Is The Best Men’s Luxury Watch To Invest In…A Women’s Watch?

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Deborah Wong (left) and Stephanie Soh (right) of TickTockBelles wearing a Cartier Bagnoire circa 1960s in 18k yellow gold, mechanical movement, and a Cartier Crash in 18k white gold, mechanical movement, respectively. (Image: TickTockBelles)

If you’re thinking about investing in a luxury watch, there’s something you should know: The secondary watch market has been falling post-pandemic. The Bloomberg Subdial Watch Index, which tracks the prices of the 50 most traded watch models by transaction value, has declined 40.1% in the last 24 months. In the last 12 months, prices of 48 out of the 50 watches the index tracks have dropped—not a good sign for the health of the pre-owned luxury watch market.

However, there is some early indication that luxury watch prices are stabilising. Of the 50 most traded watches, 2 watches saw their prices appreciate in the past 12 months. The first was the Rolex GMT Master II “Pepsi”, nicknamed so for its red and blue bezel. If you know anything about luxury watches or have read our guide to investing in luxury watches, this isn’t a huge surprise.

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Image: Bloomberg Subdial Watch Index

The second watch that performed well was less anticipated—the Rolex Lady-Datejust Steel & Gold 69173.

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Image: Bloomberg Subdial Watch Index

Generally when people think of investment-worthy luxury watches, they think of men’s watches—large dials, chunky straps, you know the look. The daintier frames of traditionally ladies’ wristwatches are far from the first thing to come to mind. And yet, against the likes of Rolex and Patek, jewellery and luxury watch maison Cartier seems to be having a moment. Just take a look at the price indexes of popular watch brands as of 26 Feb 2024 on WatchCharts:

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Image: WatchCharts

What’s going on? We’ve already unpacked why entry-level watches are outperforming giants like Rolex and Audemars Piguet. Now, I want to look at the situation from another angle—could more feminine-looking watches be the next big thing to invest in? Especially on the backs of male celebrities like The Weekend and Timothée Chalamet making waves in menswear by sporting ladies’ watches to gala events?

To find out more, I spoke to female watch collectors Stephanie Soh and Deborah Wong, founders of female-focused timepiece appreciation community TickTockBelles. Here’s what they had to say.

Are men’s watches more valuable than women’s watches?

As far as I know, and based on a quick poll I did of family and friends around me, it’s a common belief that watches for ladies are worth less than watches for men. Heck, even I thought so too, until I spoke to Stephanie and Deborah. It turns out this is untrue—just because a watch is labelled as “for men” doesn’t guarantee its value.

“Certain brands make big ‘male’ watches that do poorly too, in terms of monetary value. They can even depreciate up to 70%, which is almost as much as a ‘female’ quartz watch!” Stephanie tells me. Generally, quartz movements tend to be less expensive and are more commonly associated with women’s watches than men’s watches.

Instead of a superficial gender label, the real factors that determine the value of a watch are its movement, design, and aesthetic. A question Deborah posed was: Can it stand the test of time such that it remains relevant year after year and people still want to own one?

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Stephanie’s Cartier Crash with diamonds in 18k white gold (Image: TickTockBelles)

Let me give you an example of a watch that has done a remarkable job of standing the test of time. Stephanie and Deborah are fans of the Cartier Crash, perhaps Cartier’s most distinct watch. Its unique asymmetrical watch face might make you recall Salvador Dalí’s 1931 surrealist painting of the melting clocks, The Persistence of Memory, but the appeal of the Cartier Crash more often stems from the urban legend of its origins. 

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Stephanie and Deborah’s Cartier Baignoire Allongée timepieces (Image: TickTockBelles)

As the story goes, the watch started as an elliptical Baignoire Allongeé (French for “elongated bathtub”) shape, pictured above. When its wearer met a car accident, the devastating heat of the crash caused the watch face to melt and morph into the distinctive, free-form Cartier Crash. It’s quite a story—romantic almost—even though Francesca Cartier Brickell, the granddaughter of Jean-Jacques Cartier, has confirmed it’s pure fiction.  

Nevertheless, something about the Cartier Crash just works. Over the years, the Crash has enjoyed growing demand, especially during and after the pandemic:

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Image: Revolution Watch

It turns out the Crash was just a novel watch design that was trying its best to stand out in the swinging 60s when non-conformism was already rampant. It stood out then in 1967, and it continues to stand out now almost 60 years later. As Cheryl Chia of Revolution Watch writes, “the Crash is indeed one of the rare instances of watch design that is deeply rooted in its era yet astonishingly transcendent of it.”. 

