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13 November 2012

Alternative investments: watches

This is a series of articles about the personal alternative investments markets available to the professional corporate venturer. This section in Global Corporate Venturing magazine looks beyond our readers’ day jobs at how they manage their time and wealth using the same skills of insight, trend analysis and managing risk they bring to their professional careers.

Author: Marianne Abib-Pech, venture capitalist and writer

In this issue, I want to tell you about watches, but I wanted you to hear it from the horse’s mouth – the collectors: Singapore-based Melvyn Teillol-Foo, chief executive of PuristSPro, a reference website for watch lovers in Asia, collects with and for his wife and speaks fondly of the first double purchase they ever made – the Omega Constella-tion 5125.

“It was a serendipitous buy, as I actually never thought of watches as an investment. I consider a watch a worth-buy, not a value-buy. At one stage I could be buying up to three watches a month. I have 365 watches so I can wear a different one every day.”

Singapore-born Eric Lim, executive director of Chemical Industries (Far East), said: “You do not want to get me started on watches as I have about 50 of them, and collect them with passion for the elegance, the technical mastery and the sheer beauty of the object.’’

To bring the topic closer to my home, French entrepreneur Jean-Louis Bouchard, chairman of Econocom, confesses to buying “a massive Panerai” that used to belong to a prominent figure in the German navy, an admiral commanding U-boats during World War II.

“The watch dial is covered with anti-reflection yellow mica, and the coat of arms of the owner is engraved on the back. It is like owning a bit of history. I do not wear it that often. I look at it once in a while, maybe as a way to keep facing reality.’’

They all have diverse personalities and life stories, but share a common passion of measuring time. I have put together some advice on the most technical aspects of such an investment:

Why should you consider watches as an investment?

Aurel Bacs, watch expert at auction house Christie’s, said: “In the last 30 years close to 2 million collector watches have changed hands via international salerooms.”

He added: “The community is as diverse – scholars, collectors, museum curators and dealers – as it is international,” with growth particularly among collectors in Brazil, Russia, India and China who are “just at the beginning of exploring the market of premium watches [and] are both interested in vintage and contemporary. We estimate the overall market potential of these countries [at more than] 3 million clients.”

What would be the main factors you should pay attention to?

Complexity: As a neophyte, one can be oblivious to the exceptional technical skills required to make a top watch, but being familiar with the insider terms will be helpful.

Tourbillons are a mechanical addition to a watch to counter the effects of gravity. A watch may feature a double, triple or quadruple tourbillon – the higher the number the more valuable the watch.

Some watches depict the equation of time – the difference between true solar time and what and solar mean time. This facilitates perpetual calendars showing the exact times of dusk and dawn wherever you are in the world.

Such complex mechanisms in one watch are the cornerstone of present and future value.

Condition: Go for either good condition or the condition expected with provenance.

Rarity: Pay attention to the number of models of the par-ticular watch you are interested in. Invest time in researching the history of the watch or the brand in which you want to invest. Look for the extraordinary, the limited editions.

Brand names: If you ever want to get serious about watches as investment look for the inventors in watch-making, such as Breguet designing the first tourbillon in 1795, and resist the temptation to go for luxury brands.

In contrast to many other collectibles, age is much less of an issue in watches.

Buy a watch for the love of the object, something you can use and admire for a long period of time, not as a pure investment product.

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