2023 Rewind: Top Hits & Misses From Rolex, Patek Philippe & Audemars Piguet
We evaluate the top-performing models from Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe in recent years based on the Wristcheck Watch Index. Find out the forecast for the pre-owned market in 2024, the best brands to bet on and more
The most spectacular bull run in the history of the luxury watch market is finally seeing signs of slow-down. For a while, it seemed like the record-highs would alter the dynamics in the secondary market forever but as it happens with most asset classes, once you hit the peak, there's nowhere to go but down. The initial wave of lockdowns in 2020 jumpstarted an unprecedented growth for the industry. Swiss watch exports peaked in 2021 at 22.3 billion Swiss francs—2.7 percent higher than in 2019. As per a report by the Boston Consulting Group, pre-owned watch sales touched $22 billion in 2021—nearly one-third of the $75 billion luxury watch market—with average prices for the most desirable models from Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet rising at an annual rate of 20% between August 2018 and January 2023.
Hit by the global economic turbulence, high interest rates and the crypto crash, the prices of hype-watches from the world’s three largest brands—Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet—have been plummeting earthward over the last 18 months.
The costliest timepieces obviously suffered the worst declines. At the all-time market peak in March 2022, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin 15202ST was selling for around USD 121k and while it’s still commanding a higher price than the pre-Covid era (USD 21K in 2019), the model has seen a 25% dip in pricing over the past one year. According to the Wristcheck Watch Index, which tracks prices of the top 100 watches from Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, APs are still up by 100% compared to 2019, while Patek and Rolex have shown gains of 115% and 52% respectively. “I think the watch market in 2024 is going to be very healthy, in fact much healthier than last year. We've reached an equilibrium which is great. On our Wristcheck Watch Index, the average value of the top 100 most traded watches is USD 58K, whereas it was USD 36K pre-COVID and at the peak it hit USD 90K. So I believe it's safe to say that watches still stand the test of time and are great investments for people who care for that aspect of collecting,” says Austen Chu, Co-founder and CEO of Wristcheck.
While the Daytona, the Nautilus, and the Royal Oak have seen the highest percentage decline in their secondary market valuation simply because their values rose the most, all three collections still maintain a much higher pre-owned price than they did five years ago. With the help of the Wristcheck Watch Index, which is powered by more than 3 million transaction data points, we analyzed the performance of the best-selling models from AP, Patek Philippe and Rolex over the last three years. Here’s a recap of the top performers and the under performers from these three brands during the "peak hype" as well as their current valuation.
Top Performers From Rolex, Audemars Piguet And Patek Philippe
The poster child of the supply-demand imbalance ushered in 2017, Patek Philippe’s highly-coveted Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A-010 hit a peak secondary market valuation of around $160,000 in March 2022. Flash forward to today, it's now trading at around USD 95k. Over the last one year, this particular watch has seen a drop of around 14% on the Wristcheck Watch Index.
Interestingly, the most stable collection from Patek Philippe in the last 12 months has been the Aquanaut—the stainless steel Ref. 5167A-001 with a black dial, the chocolate brown Aquanaut in Rose Gold Ref. 5167R-001 and the Aquanaut Chrono Ref. 5968G-001 with a blue dial. These three models have seen very minor changes in pricing, particularly the Ref. 5167A-001 which moved up 2% in pricing since Jan last year.
Some of the underperformers from Patek Philippe recorded dips between 15% and 18% over the past year. While the Nautilus Annual Calendar Ref. 5726/1A-010 dropped 18%, the Khaki Green Aquanaut “Jumbo” went down by 15.8%.
According to Tania Edwards, Co-founder of Collectability, one can expect to see further price corrections in the market, but not as rapid, or severe as last year. “The resale prices for certain Patek Philippe models, such as the Nautilus, are still high compared to five years ago, as are some independent brands and Rolex models, all of which will experience further price corrections. As watch production catches up from the limitations imposed during the pandemic, we will continue to see watches available for sale in stores and waiting lists soften. There will still be waiting lists for certain, high-demand models, but this has always been the case, particularly for brands such as Patek Philippe which have limited production runs, especially for complicated models,” she says. “Hopefully, the market will hit a comfortable cruising speed this year and consumers will be more considerate in their watch purchases. People will continue to buy, but there won’t be the frenzied panic to buy and flip a watch to make money as in recent years,” says Edwards.
