I see it all the time: people hoping to make a statement by adding diamond embellishments or even personal branding to their prized watches, to suit their personal tastes. And look, I understand why people might wish to make these modifications. Sometimes brand colour palettes can be quite conservative – I’ve seen traditional dials switched out for pastel colours, but it can come at a cost.
The first thing to be aware of when buying a modified watch, or when considering modifying a watch that you wish to purchase, is that you will instantly lose the warranty from either the brand or the retailer.
Real talk: No authorised retailer will service a modified watch. On top of this, if the timepieces have been modified and opened up, with alterations made such as a dial that has been changed or colours of the metal that have been altered, then it’s really tricky for someone else to service or execute repairs on parts that aren’t original. And as the modifications are often made in very uncertified places, it means that the watches then end up with problems that are very difficult to fix.
These modifications can give the false impression of a vintage timepiece or limited edition – buyers need to check the reference number when buying in order to ensure they are getting something original. Customers should also be wary of buying watches with modified bracelets. My family’s company see a lot of personal shoppers selling timepieces with bracelets that weren’t originally supplied by the brand – whether for aesthetic purposes or to dupe the customer into thinking the timepiece is original – either way, the warranty will also be completely invalidated.
In almost all cases, a watch will lose a significant value the moment it is altered. One exception: Marlon Brando casually engraving his name to the back of his Rolex GMT Master. Engraving is a personal touch you can embrace, too.
Let’s put modifications aside, though.
The risk to your investment is even greater if you buy from an unauthorised retailer or dealer. We’ve had clients bring authentic, brilliant watches to our service centre, only to discover that they’d been sold a stolen watch. When that happens, we have to report it to the police – which means the client loses out completely, as the watch will be seized. These situations often happen when people turn to re-sellers who are hawking timepieces that are hard to find in the primary market – if you can’t buy it through an authorised dealer, but manage to find it in the black or grey market, chances are it’s stolen. Or fake.
These watches might have an original case with a fake movement. The rise-and-rise of these unfortunate incidents is why some brands such as Audemars Piguet, MB&F or H. Moser & Cie are moving towards providing pre-owned timepieces, in a totally similar way that say, Mercedes or BMW might. It’s also why some larger businesses are establishing certified pre-owned platforms, like Watch Finder or Watchbox.com.
There is one more risk you should be aware of when buying a watch. It’s a little more nebulous, but no less real: ignoring your gut instinct.
If anyone tells you that buying a certain watch will guarantee ROI, or start talking about how it will have a set value tomorrow – beware. Always buy what you like, always buy for the right reasons. Take a glance at some of the most popular models of the moment: the Patek Aquanaut or Nautilus, or the Rolex Daytona. There was a time, not terribly long ago, that these models would sit in our display window, for weeks on end, without moving – especially the Nautilus. People just weren’t interested. But consumer interest changes. Now, we can’t put a Nautilus on display anymore. We don’t have enough stock to cater to demand.
A timepiece on my mind
Millenary Frosted Gold Opal Dial, price on request, Audemars Piguet
The Audemars Piguet Millenary is a hidden gem in the AP family: a watch that brings back the old tradition of fine watch making of the Vallée de Joux, with a modern twist. This reference has long since caught my eye. Okay, take your eyes off the vintage collection-inspired opal dial, and the frosted gold finishing – they will still be waiting there when we’re done. My reason this watch is worth owning? The equally sophisticated and gorgeous movement that reveals one of my favourite pieces of eye candy: a visible balance wheel.