As unconventional as it is inimitable, the appeal of the Cartier Crash transcends history and time—what more the antiquated notions of gender in watches. Sure, the diamond-studded, blinged-up Crash is more commonly associated with women than men, but you cannot tell me that this is a watch for ladies and ladies alone—not in today’s modern world at least. As Deborah said during our interview, “Give the men a chance! They might have it too.”

Deborah was on to something—the Crash has been spotted on the wrists of male celebrities like Tyler, the Creator, Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Timothèe Chalamet.

 

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A post shared by INSANE LUXURY (@insaneluxurylife)

 

Should I invest in quartz watches? Are they the same as women’s watches?

There is one argument I can think of as to why women’s watches may be less valuable than men’s watches—quartz. Women’s watches traditionally have tended to come in quartz movements, and this association can influence buying patterns.

But wait, what is quartz? Quartz watches are powered by batteries and use electronic circuits and a quartz crystal to keep time. On the flipside, we have mechanical movements. These are powered by a wound spring and operate through a series of gears and a regulating mechanism. They can be manual (requiring regular winding by the user) or automatic (self-winding, powered by the wearer’s movements).

Between the 2 movements, quartz watches are actually more accurate than mechanical watches—so why the hate for quartz?

 

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A post shared by Stephanie Soh (@bubbasteph)

Watch collectors often look down on quartz watches due to a preference for the craftsmanship, mechanical complexity, and tradition associated with mechanical watches.  Quartz timepieces just don’t have the same level of artistry, history, and manual engineering skills involved in creating mechanical movements.

You would be hard-pressed to call a quartz movement “beautiful”, whereas mechanical movements offer an intricate, sometimes even captivating beauty. Both are functionable. But while one just tells the time, the other shows you how it tells the time as a mechanically complex piece of art.

“People don’t see that there’s a need to pay a premium for [quartz] watches,” Stephanie says. The demand for such watches is lower—not just because quartz watches aren’t as valued for their craftsmanship, but also for practical reasons. “Having a quartz is really a headache—this I can speak for myself,” Steph tells me. “If the brands don’t send me regular reminders for me to go and fix my battery, I’d just leave it there until it’s time for me to rotate watches. And then I’d take my quartz watch out and realise it’s dead!”

We’ve all been there. Remember watches like these? 

As a kid, once in a while you’d look at the Casio G-Shock or Swatch on your wrist and realise the watch had stopped 2 hours ago. Then you’d need to make time to get the battery changed. Here’s a throwback:

From a practical standpoint, quartz watches require regular upkeep, and that’s time and patience that watch collectors with a few dozen watches probably don’t have. “It’s really a hassle. But it’s not that quartz is not good, it just doesn’t suit my lifestyle or my collection,” Steph clarifies. Other collectors out there who think like Steph may avoid quartz for the same reasons.

Because of the lower demand for quartz watches and the reduced need for high levels of craftsmanship, quartz watches tend to command lower prices than watches with mechanical movements. That might make it look like ladies’ watches are less valuable, but it’s not about the gender label—it’s about the watch movement.

However, there are always exceptions. A vintage Cartier Baignoire is valued at anywhere between $5,000 to $30,000 on Chrono24. One reason for these steep prices is its manual movement—specifically, the Jaeger-LeCoultre movement from the prestigious Swiss luxury watch and clock manufacturer.

 

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A post shared by Cartier Official (@cartier)

Then in 2023, Cartier released the Baignoire bangle to unprecedented demand. “It’s a small quartz watch, and yet the wait list was so long. I think we’ve probably only seen one available the whole of last year after its launch in Singapore in one of the boutiques,” Deborah shares. 

Based on what Deborah knows, both ladies and men are waiting to get their hands on the Baignoire bangle. Its launch was so limited that I couldn’t find any listing of it on Chrono24 to get an idea of its price on the secondary market. Deborah did see one last year though, and the seller was asking for one and a half times the retail price, which was about $16,800 as reported in Female Magazine.

We can generalise all we want and say that quartz movements are less expensive than mechanical movements, that a watch’s movement is a huge factor that plays into its valuation. But Cartier’s Baignoire bangle is a prime example of how even watch movement is not the be all and end all of a watch’s value. Human desire, aesthetic charms, fashion trends can all be fickle friends.

