The Costs of Watch Ownership

The Costs of Watch Ownership

So you got yourself a watch and you are happy. Now what? What if something happens to it? Where are you going to store it? Should you insure it? What about wear and tear and how it may or may not depreciate the value of the watch? Let’s look at all of these questions in this article. But first, let’s talk about which watches not to include here and thus for a good reason.

Buying a Rolex Source:

Watches That Cost Nothing to Own

There are watches that virtually cost nothing to own: cheap quartz digital watches. One can still buy a Casio F91W for $15 on Amazon and only have to change the battery every seven years for about $15. Or, better, get a new one. No watchmaker sound of mind would ever offer you to replace the movement of a broken F91W or any other watch that cost less than $50. You are better off, again, replacing it. These types of watches therefore cost little to nothing to own. A $15 watch equals three Starbucks coffees. For any watch collector, this is peanuts. 

Once can buy Chinese or Russian made mechanical watches for under $100, and although this is not a lot to spend on a watch, if the movement breaks, one still has to pay for the service and use up precious time to get the watch to the watchmaker and back. I’d argue that at this price point, it is better to stick to a quartz watch that will keep better time and requires less maintenance. All of this is to say that there are some watches whose cost of ownership is minimal and thankfully so. There are still people who like to have a watch to stay on time. 

Emotional Cost of a Watch 

Yes, it may sound odd to talk about the emotional cost of owning a watch but I would argue it is a real thing. If you’ve read this article then you will already know that buying a watch is truly an emotional process. We put ourselves through many motions to acquire a new watch, from spending countless hours researching which watch is the best to how much it’d cost to service it to what ideal dimensions a watch should have. We rarely buy a watch on a whim without knowing anything about the brand. 

As the article points out too, we like to buy watches that mean something to us. That connect us with a loved one or remind us of an important milestone. Any watch could do the trick but there are certain watches that hold a special place due to having a certain history or because they herald from a brand that we feel particularly attracted to. So all of these things I just mentioned are emotions and we experience many of them before buying a watch, while wearing it, and even when we decide to depart from it. 

That’s the emotional cost of watch ownership.


Financial Cost of a Watch 

The more obvious and tangible costs of ownership are financial ones. Not only are we talking about the actual purchase of the watch but the inherent costs to maintain it. Let’s not forget the cost of the watch hunt. Think of the time spent on your computer consuming energy and your monthly data plan to research which watch you should buy, and the trips to the authorized dealers to get information and to try them on. You may want to grab a bite or drive your car while you are at it, all of which adds to the total cost of getting the actual watch. Although I feel it goes without saying that we do have to pay for the watch in order to own it, it nevertheless is an aspect that should be thought through carefully. 

When it comes to buying, the rule of thumb is to only buy a watch that we can pay in full. In other words, we should not borrow money or pay for a watch on credit, as we will never really own the watch until the payment is completed. And buying a watch this way means that we are obviously living beyond our means and there might be better things to spend our money on. Or more pressing things. Paying for a watch also means we may have to depart from it if we find ourselves in a financial predicament, which could be a problem if it’s from a brand that doesn’t hold its value. 

The other financial cost of owning a watch is losing money due to depreciation. There are few brands that gain value over time. Rolex, Omega, Tudor, Patek Phillipe and Audemar Piguet—just to name a few—are brands that keep their value over time. But looking at the watch market as a whole, watches from most independent brands do not hold their value and tend to rapidly lose it as soon as the watch is sold. I don’t have any data on this, but I’d imagine that most watch owners do not own Swiss luxury brands whose value increases over time. But I might be completely wrong about this. 

Whether you own a quartz or a mechanical watch—but even more so with mechanical ones—you will have at some point to service the watch. The higher the MSRP, the higher the cost of service. It’s like buying a Ferrari or an expensive home: the cost of repairs is proportionate to the purchasing value of the item. For example, servicing a Breitling costs north of $1,000 while servicing a Seiko costs between $150 and $200. (These are just averages and vary depending on how old the watch is and where you live in the world.) You’ve got to be sure you can afford to keep your watch ticking over the years. 

Rolex Watch Repair Source:

Lastly, we need to protect our watches from theft. Many people I know who own several luxury watches have safes at home and also keep some of their watches in a bank’s safe. These costs might not seem exorbitant looking at them separately, but when adding the various expenses together, owning a watch can cost more than we may have thought in the first place. We may also want to purchase additional insurance in case of theft, which further adds to the total cost of owning the watch.  

Final Thoughts 

Watch collecting is a hobby that can become expensive fast. As we saw above, there are various costs that add up and that may increase the total cost of ownership of a watch, or of a collection of watches. I forgot to mention import taxes for those who buy watches online. I currently live in France and I pay 20% import taxes on the total value of a watch bought outside of the European Union. I do keep this fact in mind now when shopping for the next watch. This cost is reflected at the boutiques as well, so there is no escaping it. 

What happens when we think about all costs is that we may change our purchasing goals. At least, that’s how it works for me. I may be able to save up to buy my grail watch one day (the Rolex Explorer 1 ref. 124270,) but I will have to save up more than what the retail price indicates. Indeed, I would have to pay for its eventual service and accessories. So for now I stick to more affordable watches which I know come with hidden costs I can afford.

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