People ask me which is the best automatic Swiss watch to buy new, for say under £3000. Tough question. The short answer is buy what you like, because if you don’t love the dial, the colour, hands, bezel, bracelet links – all those details – then you won’t wear the watch much and it will languish in a box or on an automatic winder.
My own favourite is an Omega with George Daniels brilliant co-axial movement inside, such as the Seamaster/Speedmaster range. You can buy one from about £2600 which to me is a bargain for two reasons;
One, the co-axial movement runs at about 2500bph (beats per hour) which is significantly lower than may other Swiss watches that run at over 32,000bph. That means low friction, more time between services and that is a massive saving on the running costs of ownership with a service costing upwards of £600 at an Omega/Breitling/Rolex/Tudor etc dealership.
Two, the Omega Seamaster/Speedmaster is a well established brand name with the wider public, so if you decide to sell there will be a queue of trade, and public, keen to acquire your Omega. Try selling a used Franck Muller, Graham Chronofighter or a Breguet to Joe Public and you’ll find they haven’t really got a clue about the watch and its true value, plus it won’t impress their friends on Facebook, so they won’t offer you decent money.
That’s how it works; watches are a game of oneupmanship for many men, keen to brag that they’re considerably richer than you…
The Valjoux 7750 and All Its Children
OK, let’s move on to the amazing ETA Valjoux 7750 movement. Now this benchmark engine can be found in so many watches, even today, although manufacturers often try to disguise the base movement beneath a range of tweaks, tune-ups and in-house modifications.
Let me explain why the buying the best value Swiss watch featuring a Valjoux 7750 often means shelling out for the least fashionable;
You are investing long-term in the movement, and hoping it will be reliable, easy to service and hold its future value. Bells and whistles like a stronger mainspring, a silicon hairspring (non-magnetic is always useful) and perhaps some beautiful engine-turning/engraving on the bridgework or automatic rotor, is nice to have – but it doesn’t alter the fact that you’ve paid ten times as much for the same watch movement.
Ten times you say, really? Yep. If you buy a used IWC Portugieser, rather than a Hamilton Khaki, then you have probably bought a watch with the same base calibre 7750 movement inside the case. But your IWC will cost you maybe £4000 for those little IWC extra touches, whereas a used Hamilton can be had for £400, because it is seen as a deeply unfashionable brand in watch collecting. The IWC version of the ETA Valjoux 7750 is undoubtedly built to a higher spec, bit like an AMG Merc A Class – but it’s still an A Class, if you’re with me.
OK, before you splash out £3000 on a new Swiss watch ask yourself if the movement really matters, because if it does, then you really want to avoid buying something with a Valjoux 7750 base unit in there. You could buy a Tissot, Certina, Victorinox, Longines, Steinhart, Hamilton, Oris and many more for well under £1000, with the 7750 inside. So what will the future collectable value of those watches be? Answer, not likely to be as much as something bespoke, truly unique, and in short supply.
Don’t get me wrong, any watch with a well maintained Valjoux 7750 is a great timepiece – it just isn’t going to be described as being truly special, rare or a future classic in my view.
If you buy a modern Rolex, you get a watch with an in-house movement, not a Valjoux (or a Zenith) inside the case. Plus it’s the most well known watch brand in the world, so you’ll always be able to sell it – or have your Rolex stolen at knifepoint by moped thugs in London.
£3000 will get you a used Breitling Navitimer, with its own in-house 01 movement (manufactured post 2013) which again, is a fashionable watch, although they are expensive to service and look a bit big and gaudy unless you have a large wrist – in my humble opinion.
Assuming I had 3K to spare what would I buy? Probably something like a Jaeger Le Coultre bumper automatic from the 1950s. A mint example, with a gold case would probably be around that price and it ticks all the right boxes for me.
It looks understated and oozes sheer quality, the name itself is not so well known amongst the casual thug/criminal fraternity, so it reduces the risk of mugging or violent attack at home. Plus the bumper auto movement was unique to JLC, it wasn’t hawked around other manufacturers, and I reckon that it will always be truly collectable because of the prestige still attached to the JLC name today. The same cannot be said of many other 1950s Swiss watch brands that have faded into bankruptcy, or merger.
There is much to be said for a low profile when it comes to watch collecting. Let the fashion victims chase the latest Tudor Black Bay deals, or lowest finance rates on a Rolex Daytona. There’s more to it than flash for cash, watches are also inherently beautiful pieces of miniature engineering, history made jewels and metal. Treasure the craft of watchmaking, not just the RRP.
There y’go, be lucky and keep ticking over.