Historical Perspectives: Ten Out Of Production Watches That Offer A Ton Of Bang For The Buck
These watches deserve to be more expensive than they are.
Originally published by Ben Clymer on HODINKEE, November 20th, 2014
Last year I put together a list of 10 vintage watches that I genuinely believe(d) should cost more than they do, for a variety of reasons. You can read it here. Today, I will take a look at another sector of watches with the same pervading thought: these watches deserve to be more expensive than they are. But today, I’ll be looking at modern, but out of production, watches. What I mean is that these pieces were designed in the modern era, with the help of CAD, and modern production technologies, and in many cases they offer a tremendous amount of watchmaking firepower. But, for some reason, they just don’t cost that much (relatively speaking). Here are 10 modern, but out of production watches that offer a lot of horological bang for the buck.
The curse of the Ferrari watch strikes again. This limited edition chronograph dates to when Ferrari was linked up not with Hublot, or Panerai, but actually with Girard-Perregaux. What makes this watch so great is absolutely not the Ferrari branding, but instead what you get in terms of sporty complications for the dollar. This bad boy is a rattrapante (split-seconds) chronograph with foudroyante (or jumping seconds hand). This particular example happens to be cased in solid 950 platinum, too, though it was available in rose and white gold as well. A few years back, these watches were cheap – the one pictured here sold for just 8,400 CHF back in 2008, and here’s another at Christie’s HK for roughly the same price. But, things haven’t changed much in the past six years – here is one in platinum for $14,000 listed at the end of last year. Where else are you going to find a rattrapante with foudroyante in platinum for under $15K?
In early 2013, JLC did the unthinkable and introduced a self-winding, ultra-thin perpetual calendar for under $20,000. This watch is still made, and still one of the best values around for a new watch. But did you know JLC used the same base movement in perpetuals a few years before? Stainless-steel case, black dial, full perpetual calendar from Jaeger-LeCoultre for under $15,0000 on the secondary market. Here is one for sale at $14,000 from Govberg in Phillly.
Okay, so this is like a combination of the number one and number two, but it’s from Blancpain. Blancpain’s early split-seconds perpetuals offer insane value for the money. Sure, they’re very often 34 mm, and the finishing isn’t close to what you’d find in something like a Patek Philippe 5004, but you’re paying literally a tenth the price for the exact same complication. Here is one for sale at Betteridge for $27,500.
IWC still makes pilot watches, but some would say they’ve lost the purity that made them so popular in the first place. I will admit that I happen to really like some of IWC’s current pilots watches, but it’s my belief that the last truly great IWC pilots watch – which comes before Richemont owned them – is the Mark XII. It’s a mid to late ’90s watch, features classic Pilots watch aesthetics (yes, with date, which I know some purists will gripe about) and a steel 36 mm case. But what makes this watch special is that it’s a simple time-only piece with a top-tier caliber inside, just like the original Mark XI. Instead of the ETA movement you now find in the current Mark XVII, you have a Jaeger-LeCoultre caliber 884, based on the 889/2. Mark XII’s are often found with great, original mesh bracelets and these watches are simply superb, while showing a good understanding of collectibility and watchmaking. Pricing should be just south of what you’d pay for an original Mark XI, and you’re getting a ton of watchmaking history for the price. Here, for example, is one listed privately from the UK for around $4,000.
Vintage and secondhand Vacheron Constantin watches are, without debate, one of the strongest values in watches, anywhere. The watchmaking is top notch, and while the GP, JLC, and Blancpain above offer a lot of function, Vacheron pieces not only offer the function, but also top-tier movement finishing that, at times, rivals the the likes of Patek Philippe. How, for example, is this 1940s Vacheron 4178 in pink gold with blue pulsation scale not worth the $30,000 reserve? It did not sell in Sotheby’s last auction, and that is mind-blowing to me. But the watch that is most undervalued in my own humble opinion is the Les Historiques Chronograph, in particular those in platinum. The Les Historiques chronos were made in the 1990s into the 2000s (arguably something of a dark period when you’re looking at general interest in fine timepieces), and they use the Lemania 2310 movement – the same that you’ll find in a Patek 5070, 5970, many Breguets, and others.
