When it comes to watches, the term ‘classic’ often conjures ideas of well-known and established brands presenting the world with elegant, timeless and innovative timepieces - and rightly so.
But what actually determines whether or not a particular watch is a classic? And is there a way to identify a timepiece as a classic before it’s universally known as one? Well, we think it might be possible.
Using a combination of auction data, historical trends and our expertise in the watch industry, we've collated an exclusive list of 20 watches that we predict will become future classics. We should also add that some of these models are unexpected future classics. You might not be familiar with all of the brands or models in the list, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be pegged as a classic in the future...
1. Seiko SKX-007: discontinued but available from third-party sellers
The SKX-007 is one of the most iconic divers watches, and sold for a reasonable price when it was first released (around $150). Sometimes compared to the Submariner as it’s affordable counterpart, the SKX-007 is quite simply a very well-made watch.
Seiko has now discontinued this model, and they did so without any warning or announcement. At the time, new models were still available, so it was easy to miss the discontinuation. However, they are now no longer being sold via Seiko, meaning that it is only available from third party sellers.
Tim Vaux from WatchGecko comments on the model:
This was the archetypal dive watch, produced in very large numbers, but to my mind the classic Seiko. The price is modest, and maybe it’s for that reason I can imagine cared-for examples becoming few and far between in future. For me, it’s got a wonderful minimalism to it, and it’s supremely practical. In so many ways, all the watches you’d ever want. To use a car analogy: this is something like the classic Mini – once cheap and ubiquitous, but now recognised for the absolute design classic that it is.
2. Omega Speedmaster: average price multiplied by 3 over 10 years
Omega watches have been in the industry since 1848, with the first Speedmaster watch hitting the scene in 1957 - the CK2915. Granted, this is already a classic, but we still think it’s worth featuring as a watch to invest in.
As of April 2020, the two most popular models are:
- Model 145022 - this has sold the most at auction, thanks to its popularity and bigger production. It is also the first Speedmaster model to have the 861 caliber.
- Model CK2915 - this is the most expensive Speedmaster, with an average price of €38,468 (approximately £34,470). As the first ever Speedmaster, it’s no surprise this model is desirable among collectors.
Highest sale price at auction
The Omega Speedmaster Professional (Reference 145.022-69) sold for CHF 156,250 (approximately £131,260) on the 12th of November 2016 in Geneva. More information about this particular sale can be found on the Philips website.
3. Universal Geneve Polerouter: discontinued but available from third party sellers
One of the lesser-known models designed by Gerald Genta - more well known for his work designing iconic watches for Rolex, Seiko, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Omega, and more - the Polerouter was created to commemorate the SAS’s (Scandinavian Airlines System) polar flights from LA/New York directly to Europe.
The model was released in 1954, and the date variants remain immensely popular amongst collectors to this day. The trapezoidal date window is also an under-utilised touch, along with the playful and exuberant font on the date wheel. Original crystals came with magnifiers matching the shape of the date window - these are often extremely hard to find, making the model even more of a desirable collector’s item!
The highest resale price
The average resale price on Ebay is £826.61, with the highest sale reaching £1,145.
4. Vulcain Cricket: discontinued but available from third party sellers
Despite the fact that this model can be had for well under £1,000, this watch has an interesting history - including being gifted to a number of US presidents over the years, and being worn regularly by the recipient. When it was released in 1947, this model was the first wristwatch to have a mechanical alarm built in. Ideal for those living in a time without iPhones! Ebay sales indicate the model has a profit margin of £476.
5. Cartier Pasha: average price increase of 30% in 13 years
In 1932, first Cartier Pasha was produced thanks to Thami El Glaoui, Marrakech’s Pasha, requesting that Cartier produce a waterproof watch for him to use while swimming. The model was officially marketed in 1985, and is instantly recognisable by its crown set with security cabochon and round shape.
Despite the fact this model is a Cartier, which some would argue already makes the model a classic by default, this is undeniably a lesser known model of the brand.
Highest sale price at auction
The Cartier Pasha Tourbillon in pink gold (reference 2578) sold for €137,439 (approximately £123,178) on the 24th of April 2004 at Antiquorum Geneva.
The Cartier Pasha chronograph in yellow gold had an average price of €6,659 (approximately £5,962) in 2010. By 2016, the average price increased 15% to €7,487 (approximately £6,704), illustrating an increasing demand for the model.
