-Master II excessive. So I opted for a Rolex Explorer II Ref. 16570. My Speedmaster was suddenly only my second most expensive watch! I always liked the sub design, so I added a Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600 to my Explorer and Speedy. It was quite the journey from the Vostok Amphibia for 35 Deutschmarks to this trio, along with all the other brand-name watches in my box.

The endpoint of this journey might seem banal to some people, but for me, it was already a goal in itself. The reason: I’d collected my dream watches, but in comparison to the far less expensive models by various other brands, the price of the two Rolexes seemed obscene. That was about 8 years ago.

What followed were “downgrades.” The TAG Heuer Autavia of 2018 and a Tudor Black Bay 58 – both with in-house caliber – found their way to me. I put the two Rolex watches back on the market, but the Speedy is staying put for now. After this small foray into the Rolex universe and realizing that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, I’m once again excited about smaller brands, including microbrands like Yema, Nivada, and Christopher Ward. Sure, sometimes you’ll have to do without an in-house caliber, but putting cult status and price aside, these watches are just fun. You don’t always have to be climbing higher, there’s also a lot of great stuff to discover to the left and right of your goal.

“A more expensive watch is not always a better watch.”

Generally you can expect luxury products to not only come with a higher price tag but also with a higher number of in-house parts and more technical sophistication. And that is usually the case – just keep in mind that that last 10% of increase in quality comes at 100% higher costs for the buyer. In some cases, however, that ratio spins out of control, with the result that an equivalent or even lower quality watch is sold for more than a lesser known but higher quality model.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 116520 – beliebter Chronograph mit großem Preisschild
The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ref. 116520 is a popular chronograph with a hefty price tag.

For example, it’s certainly not a sophisticated caliber or materials that make a simple chronograph such as the Rolex Daytona ref. 116520 in stainless steel $8,000 more expensive than a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Calendar ref. Q4132520. The latter is made of rose gold and houses a much more exclusive movement with a moon phase and day-date display. Admittedly, the two watches have very different designs, but if you’re on the fence between sporty and elegant, you’ll get a much more refined and exclusive watch with the JLC.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Calendar – trotz Komplikationen und Roségold günstiger als die Rolex Daytona 116520
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Calendar – Less expensive than the Rolex Daytona 116520, even with complications and rose gold.

Grand Seiko is another good example of how your next watch can cost less than your last. The Japanese luxury watch brand is often compared with Omega and Rolex and is known for their craftsmanship and precision. But many watch enthusiasts are still reluctant to mention the three brands in the same breath, despite the fact that the quality standards of Seiko are at least as high as those of Rolex and Omega, if not higher. The innovative spring drive technology in Seiko’s in-house movements is a great case in point.

Steht buchstäblich hoch im Kurs – Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 126710BLNR
In high demand: The Rolex GMT-Master II ref. 126710BLNR

So if you already own a Rolex Submariner ref. 124060 (which cost around $13,500 at the time of writing) and have your eye on a Rolex GMT-Master II ref. 126710BLNR, I implore you to expand your horizons beyond the Rolex universe. The Grand Seiko SBGE283 from the Evolution 9 collection is of excellent quality, has a “true” GMT movement, and also boasts other features that the more expensive GMT-Master doesn’t have.

Grand Seiko SBGE283 – ausgefeilte Spring-Drive-Technik mit Gangreserveanzeige
Grand Seiko SBGE283 – Sophisticated spring drive technology with a power reserve indicator.

Pascal: “Faster, higher, further!”

If you slow down, you lose – that’s more or less how many people describe modern society. This kind of mindset is frequently criticized, and with good reason. But I’m of the opinion that watch collectors absolutely should – indeed, must! – strive for the next big thing. But let me preempt the inevitable cries of protest: Of course most people don’t have unlimited budgets, and luxury watches aren’t essentials. I’m writing here for those lucky people who find themselves in the position to acquire a luxury watch. And for me, it’s not about having a certain budget, but rather about the sense of growth and progress that should come with each new watch purchase.

To develop personally or professionally, you’ll need to step outside your comfort zone and shake things up. That doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate your current watch collection or your favorite watch. But to grow as a watch collector, it’s also necessary to strive for what might now seem impossible. The advantage of that is that you’ll explore new terrain, read, learn from others, and engage with new brands and technologies. You’ll stay up to date, involved, and on the cutting edge. This enthusiasm is essential for maintaining a sense of fun in the expensive hobby that is luxury watches. For me, at least, that’s very important.

Rolex Datejust 36 mm, ref. 126200
Rolex Datejust 36 mm ref. 126200

“Want an example? Sure! I’ve been satisfied with my Rolex Datejust for a while now. That’s not meant to sound arrogant – what I mean is that it’s simply the perfect watch. What more could you want? From this point, you could expand your collection horizontally and buy more watches in this price segment. Another Datejust, an Omega Aqua Terra, a Cartier Santos. Or you can raise your sails and look to new horizons. What else is out there? What’s the next step? And the step after that? Where do I want to go with my collection? That can provide motivation without disparaging your previous purchases. I’m a fan of expanding a collection in depth rather than breadth, of using the experience I’ve gathered to increase the quality and complexity of my watches. With complexity, I’m referring to technology, sophisticated materials, the rarity of the watch, and the specialized knowledge that you need for the purchase. Those things usually go hand in hand with higher price tags.

A.Lange und Söhne Zeitwerk
A. Lange und Söhne Zeitwerk

That’s why I’ve been doing a deep dive into the world of A. Lange und Söhne lately. I don’t plan to call one of their watches my own before I turn 50, but the brand fascinates me nonetheless. Since I’ve spent time learning about the complex technology of the constant-force escapement in the Zeitwerk and the vertical integration at A. Lange und Söhne, I have a clear idea of where I want to go with my collection and can avoid making “unnecessary” or unfitting purchases. And if I never get where I want to go or change my mind? Then I’ve still learned more about interesting brands and models. For me, dreaming about an as yet unattainable watch is a major motivator and drives me to acquire new experience and knowledge in my journey towards that watch. That’s why the goal should always be to set your sights a little bit higher with your next watch.

About the Author


The team behind the Chrono24 Magazine consists of Chrono24 employees, freelance authors, and guest authors. They're all united by a passion for anything and everything…

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