The historical significance of many timepieces can get lost to the ages. With some watch companies/brands having histories that span centuries, the value of some older pieces can be completely forgotten. Thankfully there are folks in this world who make it their career to find the value in old treasures. Some experts ply their trade in repairs, others in journalism, and of course at auction houses. Converging expert knowledge on a variety of antique subjects—including vintage timepieces—is the Antiques Roadshow. Originally broadcasting in 1979 in the United Kingdom, the series has become an international sensation among audiences of all ages. 1997 marked the program’s jump across the pond and the rest has been, well, history. 16 nominations for primetime Emmy awards, Hollywood celebrity hosts, and more have made it a phenomenon built on the curiosity and value of the past. What could the curiosity and value of the past have to do with watches? Well, if we haven’t already made it clear in our previous posts perhaps a couple of highlights from the Antiques Roadshow will help to illustrate.
A Jacques-Rousseau-Named Dive-Watch Classic
A very recent episode (February 19th, 2020) of antiques roadshow highlighted a classic diving timepiece. In the episode, a woman from Sacramento, CA presented a near-unfathomable find from a thrift shop—a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Aqua Lung. Gaining the “Aqua Lung” moniker from famed diver Jacques Cousteau, these watches are a veritable Swiss classic. Sporting all of its original parts, including the original nato strap from the manufacturer, the watch’s legacy and construction alone are incredibly valuable. Blancpain themselves are the oldest watch brand in history. Their name, dating back to 1735, already carries a lot of weight at the auction house.
Appraiser Pete Planes appears pretty enthused to let the watch owner know the true value of her find. During their conversation about the Aqua Lung piece, Planes asks her how much she expects the watch is worth. After paying just $100 she guesses “twelve or thirteen”. His response is, “hundred or thousand, you’re thinking?”. Planes then goes on to tell the woman that her $100 thrift store find is worth anywhere between $25,000 and $35,000. Timeless quality, with the history to back it up, can be found in some pretty unlikely places—to say the least.
What’s In the Box?
In an episode of Antiques Roadshow from Jan. 2014—which is currently available on Youtube—another example of latent excellence finding its way into the light is portrayed. In the video a woman presenting seven of her grandfather’s watches is looking to find their monetary value. What she doesn’t realize is that she’s sitting on a “potpourri of the best names in the world” (appraiser Paul Winicki’s words). In the collection she has two Patek Philippe watches, two Audemars Piguet watches, a Blancpain, a stainless steel Rolex Day/Date, and a Cartier Santos watch. Each of these watches on their own paint a rich tapestry of Swiss watchmaking that spans centuries. Originally found by the curious woman in a cardboard box, each piece is nearly priceless—considering they were made during the 1960s-1980s.
As her appraisal continues, she guesses that the whole collection is worth around a few thousand dollars. However, appraiser Paul Winicki turns that script on its head quite quickly. He expertly points out that most of the watches in the collection are made with precious metals. Winicki also points out that one of the Piguet watches has a rare movement—and was purchased from a renowned jewelry shop in Switzerland named Gubelin (a buzzworthy name for collectors). Winicki shocks the woman in the episode by listing the value of each watch. After running down the list, all seven are appraised at around $46,000 to $57,000. Turns out Grandpa had great taste, built on the back of Swiss tradition.
Many More Examples
Spending time with the Antiques Roadshow, we here at TimesTicking could cite hundreds of examples of incredible timepieces being re-discovered—from multiple eras (nevermind the pieces that come into our shop). Hopefully the two examples up top help build some curiosity surrounding the value of everyday treasures. Mechanical watches, as they age, often go up in value over time—especially if they’re well maintained.
The Antiques Roadshow itself can almost be considered an antique on its own. With over 40 years under its belt between the U.S. and the U.K., it has cataloged countless found/inherited pieces of import. So, keep both eyes peeled for anything that looks familiar on screen. It’s not so rare to have a piece of watchmaking history right under your nose.
Times Ticking has been in operation for more than 30 years, since 1982. We have performed watch repair for customers both locally and internationally. If it Ticks! We KNOW it! Our team of watch repair technicians have a combined experience in watchmaking of over 120 years.