One of the most powerful players in the industry, Rolex produces over a million watches annually, boasting sales exceeding 9 billion francs. In 2022, the brand increased its prices twice – first in January, aligning with its traditional annual model cost increment, subsequently, in September for the UK and in November for European markets. The biggest announcement from Rolex came in December 2022 with the launch of its official Certified Pre-Owned initiative that provides certification for authenticity and a two-year warranty for second-hand Rolex models that are at least three years old at the time of resale.
Despite Rolex’s active participation in the secondary market through the introduction of its CPO, the prices for its key models hit a two-year low in October last year. The huge slump in its performance was best exemplified by the Daytona Ref. 116500. Introduced in 2016, the model, which retails for USD 14,550, was valued as high as USD 50K on secondary market in May 2022. It went down to about $40K by July last year and is now selling at around USD 31k.
As per the Wristcheck Watch Index, Rolex’s biggest success story in recent years has been the Daytona ‘John Mayer’ Ref. 116508-0013. The watch was selling at around USD 69K in January 2023. The prices for this bluechip model peaked in May at USD 88K and have now stabilized at around USD79K – recording a 14% increase year-on-year and a whopping premium of 127% over retail. Another outperformer from Rolex this past year has been the GMT-Master II Pepsi Ref. 126710BLRO-0001. The watch climbed 2.8% on our Watch Index – maintaining a price range of USD 23-25K over the last 12 months.
The most unanticipated drop in prices for a Rolex favorite came through the GMT-Master II Sprite Ref. 126720VTNR-0001. Introduced in early 2022, this destro with a bi-color bezel and left-oriented crown had our collective jaws on the floor. Introduced at $10k retail, the watch recorded its peak in the secondary market in May 2022, commanding over USD 50K. However, over the past year, it went through a steep drop of around 28%. As per the Wristcheck Watch Index, this model is now going out at $20K.
Among the top 15 Daytona models in the market, the ice blue Daytona Platinum Ref. 116506-0001 recorded the sharpest drop at 15%. Adorned with a chestnut brown ceramic bezel for the 50th anniversary of the Daytona in 2013, this platinum anniversary piece was launched at $75,000. The watch was trading in the high six figures ($169K) in March 2022 and has since dropped to around $99K.
“2023 was a strange year in many ways. The media was screaming recession, inflation was rampant, a few new brands were flying, while many other established ones came crashing back down to earth,” says @nycwatchguy, a seasoned collector and industry observer. “Overall, the secondary market seems to be in a much healthier place than before, with many watches available at a premium that is "reasonable" as opposed to the '21-'22 insanity where basic watches that were still in production were trading for 4-5x retail. I think we are quite close to the bottom of the market for now. If things sink any further, the industry will be in trouble. If you can't get out even money for your Royal Oak, consumer confidence is going to sink back to 2017 levels, where I bought a Journe Calendrier on eBay for $34K. Nobody in the hobby (other than perhaps complete new entrants) wants that to happen, so hopefully everyone is going to keep this market propped up for all of our sakes!,” he says.
One of the most fascinating trajectories for an iconic watch in the pre-owned market is illustrated by Audemars Piguet Ref. 15202ST. The insanely hot Royal Oak Jumbo Extra Thin enjoyed a meteoric rise from 2016 to 2020, with its price appreciating 2.8X. Interestingly, the Royal Oak’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2022 coincided with the time when the secondary market was at its zenith. When AP announced the end of this series, the prices in the secondary market jumped from an average of $46K in January 2021 to $100K by the end of the year. The watch was trading at a ballpark of $120K at its peak in April 2022, however, over the last 12 months, it has seen a drop of 25% on the Wristcheck Watch Index and is now selling at around $65k.