But because this is Vacheron, the Lemania movements in these are finished to the nines. Okay, maybe to the eights, when compared only with something like a Patek Philippe, but they are far better executed than just about any other watch using this movement, and you have a nice sapphire back to observe this beauty. On top of that, these watches are derived from the likes of the 4178 chronograph mentioned above and are just downright beautiful. And yet, they sell for practically nothing. As I said in this post, the platinum piece above sold for 15,000 CHF last year. In yellow gold, one sold just last week for 10,000 CHF. There are a handful available at this very moment for below $25,000 with full box and papers, which to me is absolutely one of the best values in watches today.
AP is still one of the absolute best high-end movement makers in the world. They are true experts in complications and like with the Vacheron above, occassionally a piece or two falls through the cracks into relative affordability. One such example is the Jump Hour Minute Repeaters AP made, again, in the late ’90s. This example, in platinum with boxes and papers, sold for just 40,000 CHF last year. Let me repeat that: a platinum jump hour MINUTE REPEATER from AP sold for just 40,000 CHF. That is downright craziness in my belief, and these prices are relatively normal. One in yellow gold brought in 37,000 CHF just last week. Keep an eye out for these because they simply have to get more expensive.
F.P. Journe’s first serially produced watch, and arguably one of his best – the Tourbillon with rementoir is pure Journe and I believe tremendously underpriced. This model, which featured a brass movement, was eventually replaced by a similar looking piece featuring dead-seconds at 6 o’clock and a re-arranged power reserve indicator, with a movement in rose gold. Now at 40 mm, this piece is still in production and a fantastic watch, but I believe Journe’s early pieces offer great bang for the buck and will be really sought after down the road (as I told The Telegraph).
They were made in a variety of dial colors, with the “sparkly yellow” pieces being most sought after. But, if you don’t care so much for yellow, you can find tremendous deals on these watches. The piece here sold for $80,000 earlier this year, and I’ve seen them trade for a bit less, too. Again, this is the watch made Journe famous, one of the sleekest-wearing modern tourbillons in the world, and the first wristwatch tourbillon ever to contain a rementoir.
Sure, $80,000 is still a lot of money, but for a piece like this, I believe its a true bargain. Here are a few for sale now.
I will admit it from the start – I own a 3940G. It was the first Patek Philippe I ever bought and will likely be the last one I ever sell (for personal reasons, and other). I happen to believe the 3940 is one of the absolute best watches Patek has ever made. It’s as pure Patek as a watch can possibly be, with a gorgeous curved 36 mm case, ultra-thin micro-rotor movement, and stunning dial. It is the watch that Philippe Stern himself wore for decades, and I can’t begin to tell you how satisfying this watch is to own and to wear. Let’s not forget the fact that in it houses a stunning in-house perpetual calendar caliber that has stood the test of time. I won’t say 3940s are rare, because they just aren’t (in the world of Patek). But, that doesn’t matter when a watch is this good, and I believe the pricing on these should correct soon. The 3940’s replacement, the 5140, simply doesn’t hold the same charm in my belief, with an outward facing bezel, 37 mm case, and much larger “Patek Philippe” signature. 3940s can be found in the mid to high 30s in yellow gold, low to high 40s in white gold, and into the 50s and 60s for a platinum piece. Those prices for a perpetual calendar from Patek Philippe? You just can’t beat it.
The original Datograph set the world of watchmaking on fire. This thing was pure sex when it came out, showcasing one of the first truly new chronograph calibers in decades, a platinum case and black dial and a movement more intoxicating than just about anything anyone had ever seen. The Datograph grew to 41 mm in 2011, but I still believe there is value in the original 39 mm piece. As Philippe Dufour has mentioned, he believes this is the best chronograph in the world. I don’t disagree, though for some reason it’s a watch that often gets re-sold. As I mentioned in my review of the Lange One Timezone some years back, non-limited-edition pieces from Lange don’t perform tremendously well on the secondhand market. This might change with time as the brand better figures out its production formula, and there is no doubt that the original Datograph, which you should be paying between $40,000 and $50,000 for, represents simply superb watchmaking for the money. I’ve often said, someone could build a world-class watch collection for under $100,000 by buying just a 3940 and a Datograph.