Hello watch fancier.
So, what are the ingredients to craft the most expensive watches? What sets the world’s most prestigious watches apart from the rest?
The movement is the heart of the watch. Depending on its typology, the number of jewels inside, the manufacturing location, whether it is handmade in-house by the watch manufacturer, or mass produced.
There could be a big variance in cost. The most expensive movements are mechanical. However, there are some exceptions when a Quartz movement of superb quality might be very costly, e.g. Patek Phillippe Ellipse Quartz, or Breitlings Thermoline Quartz.
Most watch companies source movements from various movement suppliers, or use them as they are, or modify them, in order to create unique models. The best watchmakers, instead, design, and construct their own movements in-house, e.g. Patek Phillippe, order more PK.
Luxury watches are generally handmade, and assembled by master watchmakers. Though, there could be exceptions, e.g. a Rolex semi-automated production.
Switzerland is very well known for making high quality watch movements. But, also, other countries can deliver good quality, such as Japan (Seiko, Citizen, Miata, and Casio).
The most expensive watches tend to have a mechanical movement in-house, and are generally Swiss made.
The crystal is the eye of the watch, and through it you might see its soul. Crystals can be made of different materials, but only a few dominate the market today.
Plexi, acrylic, glass, mineral glass, and sapphire crystal. Sapphire crystal is the best, and it pushes up the price of high-end watches due to its intrinsic value, and partly, also, to the manufacturing process.
Not all sapphires are created equal, and depending on whether natural, or synthetic, the thickness, the shape, e.g. flat, versus domed, and features, e.g. data magnify, the cost must be quite different.
Also, the best crystal gets an anti-reflective treatment to reduce glare when trying to read the time. The best watches get the treatment on both the front and the rear of the crystal, double AR coating.
The watch needs to feel solid and robust. The bracelet must fit perfectly the case lungs, with no wiggle. And, same is valid for al moving parts, at the crown or the rotating bevel if present.
The watch must be made of sold and good quality metal, i.e. not folded metal, or anything hollow, or high-end materials. The most expensive watches have case made of very few elements. And, they are generally created from one single piece of metal.
The watch weight is generally an indication of quality, still it might be polarising. Most of the people associate heavy watches to higher quality, hence the trend for bulky, and heavy construction watches.
Other people, instead, might appreciate more light-weight watches, which can be made of special and costly lightweight materials, e.g. titanium grade five for luxury watches.
4, the finish.
The devil is in the details, and the finish of a watch is the detail. There are different kinds of finish, but one can generalise in polished, versus brushed finish. The most expensive watches can have either, but generally have a combination of two. The finish has to be neat, and even, and should keep its look for a long time.
Some watches also do get special treatments to preserve the finish, like, PVD, physical vapour deposition. Or, DLC, diamond light carbon, with this last being the best, and most expensive one.
5, bracelet or strap.
The bracelet, or strap is the arms of the watch that embrace you, because of that it needs to feel perfect, secure, comfortable, special, and unique. Like, when you partner embraces you.
The most expensive watches have custom made elements designed specifically to fit the case, and brand design. Material used and finish can vary dramatically.
6, clasp and closure.
The closure is instrumental to a wrist watch, and it needs to secure the bracelet to the wrist, no matter what. The best bracelets have either double, or triple locking clasps.
Most of the time there is a double locking system, but it is not rare to see the triple lock, generally, with an extra button to open.
Watches can be made, or contain many different materials, from plastic to gold, platinum, ceramic, and other precious, or exotic materials, e.g. carbon fibres, or even moon fragments.
No, matter which material is used, the most expensive watches should always be constructed with the highest quality of that specific material, e.g. grade five for titanium, the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quarter finds its way to the most expensive watches thanks to its case, which is made entirely of silicone. A material with half the weight of titanium, and four the hardness.
Another great example is the Richard Mill RM 5601, with an all sapphire glass case.
The most expensive watches have some sort of decoration, sometimes hidden, e.g. in the movement. Other times quite overtly present. It could be as simple as a special finish, or a textured dial. A flamboyant bracelet, or applied stones.