The frenzy around the 50th anniversary Royal Oaks seems to be gradually waning with most of the special editions recording a slide of around 18-20% over the last year. However, what’s interesting to note here is that the top 25 Audemars Piguets on our Watch Index are all Royal Oaks, and that’s not surprising given the collection is believed to account for more than 90% of the brand’s revenue.
According to @nycwatchguy, this year is going to be all about availability, and there is going to be a lot of it. “People have been turning down calls from their AD's all through 2023 for watches that in 2022 they would have sold their own mothers for. New brands as well as existing ones that were extremely difficult to break into just 12 months ago will now suddenly be sending out lots of "Happy New Year" messages to customers. Of course exclusivity is always a part of the luxury market, but it is also a very relative word. The rarest of the rare will always command top dollar, but that isn't what makes a $30 billion industry move,” he says.
Outlook for 2024
While some may view 2023 as a year of reckoning for the watch industry, and in many ways it very well may have been, it also showed that the industry is still strong and here to stay. As per Tania Edwards, the era of ‘Hype Watches’ has just begun. The influence of social media remains powerful and consumers will be guided by the Next Big Thing. “As humans, we can’t help to get excited and follow trends, especially if a product is hard to get. Celebrities will continue to stoke the fire of demand for certain watch brands and models. Since exclusivity comes at a very high price, we will see people happy to buy new brands and more easily available options. A case in point is the Swatch Omega collaboration and the popularity of the MoonSwatch collection. Equally, as people learn more about watches, vintage pieces from all the top brands will see a resurgence as people realize that vintage offers real value for money — as well as unusual watches that are not on everyone’s wrists,” she says.
According to experts, 2024 could prove to be a much stronger year for the industry than last year. There will be plenty of options for people new to the hobby and more than enough watches floating in the market for everyone to enjoy and experience the best in watchmaking. “It will be very interesting to see if some brands have to go back to discounting after so frivolously increasing prices over the past two years. In the United States, the Fed is slowly expected to start reducing interest rates and hopefully the US dollar would stop sliding vs the Swiss Franc which is making purchases extremely difficult at the moment for American buyers. This should alleviate some of the pain with buying, and after a relatively calm 2023, I expect people will be raring to go this year, both because of pent-up demand, and because of more availability of desirable watches,” says @nycwatchguy.
During the last quarter of 2023, most auction houses struggled with a decline in prices and some pieces not reaching their reserve. However, what did stay strong on the secondary market were rare vintage models, especially fresh-to-market and in great condition. “We will see an increase in demand for vintage, complicated Patek Philippe watches such as the perpetual calendar Ref. 3940 and perpetual calendar chronograph Ref. 3970 which are increasing in price but are relatively undervalued. In the next few years, we sincerely hope there will be an increase in appreciation for pocket watches, which continue to offer the best value in the collecting world,” says Edwards.
The Rising Stars
One of the most thrilling outcomes of the pandemic has been the rise and rise of independent brands. If you are bored of mainstream brands and their trademark watches, this is the time to explore the phenomenal creativity and innovation offered by newer indies like Simon Brette, Raúl Pagès, Theo Auffret and more. Collectors are starting to realize that the real value is in the smallest of small indies. Not only do you get a lot of watch for your money, but you own something rare, and more than likely something that will hold value better than the mainstream brands in this market. “I expect to see people chomping at the bit to buy pieces from Sylvain Pinaud, Simon Brette, Theo Auffret, Remy Cools, Petermann Bedat, and of course Rexhep Rexhepi,” says @nycwatchguy. “I think the guys at Furlan Marri are onto something. Their design aesthetic is really good, and by creating watches at such an affordable price point that look and feel like they could be worth 4-5x the price, I think they are building a lot of goodwill amongst enthusiasts. They will slowly be able to start making more expensive mechanical watches just like Ming did. The other thing I'm really interested to see is the second act of Simon Brette. This may not necessarily happen in 2024, but I cannot think of another newcomer to the watch world who was able to create as much hype and demand for a watch as Simon did with his debut piece. How he follows that up in order to not appear to be a one trick pony will be fun to watch, and I am rooting for him as both a fan of his, and a soon to be owner of one of his pieces,” he says.