Con artist make their living with it; the deep, burning human desire to get something for nothing. When dealing with a con artist, you usually end up with nothing for something, but that does not take away from the fact that we all love to get a good deal on something, ending up with a higher value then we actually paid for. Therefore, in this “quest” we are going to look for the cheapest, high-end watch there is in today’s market.
Before we can depart, we first must have a pretty good idea what a high-end watch actually is. While in some opinions, no watch is truly high end unless it features a perpetual calendar of course equipped with a minute repeater and two cathedral gongs, powered by a mechanical movement, with a tourbillion for that extra bit of accuracy, and you definitely cannot go without a sky chart on the back of the watch (how else would you be able find your way home?) that also should display orbit and phase of the moon…. Well, then you’ll probably also find the Patek Philippe Sky Moon ref. 5002 the one (and only) bargain you are looking for.
But unless you are running a Ponzi scheme, this might be a bit too ambitious even for many high-end connoisseurs. So, lets see if we can find a general consensus here. Of course the watch should be mechanical. There are many high end quartz models that most certainly deserve out attention, but in this case we don’t want to run the risk of being approached by that shady character at the subway entrance; “hey man, didn’t you buy that from me last week? “ while pointing at your watch and showing his fine collection of Bolex-watches inside his raincoat.
Of course not just any mechanical watch movement will do. It has to be a “Manufacture”. This is French for “we made it our selves”. Unlike aunt Wanda’s green bean casserole, that is a good thing. It usually means that an old, grey master watchmaker gets up every morning, takes his arthritis medicine, puts on his helmet and drives his moped to a re-modeled farm house where he spends his day bent over his bench to work on your movement.
With that farmhouse, it is very important that it is the very same farmhouse as where the brand once started, at the latest, in the early 1900’s. That adds pedigree to the brand, and everybody knows that nothing is truly high-end without a good, solid pedigree. This also means that the brand should have something to show for, because simply existing for a long period of time can hardly qualify as pedigree, we call that old. Its history can only be one of two; either they have a consistent output of horological masterpieces or they have deep valleys of tragic products followed by sky-high strokes of brilliance. Regarding the latter, as the old adage goes, everybody loves a come back kid! Never ever can they have a tradition of mediocrity, since there is little human emotion in that, and it is still human emotion that sells the most high-end wristwatches and gives true pride of ownership.
There are bonus points to earn when the firm still has involvement of the founding family. It takes exceptional, or lucky, breeding to provide a consistent line of decedents that are not only interested in watch making, but who are also of sound mind regarding business, so that they don’t have to sell the family company to cover their losses at the racetrack. To beat all these odds for decades is quite an accomplishment, and it adds to the pedigree and, by extension, adds to the status of the brand. However, since the odds of doing so are so slim, one can only credit bonus points for this, since we would otherwise exclude the vast majority of potential winners of the title.
Like with most things in life, watches tend to get cheaper when they are used. Of course you don’t want to refer to your watch over cocktails with friends as used, that is why they invented the word “vintage” for it. This implies that you had the sense and good taste to purchase something from the “good old days” when everything was better, completely ignoring the fact that it is basically a used, second hand product, not so much different from that leisure suit at the thrift store. Another good thing about vintage watches is that some of them are quite rare so people actually pay more for them than a new one. Usually, these events are widely published, so the fact that this doesn’t apply to the majority of watches is information does not need to be shared voluntarily with anyone.
Since we are going for the cheapest high-end watch, we have to water down the wine a little bit when it comes to the case. No precious metals that inflate the price, no, just good old stainless steel. Since the 1970’s, this is noting to be ashamed off. Your co-worker only settled for that yellow-gold time-only Calatrava. He really wanted a stainless steel Nautilus, but since his wife is pregnant and the payment on his Porsche Panamera took priority over the premium, he had to pay to obtain this watch. Steel is simply the new gold.
So what about size? The bigger the better? When your first name is Arnold or Sylvester, or you like to rehearse lines like “I’ll be back!” in your bathroom mirror, please do so. But when you look at the auction results at Antiquorum, Christie’s or Sotheby’s you see that the highest fetching lot’s are small watches, rarely over 40mm.
Let us summarize what would qualify a watch as being High End.
- A mechanical
- Manufacture movement
- From a brand with undisputed pedigree
- With preferably still involvement of the founding family
- A vintage
- With a steel case
- Under 40mm in diameter
What came next was a very complicated search to find a watch that would fit all of they above, yet at the lowest possible price, accomplished without the use of firearms or, as Don Corleone would put it “a lesson in respect”. You would understand that such a difficult task let us to the far sides of the earth (and back), made us talk to collector’s, connoisseurs, cab drivers, industry insiders and even a psychiatrist to validate the true meaning of this quest.
In they end, at the threshold of total desperation and utterly fatigued, we prevailed over this daunting task. Okay, that is not what really happened….we just got bored, went out to our favorite restaurant to get a bite to eat, and when we checked the sales corner of a major watch community on our iPhone while waiting for our appetizer, we all of a sudden found it!! EUREKA, and waiter, bring us a bottle of Dom Perignon ’75!
So, what is the cheapest high-end watch? It might surprise you but it is actually a…..Seiko 5! Not only did it fulfill all the requirements that where needed to be qualified as a high end watch, it even earned extra bonus points since Seiko’s current President & CEO, Shinji Hattori, is directly related to the companies founder.
How much did we pay for this cheapest high-end watch? $45,- excluding shipping! For that amount of money, we even got a rare dial on the watch. Some might call it green, we prefer to call it “emerald”. The only disappointment was the original, but not very high end, bracelet that came with the watch. Nevertheless, where such a bracelet is cool on a vintage Rolex, we felt the need to set this cheapest high-end watch apart from the ones of all those people who bought the right watch for the wrong reasons. How horrible would it be to stand in an elevator, glace at the wrist of the pizza delivery guy and see that he wears the same watch on the same bracelet, who bought it not because it is high end, but simply dirt cheap! To fix this problem in style we opted for a cognac colored, hand crafted, Louisiana alligator, which provided a nice contrast to really bring out the emerald green color of the rare dial. The fact that it costs us more then 3 times the amount we paid for the watch is of course a minor detail. Collecting high-end watches can be inexpensive, but a true connoisseur never buys something cheap.