More importantly, to say that women’s watches are less valuable because they use quartz movements would be a gross misrepresentation. By no means are all women’s watches quartz, nor are all quartz watches women’s watches. For example, the Omega Seamaster Diver 300 M is known as the James Bond watch and comes in both automatic and quartz movements.

 

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A post shared by Imran Becks (@skcebnarmi)

 

Should I buy a women’s watch?

Could we have predicted that Cartier’s Baignoire bangle would be so popular? Arguably, it’s a watch that more will think of as a ladies’ watch (or even as a piece of jewellery that so happens to also tell the time) than a men’s watch. For that matter, could we predict price appreciations of any watch over time? Perhaps. There are key attributes you can look out for, signs that a watch is likely to hold its value or appreciate over time such as brand popularity and watch craftsmanship. 

But here’s the thing: There is no point trying to pick a luxury watch for investment based on—of all things—its gendered categorisation. There are tons of better factors to consider (read our guide to investing in luxury watches to learn more about them!).

Furthermore, luxury watch investment is unpredictable. “Watch collecting sometimes is a hit or miss,” Steph affirms. “If you collect with the intention of just making money, then chances are, you might be disappointed. Even the big brands traditionally thought of as “blue chips” in watch collecting don’t really make money today.”

Stephanie isn’t naming any specific watchmakers, and neither do I want to put words in her mouth. But I can tell you for a fact that Rolex prices have been falling throughout 2023 in what Business Insider dubbed the “Great Rolex Recession”. The secondary watch market has been falling, and Stephanie expects it will continue to decline up to the end of 2024 or even till early 2025 due to retrenchments across various sectors and a poor performance on the crypto market dampening demand.

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Stephanie’s M.A.D.1 Blue, made by watchmaker Maximilian Büsser who founded MB&F (Image: TickTockBelles)

Surprisingly in times like these, your best bet for investment might be independent watchmakers and lesser known brands. “Independent watchmakers like MB&F have suddenly had big interest in them,” Stephanie says. “Same for F.P. Journe, even though years ago it was selling so cheap and nobody wanted them.”

Deborah echoes this sentiment with another example—neo vintage and vintage watches. Let me first explain what we mean by these terms. Vintage watches are at least 20 to 30 years old, so watches made before the mid-1990s could be classified as vintage. However, some purists might reserve the term for watches that are older, perhaps from before the 1980s. There’s no hard and fast rule because the vintage status of a watch also often depends on its historical significance, rarity, and the period it represents in watchmaking history rather than age alone.

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Deborah’s vintage Piaget Polo, which uses quartz movement. (Image: TickTockBelles)

Neo-vintage watches are watches that aren’t quite vintage, but also aren’t quite modern. They’re often watches that have gone under appreciated until more recently; Hodinkee’s Rich Fordon defines the term as watches from a “lesser known or unexpected brand that made great watches in the ’80s and ’90s.”. 

In the past few months, Deborah has noticed a sort of “reverse trend”—while the “blue chip” mainstream watch brands decline on the secondary market, vintage and neo-vintage watches are on the upward trend. When I started looking at them about 9 to 12 months ago, particularly the stone dials in particular brands, they hadn’t seen any crazy trend,” Deborah recounts. “There was a particular stone dial that I wanted to buy about 6 to 8 months ago. I was offered a really good price, but I didn’t like the look of the stones. More recently, I found another one with stones that I really liked, and the prices have almost gone up by 1.8 times!”

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Deborah finally got her Piaget Protocol Tiger Eye stone dial, and isn’t it a beauty? (Image: TickTockBelles)

So back to the question: Should you buy a women’s watch?

Yes, in the same way you should buy a men’s watch if that’s the watch you want to own. Don’t let a gender label stop you. I would however advise that you ask yourself why you’re buying the watch. Do you like how it looks on your wrist? Or do you like how its investment prospects look in the future? If it’s the latter, hold up. Stephanie and Deborah have some thoughts on that.

 

Buy watches you like. Value appreciation is a bonus.

Want to buy a luxury watch for investment? Stephanie and Deborah have a better suggestion: Buy what you like and treat any value appreciation over time as a bonus. “It holds an investment value in that manner,” Steph explains. “But I don’t think anyone should just go out and collect something just because they think it will make money. I think chances are you might be disappointed and might even lose money.”

