Now that you’ve invested in a fine timepiece, let’s hope you aren’t just tossing it into a sock drawer when it’s off your wrist.
The key to maintaining your watch is preservation — and that means sheltering each watch in its own box, stored in a dry place away from direct sunlight, detergents, cosmetics or perfumes and even magnetic fields, a spokesman for Swatch said.
Christie’s cites humidity and dust as “the main enemies of watches,” while Rolex advises clients never to store a watch that has been worn in the sea without first rinsing it with fresh water “to remove any salt and sand deposits.”
But what are other risks, and what could happen if you ignore them?
Haphazard storage — “I’ve seen some disasters,” said Frank Gillett, an independent master watchmaker based in the English county of Kent who has done work for NASA, Asprey and Omega. “I’ve seen minute-repeating perpetuals which were stored in drawers next to jewelry, and you’d think they’d been worn on a building site, looking at the cases.”
Penny Morris, head of the fine/collectible watches department for Bonhams auction house in London, said, “I’ve seen many expensive watches bundled up in Tupperware, languishing for who knows how long.
“A lot of watch care comes down to common sense really,” she added. “If you keep it in a drawer with other items rolling about it is likely to end up getting scratched.”
Disuse — Storing vintage watches for long periods of time, Mr. Gillett said, “risks damaging original, handmade components when not properly cleaned and lubricated.”
“I was once given a unique Patek Philippe Calibre 21 from a very good client of Asprey,” said Mr. Gillett, who has repaired watches for members of the British and Saudi royal families. “It had been in his family for many years, stored in a vault, so it wasn’t clear what I’d find inside. Over time, the power reserve had completely seized and somebody had unfortunately tried to wind it and damaged one of the teeth in the process.”
Moisture — Mr. Gillett said one of his saddest examples of storage gone wrong involved a collection of more than 180 watches that Asprey had asked him to examine for an insurance case. The timepieces, he said, “had been stored in a typical, secure London bank vault. The metal containers were all kept subterranean and during routine building works, the entire floor flooded, along with all of the storage boxes.”
He was asked to restore the watches, “but, in the end, of the entire collection, only two pieces — which were still in their original seals — survived. The rest were completely rusted and reduced to scrap-metal value.”
Paul Boutros, senior vice president for Phillips in New York, said the house rejects 70 to 80 percent of the watches offered for auction, often because of moisture damage.
“One memorable watch we couldn’t accept was a vintage Rolex Cosmograph Daytona with a ‘Paul Newman’ dial from the 1970s. The original owner wore the watch while water skiing, forgetting to secure the winding crown. Had there been no water damage, the watch would have likely sold for above $200,000.”
Still, he said, sometimes an unintended “storage” method can actually preserve value.
“A Rolex ‘Big Crown’ Submariner Ref. 6538 manufactured in 1957 that we sold in 2019 had been found at the bottom of the Niagara River in the 1970s — a freshwater river that connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario,” Mr. Boutros said. “The person who found it thought it was a fake.”
The timepiece “was likely at the bottom of the river for decades,” Mr. Boutros said. But the dive watch’s design kept water out of the mechanism, “and the river’s lack of salt water prevented the stainless steel case from corroding. The watch was missing its rotating bezel, but remained in remarkably well-preserved condition.”
It sold late last year for $100,000.
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