Things are looking up for the luxury watch market despite the pandemic

Outfit: Trench coat with detachable maxi collar (worn as asymmetric hood) by Tod’s. Watches: Tag Heuer Aquaracer Professional 300 ‘Night Diver’ and Zenith Chronomaster Original With Diamonds. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

On the first day of Chinese New Year, I met a friend for drinks and noticed she was wearing a Nautilus 5711-1A.

I told her that her watch - one of the world's most coveted sports timepieces - was worth a lot of money, especially when Patek Philippe had said it was discontinuing the model a month earlier.

A few months later, she said that she would buy me a big meal.

She had sold her watch to a young Indonesian for $140,000, nearly five times of what she paid five or six years ago.

The luxury watch market might have taken a bit of a beating because of Covid-19 in 2020, but episodes like the one above - and I've heard several similar stories - indicate that things appear a lot more upbeat this year.

Figures released by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), for instance, showed that October registered a growth of 4.8 per cent compared with 2019, and 12.5 per cent compared with October 2020. This was the highest monthly figure for the last seven years.

Sales of timepieces with price tags of more than 3,000 Swiss francs (S$4,400) were also 7 per cent higher in the first half of 2021, compared with the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

Of course, it's not hunky dory for all watchmakers and some did better - way better - than others. Thanks to a high demand and low availability, iconic models from privately owned brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet reinforced their reputation as universal liquid assets.

In a recent interview, Mr Alexandre Ghotbi, head of watches for continental Europe and the Middle East at auction house Phillips, said Covid-19 did not create the demand for watches.

It has only given collectors, he said, time and access to invest in pieces which they now realise are not just instruments but also works of genius craftsmanship and art.

So if you have been thinking about that Royal Oak 15500, perhaps it's time to bite the bullet and get on the waiting list.

Or cash out if you have one, just like my friend.

SPH Brightcove Video
For those looking for a very special timepiece to adorn their wrist – or the wrist of a loved one – there is ST's Crown & Bezel supplement.
Take a look behind the scenes at some of the shoots featuring some spectacular watches.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.