6. Apple Watch Series 1: discontinued but available from third party sellers
We know you’re probably thinking this model isn’t worth including in this list of future classics, but hear us out.
We know that the aesthetics of this watch aren’t astounding, but that’s not where we see the value. For us, the value is its place within Apple’s history, and more importantly - the history of smart watches.
If we look at other Apple products, we can see that somewhere down the line, a first generation model of an Apple product will increase in value and become a collectible. For example, in September 2018, a 1st generation iPhone (initially released in 2007) with its original box was sold on Ebay for $1,025 (approximately £825), and an unopened 8GB iPhone 2G sold for $4,640 (approximately £3,734).
Writer and PR consultant, Anthony Peacock, comments:
It’s a well-known fact that the series 1 of anything Apple – whether we are talking about phones or computers – becomes collectible over time. Just like the iPhone, which redefined what many people thought of as a phone, the Apple Watch redefined the standard concept of a watch, acting as a template for so many other smart watches that followed it.
7. Nomos Glashütte Tangente: one of the best selling collections for Nomos Glashütte
The Tangente collection has been a bestseller of Nomos’ for over 25 years, and over time has come to be recognised as a signature of the brand.
The Tangente collection is still available to buy from Nomos, but if you look hard enough among the classifieds, you’re likely to stumble across a Nomos for less than £1000 if you persevere - ant it will almost certainly be the Tangente model!
Tim Vaux comments on the model:
The Nomos Tangente blends quality with instantly legible simplicity, marking them as elegant and pleasing timepieces set to become classics of the future. At this price point, and buying second-hand, you’ll need patience and luck on your side, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t find a beautiful watch that will appreciate in value.
8. Panthère Cartier - average price increased by 19% in 13 years
Cartier launched its first Panthère in 1910, a timepiece that would become known for its minimalist design - unique from its other designs. The Panthère features a square, screw-down case with a sapphire cabochon decorating the crown - a well-known Cartier addition.
Of all the models, the standard Panthère timepiece is the most common, representing 81% of Panthère sales at auction by volume:
Source: https://www.collectorsquare.com/en/luxprice-index-watch.html from LuxPrice-index© featuring data from a survey of nearly 300,000 auctions from the main auction houses around the world across a 10 year span. These results are therefore a representative but not exhaustive sample of the results of auctions.
9. TAG Heuer Aquaracer and Formula 1
The TAG Heuer Aquaracer has a number of attributes that culminate a high quality, luxury watch. Yet, the price point is generally just over £1,200 depending on the model you choose. On the second-hand market, these watches are easily accessible for less than £1000, and given the fact they don’t cost much more to buy brand new, it seems as though these could be a good investment.
It’s also worth noting that TAG Heuer’s association with Formula 1 undoubtedly influences the popularity of certain models.
Anthony Peacock shares his thoughts:
TAG has a massive heritage in motorsport, which always makes the Formula 1 models an attractive buy, but the Aquaracer is also a great watch with genuine pedigree, that’s only set to go up in value. With a relatively small difference between new and second-hand at the moment, going new (even if it means spending a bit more than £1000) makes the most sense here.
10. Breguet Classique Range
The Breguet classic is an incredible watch for the money that is one of the best mainstream dress watches money can buy from a serious watchmaker. The 5930 retails for £14,000, but can be found as low as £4,000 on places such as Chrono24. Statistics show that the average sale price of this model on Ebay is over £6,000, so it seems that this is a model worth thinking about if you can get your hands on one for a lower price.
11. Vintage Grand Seiko
Despite the name, Vintage Grand Seiko’s are modern watches that also happen to be one of the most affordable models in the industry that still retain the approval of watch enthusiasts around the world.
Tim Vaux comments:
Seiko offers incredible value for money, and with Grand Seiko’s approach to highly finished, extreme quality watchmaking, it’s interesting that the vintage Grand Seiko models - such as the 57GS - can be had for around £1,000.
12. Rolex GMT-Master: average price was multiplied by 10 between 2003 and 2016
The Rolex GMT master gives universal time (as indicated by the name) and was originally produced for American Airline pilots in 1954. At the end of the 1980s, the first GMT Master II was launched with a rapid date dial and a 24hr independent hand. The timepiece is also known as the ‘Rolex Pepsi’ due to its red and blue bezel.
