18th Nov 2021
Price Vs Value - Too Many Choices
by Adrian Hailwood
A speculative look at the alternatives available at our popular Rolex price points.
There is an old saying that goes: ‘Price is what you pay, value is what you get…’.
Now we all love a Rolex, and almost half the watches sold on Watch Collecting have a coronet at 12 o’clock. The quality is bullet-proof and the residuals undeniable (if the term residual is appropriate for a watch that often goes up in price on resale). The popularity of the brand can lead to a somewhat blinkered approach when it comes to comparisons with other watch brands. With the competition often suffering heavy initial depreciation, fine watchmaking can quickly come down to the same pre-owned price as a basic offering from Rolex. As a thought experiment, let’s take a look at what Rolex money might have bought you should you have chosen an alternative manufacturer.
The latest version of the Oyster Perpetual brought bright coloured dials to Rolex’s entry-level offering. Water resistance, chronometer rating and an easy-adjust bracelet clasp makes this and great daily companion. For the same price, you could have gone slimmer and dressier with a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master control date. In a 39mm case in 18ct rose gold, it adds date functionality and still keeps 50m water resistance. As part of the master control collection, the watch undergoes 1000hrs of testing before sale. A £10k+ watch for the same price as a sub £5k watch at RRP.
Two more different watches, it is hard to imagine. On one hand, you have the world’s most iconic sports watch, built to be tough dependable and watertight. It’s a reassuring lump of weight on the wrist. The Ulysse Nardin is the opposite, an exercise in barely-there watchmaking, it uses cutting-edge technology and innovative movement architecture to combine structural supports with the hour markers. This allows an astonishing level of transparency and delicacy despite the 45mm titanium case. Over £30k of watchmaking for the same cost as a £7300 RRP design classic.
If you like a little colour in your sports watch you can take either the green bezel of the Submariner Date or the Red/Blue of the GMT II. Equally popular, equally practical, and more or less equally priced in the secondary market. If you want a pop of colour but prefer your sports a little more ‘luxe’ then for the same price you could have the Girard Perregaux Laureato Skeleton ‘Earth to Sky’ edition. A black ceramic case and integrated bracelet is fully on-trend and provide 100m of water resistance, while the bright blue open-worked automatic movement allows a view into the heart of the beautifully finished calibre. A case of one watch doubling in price and another falling by half.
Since 1969 Rolex has been offering the Sub Date in gold, adding serious heft and wrist presence. The latest iteration pairs a blue dial with a blue Cerachrom bezel. At its heart, this is a simple watch. For the same money, you could treat yourself to a seriously limited example of Haute Horology from one of the finest living watchmakers. The Parmigiani Tondagraph Tourbillon Chronograph crams 295 components into its white gold case and exists in a series of only 10 pieces. A retail price of over £160,000 is a testament to its quality and scarcity but maybe not its popularity.
Whether in gold or gemstones, Rolex knows how to dress up its sports watches and the Rolex GMT Master II SARU definitely brings the bling. Combining decadence with practicality, this watch is about as in your face as it gets. Almost completely covering its face is the price-point alternative that is the Breguet 1801 Platinum Limited Edition. If the GMT is new money the Breguet is old, very old. Inspired by a hunter pocket watch and celebrating the invention of the Tourbillon 220yrs ago this is a very rare and special watch, being 1 of only 10 made. The secondary market price is not far off the original RRP but dwarfed by the current equivalent RRP which has almost doubled since 2005.
Depreciation can be cruel, but the intrinsic quality and interest in rare and complicated watches mean there is a limit to how far the resale price will fall. When this coincides with the cost of a simpler watch, buoyed beyond retail by popular demand then some intriguing choices are presented and great opportunities exist for the open-minded.