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 6 minutes

What makes a watch retain its value?

By René Herold

So, you want to buy a watch for the first time but are afraid that your new timepiece will simply eat up your dollars? Or maybe you’re looking for a model with a good return on investment? Either way, no one wants to lose money. But what exactly makes a watch’s value stable? Chrono24 has evaluated price trend data for all of the models on its platform and determined five criteria you should consider when making your watch purchase.

1. Prestigious Brands and Models

If you want your watch to still be worth the money you spend today in many years to come, then you should set your sights on time-honored models from long-established brands. The Rolex Submariner, Patek Phillipe Nautilus, and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak are three examples of some of the most prominent watch models whose prices have increased remarkably in recent years.

All three timepieces are considered absolute classics within the watch world and have decades-long histories. For example, the Rolex Submariner – though by no means the first watch of its kind on the market – quickly became the quintessential diving watch through clever marketing and product placement, particularly in the early James Bond films. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus, for their part, ushered in the era of luxury stainless steel sports watches with their ingenious designs in the early 1970s.

All of this, coupled with the highest quality of craftsmanship, reliable in-house movements, and the global reputation of these brands, give these watches a special aura that attracts the biggest names in entertainment, politics, and sports. They are timeless status symbols that allow their wearers to tell the world in style: “I’ve made it!” Watches with high prestige are unlikely to ever go out of fashion, which keeps demand at a consistently high level. High demand, in turn, ensures a high potential for value retention. Chrono24’s data show that few brands and models have enjoyed such solid and sustained appreciation in value as this trio.

The Rolex Submariner: one of the most prestigious watches on the market

2. Limited Availability and High Demand

The principle of supply and demand determines the basis for setting prices in any market. This applies to watches, too: You’ll have the best chance of finding a model that holds or even increases its value when you stick to classic models from major established brands. Watches from Rolex, Audemars Piguet, or Patek Philippe are in such high demand that you can expect to wait several months, often even years, before they are available at brick-and-mortar retailers. This demand typically causes prices for these timepieces to reach dizzying heights on the secondary market. On Chrono24, even models from these three brands priced below average perform very well, selling much faster than other watches.

A recent example of this is the performance of the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1A in stainless steel with a blue dial. In late 2020, the Geneva-based manufacturer announced that it would cease production of this popular reference, causing demand for the model to skyrocket. This, in turn, resulted in a price rally that shows no signs of stopping as we approach the end of 2021. At the time of writing, the market price for a mint-condition 5711/1A-010 was more than four times its former list price.

Such extreme increases in value are, of course, the exception. For some watches, the average prices on Chrono24 can be significantly below list prices. In most cases, it’s unlikely that such timepieces will dramatically increase in value. Nevertheless, these models often hold their value, which, together with the lower average prices, makes them attractive alternatives to established, high-performing watches.

High demand combined with low supply has recently sent prices soaring for the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1A.

3. Timeless Design That Anyone Can Appreciate

Aesthetically pleasing, stylish, and flawlessly designed: Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but some beauties can turn the heads of almost anyone. The watch world has produced several such stunners. One of the oldest is the Cartier Tank, designed by Louis Cartier in 1917. Over a century later, the watch’s sleek rectangular case, Art Deco dial, and slanted Roman numerals remain nearly unchanged. The epitome of elegance and class, the Tank enjoys tremendous popularity, especially among women. With such an iconic timepiece, there’s no reason to fear a significant loss of value.

The three examples introduced earlier in this article also impress with their timeless designs. The Royal Oak and Nautilus represent a stroke of design genius by Gérald Genta. This famed designer not only used stainless steel as the material, but he also equipped the watches with a metal bracelet integrated into the case and an octagonal bezel, giving them an unmistakable look. While hardly imaginable today, both models initially got off to slow starts. But those days are long gone. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus are now coveted design icons whose value seems to know only one direction: up.

The same goes for the Rolex Submariner – or really, for almost any Rolex. Their designs are timeless and have shaped the watch world unlike any other. The Submariner, Datejust, GMT-Master, and others have inspired countless watch designers, but the originals remain unparalleled to this day.

The Cartier Tank: a timeless classic

4. Exclusive Mechanical Movements

One factor that is just as important as design and prestige in many watch enthusiasts’ decision-making process is the technology inside the watches. In general, it can be said that the watch community places more value on in-house movements – that is, calibers developed and manufactured by the respective brand itself – than on movements produced by large-scale manufacturers like ETA, Sellita, or Miyota.

Additionally, there are also true stars among movements that watch collectors covet. These include, for example, the Zenith El Primero, the world’s first automatic chronograph caliber. The Omega 321 and its successors, the 861 and 1861, are also highly desirable in the watch collecting community. They were developed from the Lemania 2310 and powered the Omega Speedmaster Professional, i.e., the original Moonwatch. Another highly sought-after classic is the Jaeger-LeCoultre 920. First released in 1967, it remains one of the slimmest automatic movements in existence. It earned most of its fame inside the first editions of the legendary AP Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus.

Watches with particularly complicated or ornate calibers also frequently have high value retention. Examples of this include timepieces from A. Lange & Söhne, which produces movements in the tradition of the Glashütte school of watchmaking. But high-tech calibers like those from Richard Mille are also increasingly in demand and promise to hold their value over time.

5. Top Condition With Original Box and Papers

It should be rather obvious that the watch’s condition impacts its resale value. The better preserved a timepiece is, the more likely you can get a good price for it.

You’ll have an even better chance if you can provide the original packaging and papers for your well-maintained watch. A “full set” will always fetch a higher price than the watch alone. On Chrono24, watches with their boxes and papers will, on average, demand 20% more than models without. However, the less expensive listings give you a chance as a buyer to get an excellent watch for a more affordable price that will probably increase in value either way.

So, treat your watches with as much care as possible, and should you buy a watch with its original box and papers, be sure to take good care of these as well.

Mint condition, complete with box and papers: This combination will fetch the best price.


What gives a watch high value retention? Chrono24 highlights five of the most important criteria you should consider when buying timepieces.

As you can see, several factors will ensure a watch retains its value. If you keep our tips in mind for your next purchase, there’s a good chance that you won’t face major losses should you want to resell your watch in the future.

About the Author

René Herold

My name is René Herold, and I first discovered Chrono24 in a job listing. Admittedly, I didn't really care about watches before coming to Chrono24. However, after a few …

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