Luxury watches are an incredibly popular collectible item. This is because they satisfy so much of what a collection should be: They are works of artistic and engineering excellence, retain their monetary value, and are highly personal items that bring with the memories of their owners. When discussing collectible watches, specifically which watches are most worth investing in, many factors are considered, from the investment potential to the joy they bring the individual collector. Discover seven of the most impressive watches and what they could add to your watch collection.
1. Cartier Tank
The French luxury jeweler, Cartier, is often credited with producing and popularizing the first wristwatch. The now iconic piece was made in 1904 for inventor and aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont, who noted the difficulty of checking the time while using both hands to control his aircraft. Cartier named the watch after the pilot, and the Cartier Santos watches remain incredibly popular to this day.
Cartier is such a respected brand that many of their timepieces, including the Santos, are extremely collectible. They are known for mixing their skills as jewelers with technical innovations and luxurious materials to create spectacular watches. While the company has some very successful sporty designs, such as the Santos, it’s their dress watches that are truly emblematic of the brand.
One thing that makes Cartier watches so loved is how recognizable their designs are, none more so than the Cartier Tank’s rectangular dress watch. Louis Cartier designed this cult classic in 1917. He was inspired by the Renault First World War military tanks that he saw on The Western Front. For over a century, the Cartier Tank has been synonymous with classic elegance and style.
Because they are held in such high regard, most models of Cartier Tank hold their value well, so they tend to be a good investment. As with any watch, however, certain models and reference numbers are more collectible than others.
The Tank Louis series, such as the Cartier Tank Louis W1560003, includes some of the more classic models similar to the original 1917 design, making them some of the most sought-after Cartier’s timepieces. It’s also worth noting that quartz-powered models tend to sell for less than those with automatic movements.
2. Rolex GMT-Master II
Rolex is perhaps the most recognizable luxury watch brand globally, so it’s hardly surprising that some of the most collectible watches around are Rolexes. While many of the most expensive Rolex watches are diamond-encrusted pieces, there is still a huge amount of value to be found in the more modest models, such as the Rolex GMT-Master II “Coke” Ref. 16710.
The GMT-Master was initially created in 1954 to respond to Pan Am’s desire for a watch that simultaneously displayed multiple time zones. Rolex developed this sleek, sporty watch that used a bidirectional rotating bezel and an extra hand to allow wearers to read both their local time and a reference time at a glance. As the world has become increasingly globalized, with companies frequently working with international partners and people traveling between time zones, the GMT-Master became both a practical and stylish option.
Although any model in a classic line like the GMT-Master would make a good investment for watch aficionados, certain reference numbers and models are more collectible than others, such as the Rolex GMT-Master II “Coke” Ref. 16710. Several factors make this model highly collectible, starting with the fact that the model has been discontinued. Limited availability can dramatically impact how collectible a piece is, and the fact that you can only purchase the Rolex GMT-Master II 16710 second-hand boosts its value.
Two other factors that make the Rolex GMT-Master II 16710 more collectible are the general increase in popularity of all steel Rolex sports watches and the fact that it predates the Rolex Super Case. In 2005, Rolex responded to the trend for large sports watches by increasing the size of the lugs and bezel and the thickness of the case. This gave the illusion of a larger watch without the need to alter the 40mm watch dial. As a smaller model, the Rolex GMT-Master II 16710 is unlike new GMT-Masters on the market today, making it all the more desirable.
There are several models of GMT-Master with a dual-colored bezel. These bezels have aesthetic and practical functions, as the colors break up the 24-hour clock into day and night, making it easier to compare the local and reference times. Since Rolex discontinued the GMT-Master II 16710, there have been no red and black models—nicknamed “coke” by watch lovers—available. This is yet another reason that the Rolex GMT-Master II 16710 is so collectible.
3. Patek Philippe Nautilus
Patek Philippe has been designing and manufacturing luxury watches since 1939 and has garnered a reputation for sophisticated and complex timepieces. One of the Swiss brand’s most iconic and, consequently, most collectible designs is the Patek Philippe Nautilus reference 5711/1A.
The Patek Philippe Nautilus series has been around since the 1970s when Gerald Genta designed the original ref. 3700 model, which was influenced by nautical motifs. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Nautilus ref. 3700’s release in 2006, Patek Philippe unveiled its new take on the classic with the reference number 5711/1A.
This modern reinterpretation was immediately popular and praised for the way it combined contemporary style with historical details. Watch enthusiasts were impressed by the improvements made to the original, such as using a higher grade of style that offered better resistance to corrosion and the new double folding clasp that was much more comfortable.
The 5711/1A re-established the watch world’s love for the Nautilus and, since then, the desire for the Nautilus series, such as the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5726/1A-014, has only grown. The price tag for these watches is on the higher end of the spectrum, but if it’s within your means as a collector, a piece like this can be a solid investment.
