Art of buying rare and pricey watches

Patrimony 4000U-000R-B110 watches by Vacheron Constantine. Photo | Courtesy
Patrimony 4000U-000R-B110 watches by Vacheron Constantine. Photo | Courtesy 

Over the last two years, I have been closely watching the lifestyles of the rich and wealthy in Kenya. Obviously, a difficult thing to do when you are neither.

I noticed that the rich, especially the nouveau riche, dress up while the wealthy dress down. The rich talk themselves up while the wealthy have an admirable modesty to their demeanour.

The nouveau riche speak more to impress, listen less and understand little, while the wealthy and wise lend a keen ear to all, scouting for the next big idea that will possibly change the world.

These self-made billionaires humbly stay out of the limelight, exploring how they can grow their empires and leave a legacy. Let’s ignore the rich politicians for now.

I spent the last decade travelling the world, driving amazing cars, talking with the designers and engineers in a quest to quench the thirst of my childhood passion.


Then I stumbled inside the world of luxurious, rare and very expensive watches.

Watch by Omega. PHOTO | COURTESY

Watch by Omega. PHOTO | COURTESY

If you are in your 20s or early 30s, you may have no idea what I am talking about. But when you hit 40, you panic at the thought of entering the next phase of life.

It is then that you start appreciating finer things, quality friends and amazing experiences.

Now I would rather buy a decent bracelet than a cheap watch. No disrespect, but even the rest of the world is shunning cheap watches. Sales of watches that cost below Sh20,000 have dropped by about 12 per cent in Japan, China, USA, Italy, UK and Hong Kong, according to the Federation of Swiss Watch Industry.

Africa may have not been among the top watch buyers, but a number of luxury brands are now targeting the continent’s affluent, according to an Ipsos Affluent Survey Africa 2016.

How do you choose a decent timepiece to suit your current status considering that there are 572 watch manufacturers in Switzerland?

Lei Fu from Glashutte Original Boutique in Geneva, which is part of Swatch Group said most buyers of luxury timepieces pick those that are ‘‘understated and with discreet elegance.’’

Start with whether you want an automatic or mechanical watch.

While you can hire a fashion stylist to pull off different looks for every occasion, gentlemen the key thing is to ensure you vary the straps.

Have a dark brown, light brown, black, stainless steel, gold (white, rose or yellow) and navy blue strap at a minimum.

For women, stretch your imagination to lighter blues, yellows, hot pinks and lime greens.

Some watches are huge investments so take time to choose the right diameter dial for your wrist. Too large will make you look like a boy who inherited a watch from his father too early.

Have the strap adjusted to your size before leaving the store. Below is just a rough guide to get you on your way.

Somik Svetlana, (right), director at Vacheron Constantin in Geneva, explaining the heritage of watches. PHOTOS | MIKE MWAI

Somik Svetlana, (right), director at Vacheron Constantin in Geneva, explaining the heritage of watches. PHOTOS | MIKE MWAI

Sh20,000 to Sh50,000

These are watches for the starter. Playing in this space may not make jaws drop but you will not be embarrassed as there is a wide choice of elegant automatic watches to choose from.

Start with Tissot, Citizen, Festina, Seiko and perhaps consider brands like Obaku from Denmark. These are delicate watches that will crack easily.

While they are labelled water-resistant, do not attempt to swim with them especially those with leather straps.

Sh50,000 to Sh100,000

In this bracket, you will certainly gain some street credit. Consider Seiko, Victorinox, Aplina Aviation, Kent Wang Bauhaus and Autodromo Stradale.

Sh100,000 to Sh250,000

Now you are edging up in life and finally qualify as a HENRY (high earner not rich yet) so a Tag Heuer, Breitling, Longines, Raymond Weil, Mido Belluna, Girard-Perregaux, Oris, Seiko and Mont Blanc should do the trick. Throw in their fountain pens while at it.

Sh250,000 to Sh500,000

You are certainly moving in the right direction in life. Having previously invested some of the above brands you can now prepare to start buying real timepieces.

To make a wise investment, look for watches that will appreciate in value and fetch you good returns if you opt to sell. Here you will find more from Tag Heuer, Breitling, IWC, Tudor, Zenith, Etherna and Frédérique Constant.

Sh500,000 to Sh1 million

There will be no shortage of very high-quality pieces in this category. Try out a Glashütte. Its not too mainstream yet it promises precision. You can also consider Omega, Panerai Luminor, Franck Muller or Rolex.

Sh5 million to Sh35 million

This is the point of no return. In this category, you cannot help but show off your timepiece with pride. Anything in this price range is decent enough for a high-level board of director.

Go for a Panerai, Greubel Forsey, MB&F HM6 SV “Sapphire Vision”, Harry Winston, Hublot or Vacheron Constantin. Don’t shy away from buying a pre-owned watch.

Sh50 million and above

You are in the billionaire’s club and play in Elon Musk’s league. You are buying more than just a timepiece. It is a jewel and an investment.

You will need a real safe or bank vault to store it. Watches costing over Sh50 million take years to create and are customised to your personal taste. In some cases, it is a one-off timepiece.

Brands that command the highest prices include Patek Phillippe, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Richard Mille, Parmigiani Fleurier and Lange & Sohne.

Patrimony 4000U-000R-B110 watches by Vacheron Constantine.

Patrimony 4000U-000R-B110 watches by Vacheron Constantine.

Somik Svetlana, the director at Vacheron Constantin in Geneva’s flagship boutique said some customers spend in excess of Sh823 million on a watch.

‘‘They wait for up to 18 months for their precious timepiece,’’ she said as she explained the watch-making heritage and tradition that goes back 263 years.