Watches are one of the most promising investment markets: Aurel Bacs

By Manisha Rao
Watches are one of the most promising investment markets: Aurel Bacs
WATCH OUT | Former head of Christie's International watch department, Aurel Bacs, currently runs a private consultancy for individual collectors, museums and brands – Bacs & Russo – with his wife Livia Russo. Image Courtesy of Phillips

“Bacs tells how to choose the right watch and the best below $1,000 brands”

“Only the skilled hands of a watch maker can put together a tourbillon, a repeater or a mechanical perpetual calendar. It’s an expression of who we are, it is the history,” says Aurel Bacs, former head of Christie’s International watch department. The watch enthusiast currently runs a private consultancy for individual collectors, museums and brands – Bacs & Russo – with his wife Livia, another Christie’s veteran. In an exclusive chat with The Luxe Cafe, Bacs tells how to choose the right watch and the best below $1,000 brands.

The Luxe Cafe: When and how did your association with watches begin?
It started as a hobby I was a teenager. My father, a keen collector of vintage watches, introduced me to the world of horology and then gradually I took it up as a profession.

What are the parameters that collectors consider when valuing a watch?
There are many parameters to consider if you want a happy relationship with a watch. The important ones are the name, complexity, movement quality, design, rarity and the condition if it’s a pre-owned watch. Also, in case of a vintage watch, one should also know how important the watch is in the history of the brand.

If you are buying for investment purpose, I would suggest you look for individual models in top brands. Some of them could be just as rare and beautiful as the record-breaking models but may be less popular because of the size.  You should also look for models with have fewer functions but are as beautiful and rare as the complicated wrist watches.

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“Before buying a watch, I would find out how easy is it to get the watch serviced because it needs to be serviced regularly.”

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What all should you consider before buying a watch online?
Before buying a watch, I would find out how easy is it to get the watch serviced because it needs to be serviced regularly. Some collectors get a headache when they learn that the service costs $2,000 for a rare mechanical watch.

Second, you should only buy from a trusted source. When you buy online, you can’t try it on, so you don’t know whether it is the right watch for you. I would personally visit a retailer, talk to a specialist or a retailer face to face and try the watch on. Think more about personal intellectual and emotional satisfaction and less about what your friends say.

Why do you think investing in watches is a better option than investing in wine or whisky?
I think it’s more of a personal choice. I know watch collectors who can spend a million dollars on a watch but ask me why people pay a million dollar for a piece of contemporary art. But it’s more often the other way round where a contemporary art collector doesn’t understand why a watch can be worth a million dollar. The truth is whatever you do it should be out of passion. You first need to understand it, and enjoy it. But, somehow, I personally believe watches are one of the most promising investment markets for the future.

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“Women’s watches have never been cheaper than men’s watch in terms of the production process. To make a small 5-6 line mechanical movement could be more costly than to make a 10-14 line mechanical wrist watch.”

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Men’s watches are the drivers in the market place. Do you think women’s watches would ever be as much in demand?
The truth is women’s watches have always been beautiful and have never been cheaper than men’s watch in terms of the production process.  To make a small 5-6 line mechanical movement could be more costly than to make a 10-14 line mechanical wrist watch.

It is just about women discovering the tourbillon, the split second chronographs and the minute repeaters. I think, they are not yet as fascinated as men with the mechanics but yes, the scenario is definitely changing.

Patek Philippe split seconds watch with Breguet dial

Patek Philippe split seconds watch with Breguet dial

Why are Patek Philippe watches so valuable in the auction world?
Patek Philippe is considered to be the gold standard in the watch industry as it has always treasured and maintained its heritage. Since 1839, Patek Philippe has never had a moment of weakness when it comes to quality and has never compromised on finishing and perfection of its pieces. Also, the brand has always offered to service a watch across 175 years of existence.

Every Patek Philippe watch in its archives, has a description on when it was made along with the number, how it was finished and to whom it was sold.  Collectors really appreciate these things and it gives them a great sense of comfort.

Some of the Vacheron Constantin watches are rarer in terms of numbers than Patek Philippe and have clearly definable identity in terms of appearance and DNA

Some of the Vacheron Constantin watches are rarer in terms of numbers than Patek Philippe and have clearly definable identity in terms of appearance and DNA

According to you which are the most understated brands?
Well, there are plenty of fantastic brands that you can pick up below $1,000 and I am not talking about vintage watches.  Some of the great names such as Omega, IWC , Jaeger-LeCoulture have extensively contributed to the development of wrist watch in the 20th century and you can buy a  superb looking everyday watch with a history and lots of extra functions for just a couple of thousand dollars. I also like $10,000 plus price bracket watches, for example Vacheron Constantin. Some of them are rarer in terms of numbers than Patek Philippe, have clearly definable identity in terms of appearance and DNA, and zero difference in terms of quality.

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“Luxury changes in one’s life. To me, it is more about quality, quality time and the ability to say no.”

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Tell us about your personal collection of watches?
The movement of a watch is something that I consider the most.  I love watches in steel. In fact, when I was a 15-year-old boy,  I came across a stainless steel Patek Philippe watch for which I had to borrow some 2,600 francs from my parents, which was a huge sum of money for a teenager and it took me years to pay the money back.

I have probably more watches than an average watch collector and I keep switching different models.  But the watch that I have been wearing from a long time now is the Patek Philippe Nautilus.

Which one watch for him and her would you recommend?
If it is just one watch, I would recommend a Patek Philippe or Rolex, period.

What is luxury to you?
Luxury changes in one’s life. To me, it is more about quality, quality time and the ability to say no. Often less is more.

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