A watch brand you've never heard of is the best investment you'll make

If it’s hard buying a watch on a budget, given the bloated prices of many timepieces, the challenge of buying on an unlimited budget can be even greater. Where to begin with no constraints to guide you through the maze of options?

Do you take the obvious route and go for a Patek Philippe, Rolex or IWC? Or opt for the purist’s pet, A.Lange & Söhne? Perhaps you’d like to go off-reservation, into Greubel Forsey or MB&F territory?

How to ascertain the long-term value of a Hublot extravagance versus a Richard Mille machine? And does the investment value of a watch matter anyway, given your property portfolio is blossoming beyond expectations?

With such questions in mind I sought the input of a book valuer. Not just any valuer, but , an antiquarian specialist who, in addition to understanding the worth of a library, happens to be a knowledgeable and extensive timepiece collector.

Aesthetics matter

When I called, Tinslay was heading to Canberra to cast his eye over the High Court book collection, before moving on to the National Archives, which he values every three years. The NSW State Library is another client.

As to watches, they’re his passion, or as he puts it: “They’re my escape from work.” His suggestion for the well-endowed watch lover is deceptively simple.

“The most important thing is that a watch should be aesthetically pleasing, something that really appeals to you, not one you think might one day be worth more, or one you see others wearing,” he says. “Personally I look for something that’s a bit different.”

He mentions the De Bethune Maxichrono, a $300,000 piece you won’t see on every other wrist. “I don’t find the usual Swiss brands appealing – if I wear a Rolex Submariner to a gathering, I find half the people in the room are wearing one.”

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Richard Mille, Vianney Halter

What, then, does he make of the current crop of more esoteric offerings? “I like Richard Mille. Another impressive watchmaker is Vianney Halter. The Grönefeld One Hertz is a watch that has a quirky but beautiful dial. Hardly anyone knows these brand names. Bear in mind you’re looking at prices in the $70,000 to $80,000 range.”

And more, he might have added, which raises the issue of investment value. On this, Tinslay is refreshingly blunt: “Most of the watches I’ve bought wouldn’t have appreciated,” he says. “Most don’t. If you wanted to lose the least on a watch you’d buy a Patek Philippe.”

As to what Tinslay would opt for if he had unlimited funds: “I’d love to commission Roger Smith to design and make a watch for me.”

No surprise if you haven’t heard of him – the name hardly helps – but  is one of the most famous unknowns in contemporary watchmaking, a man barely mentioned outside the rarified realm of haute horology. Based on the Isle of Man, he is regarded as the natural successor to his mentor, the revered George Daniels.

Roger W. Smith worth knowing

Daniels, who died in 2011, was a gifted watchmaker who found wider fame as the inventor of the coaxial escapement movement, a friction-reducing mechanism commercialised to great success by Omega.

Smith meticulously produces a mere 10 or so watches a year. Treating each as an individual challenge, he weighs up every thing from cog-work to legibility, even taking into account weight on the wrist, feel in the hand. Priced around $300,000, you won’t find his pieces in your favourite watch boutique; they’re rare and tightly held.

“The fact that Roger Smith studied under Daniels is an added attraction,” says Tinslay. “I’d seek out one of the latter’s pieces, but the last Daniels watch I saw come up was a couple of years ago and it brought more than $1 million.” What was that about investment value?

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