Tips and Insights for Meaningful Investment in Watches

Since entering the Belgian market in 2011, Catawiki has sold tens of thousands of watches. Last year alone, sales in this category grew by thirty percent. Berry Harleman, watch expert and online auctioneer at Catawiki, shares his ten tips and insights for making meaningful investments in watches.

Text by Anja Van Der Borght

Berry Harleman, watch expert and online auctioneer at Catawiki

Berry Harleman (43) has been working as an online auctioneer/expert for Catawiki since 2015. The online auction platform approached him because he regularly offered watches as a watch enthusiast. “I trained as a watchmaker and enjoy tinkering with watches. However, if you only focus on your hobby and want to expand your collection, you sometimes need to sell something. It remains an expensive hobby,” Berry explains. Today, he screens watch lots based on photos and organizes watch auctions for Catawiki, but his duties are actually broader than that. “I travel quite a bit for Catawiki to visit sellers, view their offerings, and investigate their methods. This helps us get to know the sellers better, understand where everything comes from, and optimize certain aspects of Catawiki. In short, I engage with sellers to see where we can improve to make it even clearer for buyers. Since I focus on trading rather than investing, I offer the following tips:

  1. “There are trends and rules that determine whether one purchase retains its value longer than another, but buy a watch you like. Not as an investment. It is unpredictable.”
  2. “A classic model from a renowned brand has proven to be a relatively stable purchase in recent years. However, recent years have seen incredible hype, and certain new Rolex models have soared in value in the gray market. The market has corrected somewhat in recent months. For example, the Rolex Daytona ceramic with a black dial costs around 15,000 euros in-store. In the gray market, it’s now 21,000 to 23,000 euros. With a white dial, you pay 28,000 to 29,000 euros. That’s still a significant difference from the retail price, but a year ago, these prices were around 38,000 for the black dial and even 45,000 euros for the white dial.”
  3. “Due to the difficulty of obtaining popular models from brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, etc., people are starting to notice other beautiful brands. Think of Cartier. The Santos, the Tank… these watches have suddenly become very popular. Just like the ‘Must de Cartier’ Tank, a somewhat cheaper model from the ’70s.”
  4. “Looking at vintage watches, we see that they have also increased in value over the years. Vintage Omega watches from the ’60s, for example, have seen simple Omega Seamasters and even the more affordably priced Genève models slowly but surely gain popularity, with a 20 percent sales increase on Catawiki from 2022 to 2023. Economic fluctuations might make it less obvious to spend tens of thousands of euros on a watch. Models from the ’60s and ’70s, despite their elegance, might still be undervalued and worth considering. A vintage watch from a renowned brand can be found for less than 1,000 euros.”
  5. “It’s important to avoid cheaper watches that are mass-produced. We do the same at Catawiki. Although there are exceptions. Take the MoonSwatch. Also a mass product. It was a bit harder to get for a while because you had to go to a flagship store, and they had to have it in stock. When these watches were offered on Catawiki, they were willingly auctioned every week. A trend that is now declining.”
  6. “Dress watches are very popular. Classic and older dress watches from Omega, like the Genève, the De Ville, the Seamaster, and the Constellation. These models always do well. Or models from Longines from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s. These are often the first watches a beginning watch collector buys, and I believe they will continue to do well in the coming years.”
  7. “Watches with colored stone dials are currently very popular. Think of Rolex watches with dials in malachite, lapis lazuli, etc. But also brands like Chopard or Piaget. The latter made a name for itself with colored dials in semi-precious stones and minerals like turquoise, onyx, and tiger’s eye.”
  8. “Smaller watch cases are on the rise. Think of brands like Vacheron Constantin or Panerai. With a diameter of 35 to 39 mm for men, and 29 mm or less for women. Take Tudor; they launched a Black Bay 54 with a smaller case of 37 mm. I myself don’t have very broad wrists, so I find it a nice development. I also think it looks more elegant, honestly.”
  9. “We see increasing admiration for micro-brands, or small watch brands, in the market.”
  10. “We also see brands increasingly taking initiatives to become more sustainable. A trend that will continue and will be used by brands to highlight themselves. Watch brands are making their manufacturing and buildings CO2-neutral. The watch category on Catawiki also participates. We mainly sell used/vintage watches, and there’s nothing more sustainable than buying a vintage watch that has already been worn by several people.”

“Screening watch lots based on photos may not seem obvious, but photos also have their advantages,” says Berry. “You can zoom in significantly. We also ask the seller questions when we receive a lot, check the accompanying documents, and verify reference/serial numbers. Moreover, our group of experts is aware of market changes, including in the area of counterfeits. In short, anyone buying a watch from Catawiki can be assured of purchasing an authentic item safely. We have a large safety net and checks and balances in place to catch the rare mistakes that occasionally occur.”

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