Why 'First Owner' Watches are so Desirable
A lot can be said about the reasons for buying a watch. Each person makes the choice for a different motive. It might be an investment, or to serve as an heirloom, or a legacy in future, or it might just be on a whim. A lot of people, and not only the serious collectors, are discovering the joys of buying first-owner watches.
Just like buying a pre-owned car there's always a risk when buying a pre-owned watch – and there are many rewards too. Just like with old cars, the rewards usually outweigh the risks when the watch you're buying has had only one previous owner.
Rolex Day-Date ref 1803
Take for example one of my favorite vintage Rolex's – the Day Date ref 1803. When it was brand new, back in the 1970's you could have bought it for under $2,000. Today it's probably worth anywhere between $10,000 and $45,000 – depending on a lot of factors – and most importantly, the paperwork.
For newer watches the single-owner tag is not so important, unless it was owned by someone famous. For older watches, it's different. The investment value is far higher if the watch was owned by only one person, and it's even better if the watch was serviced regularly, either by Rolex, or by an accredited and knowledgeable dealer.
Rule of thumb: The older the watch, the more important the service history. Unfortunately, a lot of people discard the original box, and the records of the services over the years. A lot can happen in 20 or 30 years. If no invoice exists for the service, you can assume it probably wasn't done – and it is wise to factor in the cost of a proper service these days.
The moment you drive a new car off the lot, it depreciates in value, and the same can be said for taking a brand new watch out of the box. On the other hand you can get a superb pre-owned Speedmaster for a fraction of the new cost – and it will still be an exceptional watch. It's still possible to find collectibles.
The downside is that many pre-owned watches will contain non-standard replacement parts, and unless you have a passion for horology, like wearing a loupe, and know what to look for, you might get a nasty surprise.
Fist-owners usually pamper their watches, and if they kept all the documents, it cuts out most of that risk completely. You can trace any changes to the watch, if there were any, and find out what was replaced. The details are important, and they make all the difference with first-owner watches.
Rolex Submariner 5513
Every watch has a unique story, and each one has been a part of a unique kind of life. Either the time was spent on someone's sun-tanned wrist, while exploring under the oceans, or it was carefully kept in a safe. This Rolex Submariner 5513 could have lived an interesting life. It doesn't look heavily worn, though – so it's impossible to say, without knowing the details – and that's the deciding factor.
It's important to remember that when you buy a vintage watch, you're buying a little piece of history. When the watch has been part of someone's life, it means that it was likely worn on the wrist every day. The watch has been a trusted companion, and a faithful friend – never letting the wearer down.
Mechanical watches are delicate works of micro-engineered art, and that's what we love about them. Unlike digital gadgets that are built to last a year or two, these watches are meant to outlive their first owners – and with the proper care, they might just outlive the second owner too.