Those elements make people perceive the watch as special, and unique, hence worth more than the standard ones.
9, brand signature.
The high-end watches are general made of custom elements, and part of the customization relates also to the addition of a brand signature.
The brand and logo is generally displayed in four places, face of the watch, the case back, the crown, and on the bracelet closure. The way the logo is displayed might change, but generally, the most expensive watches have logos, and graphics done in relief.
The most expensive watches are more of a piece of jewellery, rather than a watch. Those watches are adorned with jewels or stones. Natural, synthetic, or manufactured. The most popular jewels in watches are sapphires, diamonds, as well as pearls, but the choice is incredible.
Quality, size, and quantity of stones might make the price swing a lot. One of the most recent and expensive examples is the Fascination by Graff. Revealed at Basil World 2015, in addition to their Hallucination.
The most expensive watches tend to be more classic, or formal watches, And, those generally don’t have dials or hands that illuminate in the dark.
However, almost all sport, and casual watches have illuminent system, either on the dial or hands. If they do, they’re one of the best compounds used is the Super Leumi Nova, followed, by Leumi Nova.
An alternative to those are watches that use tritium gas tubes, made by one company in Switzerland.
One key characteristic of the most expensive watches, is that they tend to have the sold called complications, or grand complications, when several features are combined together.
Some complications improve watch accuracy, or make the movement more interesting while in operation, e.g. Tourbillon Escapements. Other common complications are perpetual calendars, Rutter Pont chronographs, sonnaries, moon phases, twenty-four-hour dials, and multiple time zones.
One example is often cited in this context, is the Breguet Complication Marie Antoinette, or the Vacheron Constantin 57260 with 57 complications, developed for the 260 years of the house.
13, special features.
Few of the most expensive watches have features that are not really needed. But, that sets them apart from the rest. For example, the Rolex Mill Glass and Omega Sea Master Aqua Terra, has been designed to remain reliable and precise in environments with extremely high magnetic fields. Meaning only certain scientists would need it.
Or, the Singulex, which has a case that can withstand dives down to 12,000 metres, and temperatures between -45 degrees Celsius, and +80 degrees Celsius.
Like every piece of jewellery, the watch design, and the artist behind the design are instrumental for defining the ultimate value. The design needs to be both functional, and artistic.
A great example, is the de Grisogono Crazy Skull watch that combined the functionality of a dual zone watch with an original beautiful design. Also, worth mentioning is the Grubel Fascia Art Piece One, with a Nano sculpture by artist Willard Wiggin in the crown.
There are different types of certifications for watches. But, two worth mentioning are the Chronometer COSC, and Geneva Certifications. The Geneva Seal is a certification of quality and origin. It is placed on the movement of watches that are mostly created and assembled with in the Canton of Geneva and Switzerland, and meet very strict specific criteria.
Patek Phillippe is among the few having it. Chronometer Certification is achieved by having COSC, testing the movement over a period of days in various conditions.
For a watch to be Chronometer Certified it must be accurate within -4 over plus six seconds per day, on average between all conditions.
16, limited production.
Like pieces of art, the most expensive watches tend to be crafted in limited quantities, by expert and professional hands. The more limited a watch is, the more exclusive it is, the more expensive it is.
Some of those are carefully number in order to underline the limited production, and few are piece unique. For example, Patek Phillippe Unique Piece 50040 made specially for an auction in titanium.
17, brand pedigree.
It is not a secret that people are ready to pay more well-known brands. There are different reasons why people do that. But, the key point is that the same exact watch execution might have two totally different price points depending on the brand name on it.
The value of the brand might relate to its history, to its positioning, or storytelling, to its endorses, and many other factors. The brand value perception might change depending on the geography. Though watch brands have more or less same value perception across the globe. The name helps establishing trust. Trust that justifies the high bill to pay for.
Important to note is that the different watch artists do not necessarily play with all of them, but they might focus on some rather than others. Each watchmaker has his own signature, and expertise area, and to stay true to their heritage, they will keep playing consistently. Not to mention above, and it’s the ultimate, attention to details, that is needed across all the luxury signs in order to develop the world’s most expensive watches.
Thanks to alux for their research on this.