In response to a recent inquiry from Demetrius, one of our regular readers, I want to comment on what other Old Money Guys and Gals have shared with me about their choices regarding their wristwatches. I also want to share what I’ve seen in the past year since I’ve lived in Europe.
While it’s unwise to generalize about an entire cultural group (Old Money), I would say I see some definite boundaries in terms of what OMG’s will and won’t buy in regards to timepieces. For men, the ubiquitous gold Rolex is usually not a consideration. First generation stock brokers, athletes, and entertainers usually spring for the bling. Not 3G’s (Third Generation Old Money).
The majority of my friends in the United States and my friends in Europe (France and Italy) lean toward one of two iconic brands: the stainless steel Rolex and the Cartier tank.
Regarding the stainless steel Rolex: the very experienced tell me that the Oyster band holds up over time better than the Jubilee band. The younger generation are buying the 36mm men’s version, which is being worn (and will be inherited) by men and women alike. This is a watch that is often purchased for a college graduate as a gift, and worn the rest of their lives for dress and sport. Maintenance costs are estimated to be about $400.00 every 18 months to have the Rolex serviced. Guys like it because you can wear it anywhere: the boardroom or the beach. With the silver finish, it doesn’t attract a lot of attention, but does make a subtle statement. Mommy Dearest purchased one in the 1970s and has been happy with hers for decades.
Regarding the Cartier tank watch: the most well-known model sports a black leather band, white face, and black Roman numerals. Again, the large, men’s size is being bought and worn by both sexes. This is a dressier watch, not as durable as the Rolex, but it does disappear nicely under a French cuff. I haven’t heard anyone discuss maintenance costs. Worn with jeans or the classic black dress, the tank watch is versatile, elegant, and timeless.
I’ve seen pre-owned stainless steel Rolex watches start in price at $1200.00. (The one in the photo is offered by La Jolla Jewelry for $4200.00, I believe.) New models can go to $9,000.00 in a retail setting. The Cartier tank watches can start in about the same range and go to $20,000 or more. (The one in the photo, again from La Jolla Jewelry, is offered at $6300.00, I believe.) Most everyone avoids diamonds or other jewels on the watch. They also avoid buying from craigslist or from private parties.
If you’re buying for yourself, I would consider purchasing a pre-owned timepiece from a reputable dealer. The savings can be substantial. If you’re buying for the college graduate, you might consider purchasing new from an authorized dealer. (Cartier’s service reputation for customers who buying watches from them is legendary.)
If you want to collect and hand the watch or watches down to the next generation, I’d consider Patek Philippe. They tend to hold their value over time and have a global, and perhaps unsurpassed, reputation for quality and craftsmanship.
I would, however, be careful about purchasing a wristwatch as an ‘investment’. I have consoled many crestfallen consumers who, in times of economic hardship, have taken their pricey timepieces into a local watch dealer, only to find out what the real value of their watch is. (Answer; much less than they paid for it.) Patek Philippe watches, as many people know, usually start in five figures and go to seven figures.
In summary, I see huge numbers of quality, pre-owned timepieces online in the $3000.00 to $9,000.00 price range. Shop around and feel free to negotiate. Cash is king.
Personal note: I don’t own a Rolex or a Cartier presently. I’ve tied the acquisition of a watch to career accomplishments: the publishing of my novel, the production of a film, etc. I think luxuries are to be purchased with earned money, not inherited money. I’m not alone in that opinion. I do think that they can be excellent gifts for college graduates. I’m less certain about giving a Rolex or a Cartier watch to a high school graduate.
Like most things Old Money, the wristwatch acquisition is governed by familiar factors: what is a value; what is appropriate; what is timeless and durable; and what is discreet. More recently, it may be influenced by that nagging realization that I simply can look at my cell phone and see what time it is…and keep my money in my pocket.
That said, Demetrius, I know everyone would be very interested to know what you decide to purchase, and how it turns out.