4. Rolex Daytona
Rolex has always had a strong relationship with car racing, and their Daytona chronographs have been some of the brand’s most popular—and most collectible—timepieces over the years. The most famous Rolex Daytona is probably the movie star Paul Newman’s 1968 model that sold at auction for a record-breaking $15.5 million—$17,752,500, once the 12.5% buyer’s premium was added.
While the average Rolex Daytona doesn’t reach such dizzying prices, this event is emblematic of the trend for timepieces in this series to be extremely collectible. Any watch collector would be happy to count a Daytona as part of their collection, but there are a few extra special pieces, such as the Rolex Platinum Daytona 116506.
The Rolex Platinum Daytona 116506 shares all the features Rolex lovers adore, but what makes it so collectible are the unusual touches, such as the ice-blue dial that is only seen on Rolex platinum Day-Date and Cosmograph Daytona watches. An extra touch of luxury is added by the choice of diamond baguette hour markers.
The tachymetric scale bezel is a key feature of Rolex Daytonas. It is used to measure speeds of up to 400 miles or kilometers per hour. Made with corrosion-, scratch-, and UV-ray-resistant Monobloc Cerachrom, the bezel is virtually indestructible. On an aesthetic note, the chestnut brown color of the Rolex Platinum Daytona 116506’s bezel is a striking contrast to the ice blue dial, making it stand out from other models of Rolex Daytonas.
5. Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso
When comparing the most collectible watches in the world, it would be easy to fill a list with Rolex and Patek Philippe pieces, but, apart from these companies at the very top end of the scale, there are plenty of luxury watch brands that offer stunning timepieces and excellent investment opportunities.
One such brand is Jaeger LeCoultre, also known as JLC, the fourteenth most famous Swiss watch brand. JLC watches are admired for their elegance, innovation, and durability, and the brand is respected for its prestige and creative designs. It’s also worth noting that compared to similar brands, such as TAG Heuer, JLC watches hold their value incredibly well.
One of JLC’s stand-out watches is the Reverso series, such as the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso 3912420. This charming design was born from the need to create a watch that could be worn by British Army officers in India while playing polo without getting destroyed.
The JLC watchmakers had the ingenious idea for a dial that could be flipped around, concealing the more sensitive dial and exposing the back of the case. This offered a wonderful opportunity for people to personalize their own watch by engraving or enameling an emblem, personal note, or insignia.
These days, models such as the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso Duetto 3352420 use the reversible design to incorporate dual dials offering two watches in one—in this case, a day and night watch. Pieces like these capture the imagination of watch aficionados and make wonderful collectible pieces.
Another element of the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso that makes it a fantastic piece for any collection is that the chic art deco style is very gender-neutral. This means that more people can wear and enjoy the pieces, giving them a broader appeal. On a personal note, it also means you can pass your JLC timepieces on to future generations more easily.
6. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is considered by many to be the original modern luxury sports watch. Like the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the first Royal Oak was designed by Gérald Genta. Genta designed the Royal Oak some fives years before the Nautilus, and it undoubtedly helped establish him as a superior luxury watch designer.
Like the Patek Philippe Nautilus, both the inspiration for the shape and the name of the Royal Oak was nautical, though there is some debate whether the unforgettable shape of the octagonal bezel came from the HMS Royal Oak battleship’s portholes or a deep-sea diver’s helmet. Either way, it is this striking feature that gives the Royal Oak its unique personality.
One of the delightful elements of these watches is that, while they are luxury sports watches, they are elegant enough to be worn as dress watches to the most formal of events, particularly the gold models such as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15500OR.OO.1220OR.01. The string octagonal bezel makes it an exceptional watch.
7. Breitling Navitimer Rattrapante
This one is for the collector who is fascinated with watch complications. Created in 1952 by the company that wanted to develop “wrist instruments” for aviators, the Breitling Navitimer Rattrapante boasts one of the most intricate complications around the rattrapante. A rattrapante comes from the French word rattraper, which means “to catch up.” This model uses two overlaid central chronograph hands to measure two elapsed times simultaneously.
When it was first produced, it was considered the ultimate pilot’s tool, even featuring an integrated slide rule for taking precise in-flight measurement when flying planes required more manual hands-on experience. As well as being an incredibly useful feature for pilots, the rattraper is captivating for watch aficionados. If you love the intricacies of watchmaking, a timepiece like the Breitling Navitimer Rattrapante 45 RB0311E61F1P1 is well worth including in your collection.
In addition to being a work of engineering excellence, the Breitling Navitimer Rattrapante 45 RB0311E61F1P1 is an attractive watch that can be worn every day. The subtle touches of 18k rose gold add a sense of luxury, while the minimal black leather strap ensures that nothing detracts from the complex dial and bezel.
Building a Watch Collection Is Personal
Whether you want to find a safe place to invest your money or are looking to expand your watch collection to include a wider variety of pieces, purchasing any one of these collectible watches brings horological innovation and artistic ingenuity to your jewelry or watch box. While it is widely recognized that a Rolex watch retains its value better than any others, there are plenty of fine examples of timepieces from equally prestigious brands. If in doubt, remember that your collection should bring you joy: Go for what you love.
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