Luxury watches are getting more and more expensive, but these options are both luxurious and affordable

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Demand and supply have a dramatic effect on the availability and prices of the hottest luxury watches – but there are a few gems you can pick up instead.writing Timothy Barbier

Along with green watches (green dials, green straps, green bezels, sometimes green cases), sport-luxury wristwatches, and the growing popularity of independent manufacturers, the watch market has seen an intriguing new trend emerge over the past 18 month: unavailability . Month-long factory shutdowns in 2020 have not helped, but rising global viewership, rapacious hype and widespread speculation have seen demand outpace supply in several parts of the market, particularly in the case of the two biggest cheeses in the industry: Rolex and Patek Philippe.

If you’ve been dreaming and saving for years for a Rolex sports watch, or indeed an entry-level steel-cased Patek, your only option now is to pay several multiples of the official retail price on the secondary market, or trying to build up a multi-year waiting list – and even that may not be possible unless you’ve already spent a fortune at a given dealership. Frankly, it’s time to consider alternatives.

We should start with the king of unobtanium Rolex: the Cosmograph Daytona. It was the Daytona, a motorsport chronograph launched in the early 1960s, that caused a mighty explosion in the vintage Rolex trade a few years ago, a fervor that spilled over into the contemporary market in 2016 when the modern version has been upgraded.

Image: Patek Philippe

Right now these watches never even make it to stores, they are so oversubscribed. For a new model priced at £10,500, you’d be looking at spending upwards of £30,000 on the secondary market.

On the other hand, one can simply look elsewhere – Rolex, after all, demands it enough, and in January 2021 Zenith effectively declared its intention to step into the breach with its new Chronomaster Sport. In the 90s, Rolex Daytonas were powered by Zenith’s revolutionary “El Primero” chronograph movement, a period that saw the Daytona rise from sports watch status to the holy grail of sports watches. Indeed, the “Zenith Daytonas” of the time are now a kind of collection in their own right.

This company probably saved Zenith’s bacon too, not that it was ever able to officially capitalize on the connection – but with the Chronomaster Sport it’s pretty close. With its clean lines, rippling bracelet, black ceramic bezel and high-contrast dial layout, it’s not so much a nod to the Daytona as a lascivious twerk at full throttle in the direction of Rolex. .

So much the better for that. Zenith, a historic manufacture now owned by LVMH, is a beautiful little-known house, whose technical prowess is fully expressed in the Chronomaster Sport: thanks to the ultra-rapid oscillation frequency of the El Primero movement (an engine today more 50 years old, but completely redesigned for modern times), the stopwatch hand rotates around the dial in 10 seconds flat, rather than taking a full minute. Apparently it’s to let you time things to tenths of a second, but it’s really a flex: a starting point that makes the watch feel a bit more quirky and intriguing.

For all its mastery, Zenith has struggled over the years to articulate its abilities in its designs; the audacity of the Chronomaster Sport solves this problem. It’s a little more colorful and characterful than rival Rolex, and earned its gong of the watch industry‘s biggest prizes, the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, in November.

Rolex’s all-time classic diver’s watch, the Submariner, has been (slightly) overhauled in 2020. At around £15,500 (at time of writing) in the secondary market for the black dial/suave green bezel option (collectors call it the ‘Starbucks’), it costs twice its official price of £7,650. It is extremely beautiful and exudes Rolex quality, of course, but anyone who has seen no time to die will have seen the rather fabulous 007 version of Omega’s equivalent dive watch, the Seamaster Diver 300m. Titanium case (and therefore surprisingly light) on a lovely beaded bracelet, its beige markings against the matte black dial and bezel have a wonderful lived-in warmth. For my money, this is a top quality kit.

If the market for Rolex is somewhat infuriating, the market for “entry-level” Patek Philippe is sheer madness. This includes the Aquanaut, its most casual sports watch that comes on a rubber strap, and the legendary Nautilus – perhaps the world’s hottest luxury item.

A new version of the base steel ‘Jumbo’ Nautilus is due this year, having been discontinued at the end of 2021. Examples of the discontinued version, officially priced at £26,870, now trade for over 100 £000 – up over 60%. in the past year alone. You could get away with half that for the £16,760 Aquanaut.

Image: Omega

Meanwhile, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak – the yin to the yang of the Nautilus, both designed by design legend Gérald Genta – suffered a similar tear. He celebrates his 50th birthday this year; there will be new models – just good luck finding one.

It’s exhausting enough, but so is the proliferation of watches in the ’70s strap mold that the Nautilus defines. Everyone’s in it: Piaget, Girard-Perregaux, Chopard, even Rolex’s younger sibling Tudor all have some great options (and special mention should go to Tissot’s highly credible PRX Powermatic 80, a sleek snip at just £565).

However, I will choose some interesting contrasting options, both of which are beautiful, beautifully designed and technically outstanding.

First of all, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas, developed in 1996 from the famous Seventies Ref 222 model, has been lovingly refreshed in recent years. Long a staple model of Switzerland’s oldest watchmaker, it’s now its superstar – a gently sculptural, undulating beauty that I love all the more because it comes with a bracelet, rubber strap, and leather strap. leather, which are easily interchangeable. inside and outside. It’s priced at £19,100 in steel, but is currently trading for around £35,000 – a steep rise, but nothing compared to the sky-high prices of equivalent Patek models.

Of a completely different order is a watch from a brand called Czapek & Cie. Revived in 2012 after more than a century of inaction, it has become an unlikely success story, manufacturing small series of high-quality watches, dealing directly with customers around the world. . The Antarctic, his wristwatch, is both a true piece of the genre and beautifully original, with striking detail in its bracelet links and unusual dial textures. Most impressive, for those who like that sort of thing, is its movement – ​​a modern, intricate work of horological art. At £18,570, the Antarctic offers something increasingly hard to find: fair value.

Image: Rolex

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