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How to buy your first luxury watch

Words by Rob Chilton

Expert advice to help you avoid buying a dud

When you buy your first luxury watch the experience can be confusing. There are so many things to consider that you can't simply throw a month's salary at a fancy looking timepiece only to feel buyer's remorse before you leave the store.

Do you go for a small or large face? Leather strap or metallic? Big and bulky or slim and understated? It's a tricky decision to make, but one that can last a lifetime and be passed to generations beyond.

As is often the best way when faced with such a conundrum, we asked an expert. And they don't come much more knowledgeable than Frédéric Watrelot, Sotheby’s watch specialist for the Middle East.

Having seen all types of watches throughout an illustrious career, Watrelot is the perfect person to guide you through your first purchase. Here's everything you need to know about how to buy your first luxury watch.

Frédéric Watrelot is Sotheby’s watch specialist for the Middle East

Why should a man buy a watch to mark a landmark occasion?

Watches are pretty much the only jewellery men wear and very often an object that'll accompany them throughout life.  As the ultimate token of time, they are the perfect present to mark important events in life. A well-maintained watch can last forever and even become a family heirloom, passed through generations. Patek Philippe’s iconic slogan says it all: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation”.

Should he buy new or second hand?

For vintage watches, a mistake would be to buy a “New Old Stock” watch. This is a vintage watch that has never been sold or worn. These pieces are super rare and extremely difficult to find so I would advise buying a second-hand watch. Just make sure the source can be trusted, and that the watch has been well taken care of. If you're into modern pieces, then ask yourself this question: 'Do I want more bang for my buck?' If this the case, I’d suggest that you consider the secondary market or buying at auction. For the same budget, you can get a far more important piece.

What price should he pay?

This is a matter of your budget and your priorities. Personally, I would spend more money on a watch than on a car.

Know your brands

What type of watch should a first-time buyer go for?

For important milestones, you want a watch you’ll wear and cherish for a long time. I would recommend timeless designs, models less subject to trends, which won’t grow out of fashion. Your very first watch is very often of enormous personal significance, especially to seasoned collectors. I would recommend mechanical watches over quartz ones. A battery-operated watch can’t be repaired when the production of the battery is discontinued, whereas in mechanical movements, spare parts can always be re-manufactured by trained watchmakers.

Does it matter about having a special meaning or connection to a watch or brand?

Instinctively, people tend to buy objects that are meaningful to them and allow them to express their personality. This is true in every field, from watches to art, fashion and more. For example, there is a current trend to look for watches manufactured the year of your birth. The choice of watch is very often informed by its design and functionality. But it's also the brand's heritage, the story of the watchmakers, their influences and the provenance of the watch if pre-owned.

There's no harm in picking up a watch you've spotted on the big screen

Is researching the brand important?

Absolutely. When it comes to high-end watches, established and prestigious brands offer a guarantee of quality. They also have the insurance that you can service your watch and find parts necessary for repair. Researching the brand will also allow you to get a sense of the exclusivity of the brand and the rarity of the watches. Personally, I’d prefer a brand which makes several thousand watches each year, rather than one that makes millions.

Should it be a trendy watch or a timeless icon?

As mentioned above, I would advise a timeless icon when buying your first. Trendy watches tend to fall out of fashion far more rapidly than more traditional designs. I would also be selective about limited editions, and make sure the model chosen reflects the brand’s tradition and quality. Some brands specialise in limited editions, thus creating a multitude of different models and losing their soul along the way.

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