Vintage watch collecting can prove a minefield for newbie collectors. Even with blue-chip models, seemingly imperceptible differences can add or detract thousands of dollars in value. A Rolex Submariner from the 1960s with an original bezel insert featuring a so-called long 5 is worth thousands more than one with a replacement insert with a shorter, more contemporary 5.
Buyers need to figure out if a watch has been polished over the years — actually considered a bad thing, since polishing can wear down the crisp edges of its case, Mr. Wind said. And they need to watch out for unscrupulous dealers peddling so-called Frankenwatches, which contain non-original parts that can torpedo the value.
Besides, watch collecting can be similar to art collecting in that dealers tend to reserve the most coveted pieces for insiders and heavyweight collectors, rarely making them available to the general public.
And then there are the fickle market tastes that any sort of collector must try to anticipate. Right now, the arrow is pointing up on best-of-breed sport watches with steel bracelets, like the Nautilus, the Submariner and GMT, the early Speedmasters, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and certain vintage Tudors and Heuers, Mr. Clymer said.
There’s no telling how the demand for five- and six-figure timepieces will hold up should, say, a credit implosion in China, or a splintering of the eurozone, produce a sequel to the 2008 financial crisis, or should Democratic Socialists sweep to power in Washington on promises of a 70 percent tax rate on the target demographic for museum-worthy watches.
Already, some sure things, like certain Daytonas, are looking like slightly less than a sure thing.
“The market for Daytona just got a little silly for awhile,” Mr. Clymer said. “We saw references worth $20,000, $25,000 in 2011 to 2015 all of a sudden worth $50,000, then all of a sudden worth $80,000. And now those same references are worth $65,000. That’s still significantly higher than they were, but they’ve come down from the stratosphere.”