13. Chopard L.U.C. 1860
The first Chopard L.U.C, was created to establish Chopard as a true manufacturer. The development of the original model from the 90s (featuring a 1.96 caliber) was a pretty big undertaking, spanning three years,from 1993 to 1996. Not to mention, the process involved watchmaker and restorer Michel Parmigiani, and featured dials made by the same company who make watches for Philippe Dufour watches.
Currently, this model can be had for around £7000.
14. Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date With Sector Dial: 1 model produced in 2017
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control collection made its debut 1992. The idea behind the model was to produce a collection of watches that focussed on classic and pure watchmaking, featuring understated technology, simple aesthetics and functionality but with long-term performance. The sizing is also classic at 39mm and 8.5mm thick.
This specific sector dial model isn’t a limited edition, but it is inherently ‘limited’ - the exact model was produced for 1 production year in 2017, so there aren’t many circulating the market. The current retail price is around £4,600.
15. Breitling Navitimer
The Breitling Navitimer was released in 1952. Its name is a combination of ‘navigation’ and ‘timer’, and is targeted at - you guessed it - pilots. The collection features 5 different models, with its most distinguishing feature being its flight-specific slide rule bezel.
This watch is equally as iconic as models such as the Submariner from Rolex and the Speedmaster from Omega but the price of original vintage models is still under £5,000 and the average sale price is pretty close to the retail price (depending on which model you look at).
16. Rolex Datejust - average price increased by more than 60% in 12 years
The Rolex Datejust was the first automatic watch to display a date window over the box and the first to feature the inscription Chronometre on the dial. These two characteristics resulted in the name of "Date"-"Just". A few years after its launch in 1945, the Cyclops magnification lens was added to the model, magnifying the size of the date by 2.5 times.
In 2004, you could spend €1,919 (approximately £1,739) to buy a steel Datejust, but 12 years later this grew to €3,081 (approximately £2,792), increasing the average price of the watch by 61%. Today, the average resale price the Datejust on Ebay is £3,417.94, and over the last 10 years the Datejust in yellow gold has tripled in price with the average price rising from €3,354 (approximately £3,040) to €11,167 (approximately £10,122) in 10 years.
Highest sale price at auction
The Datejust in yellow gold (reference 6305/1) sold for €139,111 (approx £124,448) in 2011 in Geneva.
17. Swatch special editions
Ever since Swatches were first sold in 1983, people have been collecting them - with the early models now changing hands for significant sums. History has shown that the special edition Swatches are always collectible, and the fact that these watches are so cheap to buy new only increases the margin of profitability. The most valuable Swatches of all are often those issued to mark particular events, such as the football World Cup. As always, condition is key, so always keep the box and papers.
Tim Vaux comments:
Swatch were the saviours of the Swiss watch industry during the quartz crisis as they fully embraced the new battery powered technology and ensured the heart of watchmaking remained Swiss. Some of the original models from the 80s already command a high price, but their unique watches (commonly collaborations with artists) are on the rise.
18. Glashütte Original PanoReserve: similar to the A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1 but for a much lower price
The Glashütte Original PanoReserve shares a lot of similarities with the A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1, which retails at around £20,000+, yet the PanoReserve is available for around £8,000 new (or nearer £5,000 second hand).
Both are German watch brands with very similar dial layout with the same complications on the dial. If you like one, you’ll definitely like the other! Glashutte and Lange are both made in the same town in Germany (the town of Glashütte) so the similarities go even further. This watch design has quickly become a bit of a modern day icon and one that is associated with German watch design, and we see the appreciation only growing going forward.
19. Blancpain Leman Chronograph
The Blancpain Leman Chronograph is a classic timepiece from one of the oldest watch brands in the industry. Visually, it’s a good looking watch from a very well respected brand, and technically it is very adept and thorough, especially for a model that can be had for under £10,000.
This model can be had for around £3,000 second hand, and retains its value well. Models from the early 2000s are the ones to look out for - although they’re 20 years old, their designs have stood the test of time which can be uncommon for watches of this age. For this reason, we expect to see its value increasing as time goes on.
20. Time only vintage Omega Seamasters from the 50s,60s or 70s
Over the years, Omega has made many examples of the time only simple Seamster style dress watch. Back in the day, this style would have been more widely worn over the appealing sports watches of today, meaning there are many available for a reasonable price. Because they made so many, interesting dial configurations can be found from Breguet numerals models to double-signed dials and precious metal cased examples.
Beautifully simple mechanical watches with solid, good looking omega movements and a timeless design, and can be had for well under £1,000.