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The Great Life

Alive and ticking

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Vintage and modern watches are being snapped up by desi collectors who’re proving that time is money.


Any cellphone can tell you the time so why is the market for luxury watches still ticking strongly? Because once that jacket sleeve creeps up, it's the watch - the sole piece of jewellery acceptable for a man - that gives you a fair idea of the wearer's status.
Little wonder that of late the market for vintage and modern watches has been pretty unstoppable. Auction houses both at home and abroad are seeing a growing demand from Indian buyers.

"Modern watches by makers such as Patek Philippe, Hublot and Richard Mille are quite sought after by Indian collectors, " says Sam Hines, head of watches in Asia for Christie's. He's also seen a "trophy market" emerge where collectors are willing to pay many times the market price to have the greatest pieces for their collections. Indian auction house Saffronart has also recognised the market for fine timepieces, including both vintage and modern pieces in their very smartly titled Gentlemen's Sale. The highlight of the sale, which ended on Wednesday, was a 1952 Rolex 'Padellone' selfwinding triple calendar moonphase which went for over Rs 25 lakh. Nish Bhutani, COO of Saffronart, says their first sale of watches and jewellery was back in 2008 and the market has only grown since then. Among the most sought-after brands is Patek Philippe. Last year, the most expensive wristwatch sold at auction was a Patek Philippe chronograph from 1928, which sold in Geneva for $3. 6 million, a record price for that model. Patek Philippe is also going to be the star of an upcoming sale at Christie's Hong Kong. One of the reasons for the brand's desirability is the fact that Patek Philippe services all its watches and keeps spare parts dating back to their earliest models to ensure that buyers will not be landed with an exquisite vintage watch with irreplaceable movements. Then, of course, is the fact that they are hard to get. "Even a new one has a waiting list and no one really likes to part with their old Pateks, " points out Bhutani. Saffronart sources its watches from India as well as abroad.

But are watches a good investment? Some vintage watches are like prime real estate and will never decrease in value. Why? Because they're out of production and, therefore, of truly finite availability. Collectors covet them, and compete for them. If a watch belongs to a famous owner, you can often add a zero to the price. One of the most anticipated sales is the June auction of 13 Patek Philippe timepieces, which had belonged to renowned collector Henry Graves Jr by Sotheby's.
But it's not always about money. Many collectors say that they would prefer to invest in something which gives them pleasure rather than a complex financial system with many uncertainties. In one collector's words, "I would prefer to look at my wrist and smile rather than worrying what is going on in the bank. "

TIMING MATTERS


Watch collecting can be a tricky thing. Sam Hines, head of watches for Christie's Asia, tells you what to watch out for...

Buy what you like and always buy the very best your budget can afford Get lots of advice about the price either by searching past auction results or getting an opinion from several specialists in the field It is important to know the market and to do research on the watches that one would wish to buy in an auction There are so many watch magazines, blogs, internet, auction catalogues which are valuable tools of research. There is no reason not to be fully aware of what one is buying If one is purchasing a modern watch, make sure the watch is complete with original certificate, original presentation box and other accompanying items With all works - be it wristwatches or pocket watches - make sure that the item is in the best condition possible Assess the case, dial and movement and make sure they are as original as possible. Avoid polished cases and refinished dials where possible

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