Deborah describes this dichotomy as “the mentality of a watch collector versus a watch speculator.” The former collects watches with the eye of someone who can appreciate their design and craftsmanship. The latter buys watches with dollar signs in their eyes, making predictions on which models will appreciate over time.

Can these predictions be accurate? They could be, but it’s no guarantee. “If everybody could predict where the stock markets will go, I think that I can retire now and just collect watches every day!” Deborah jokes.

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Deborah’s vintage Piaget Protocole (top) and Stephanie’s vintage MUST de Cartier Tank (bottom). (Image: TickTockBelles)

Perhaps it’s also about how we think about the idea of investment. Stephanie described to me how she curates her watch collection with both enjoyment value (watches she just likes) and what she defines as investment value.

“When I say investment, it’s not about just buying a watch to flip it,” Stephanie clarifies. “I would think of the investment as whether it’s still going to be relevant for my children as adults. Would they benefit from inheriting this particular time piece from me?” For Stephanie, this is what guides her watch collection and what functions, in a way, as her investment portfolio.

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Deborah’s Grimaldi the Clown timepiece from independent watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin (Image: TickTockBelles)

On the other end of the spectrum, we have watches that Stephanie buys simply because they appeal to her. One such brand is Chaykin, a lesser known brand helmed by independent Russian watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin. 

Stephanie described his watches to me as “quirky”, and she wasn’t kidding. Chaykin watches take the term “watch face” to a whole new level. Their designs often feature two goofy eyes and a mouth built right into the watch design. Sometimes the faces are borderline creepy (not in a bad way), like Chaykin’s Joker watch.

 

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A post shared by Konstantin Chaykin (@k_chaykin)

Other times, the designs are downright adorable.

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Stephanie’s Chaykin Minions timepiece (Image: TickTockBelles)

I never thought I would see a Despicable Me character on a luxury watch, but here we are. This watch may look cute, but it comes with a hefty price tag. The original 38-piece limited run of the Minions watch sells on the secondary market for some S$50,000.

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Prices of the Chaykin Minions timepiece on the secondary market as of 26 Feb 2024. Image: Chrono24 (as of 26 Feb 2024)

“Not many people know of Chaykin and maybe wouldn’t consider his watches. But because I like his work, I’ve bought 3 pieces of his timepieces,” Stephanie shares. I think that’s how it should be. As Stephanie and Deborah say, if you buy watches you think will appreciate, you might be disappointed. But if you buy a watch that catches your eye, a watch that for some unfathomable reason sparks joy in you, you will never truly lose.

 

So, is the best men’s luxury watch to invest in…a women’s watch?

Yes—but so is the best women’s luxury watch to invest in a men’s watch. I think the 2 are one and the same. The best luxury watch to invest in—male or female—is the one that is the most meaningful to you, and the “gender” of a watch holds no water to that personal significance.

You can buy a watch and wear it everywhere, or keep it pristine in its box till you think its price has appreciated and it’s ready to sell. While I agree with Deborah and Stephanie’s recommendation that you should only buy watches you like, I also acknowledge that there are surely groups of people out there who have profited from investing in luxury watches or get a kick out of speculating on them. So you do you. Just know the risks and be sure your financial situation can handle them.

I naively went into Stephanie and Deborah’s interview with a laundry list of questions about the differences between men’s and women’s watches. Is one more expensive? How do they differ in terms of design? Are men’s watches worth more than women’s watches, especially in the long term? 

I ended the interview enlightened. For there is a simple explanation that resolves all of the questions I had spinning in my head about men’s and women’s watches: The distinction shouldn’t exist. Not in the world of luxury watch investment, not in the world of watch appreciation, and not in the world of modern fashion.

My conversation with Stephanie and Deborah continues in our follow-up article: Why All Watches are Unisex, and Why Tiny is the New Big

 

Found this article interesting? Share it with a friend or family member. Whether they’re into watches or not (yet), I’m sure they’ll learn something new!


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About the author

Vanessa Nah is a personal finance content writer who pens articles on everything from the ups and downs of alternative investments to the ins and outs of travel insurance. She’s a researcher at heart and leaves no stone unturned when it comes to breaking down complex finance concepts and making them easy to understand for the everyday Singaporean. When Vanessa’s not debunking finance myths, you’ll find her attending dance classes, fingerpicking a guitar, or (most impawtently) fulfilling her life mission to make her one-eyed cat the most spoiled and loved kitty in the world.