Do Collectors Really Care About High-Tech Watch Materials?

With the continued emergence of new watch case materials, collectors and watch lovers are faced with a dilemma: traditional materials versus forged carbon, industrial sapphire, ceramic alloys and more.

Watches using many of these materials — which have been expensive to develop and produce, so retail prices are equally high — cost more than the steel or titanium alternatives. And will they hold their value on the resale market?

“Unequivocally, yes, these newer material watches will have staying power and hold their value, but it depends on the brand and the model,” said Paul Boutros, head of watches in the Americas for the auction house Phillips. “For iconic brands that produce certain models sought after by collectors, without a doubt, these advanced materials appeal to them and will continue to appeal to them.”

Mr. Boutros cited several examples that performed well at 2021 auctions, including Audemars Piguet Royal Oaks in ceramic and Richard Mille watches. Among them was a Mille RM11-03 Flyback Chronograph made of titanium and a composite material of titanium and aluminium-toughened zirconia that the brand markets as A.T.Z. The chronograph sold for 780,200 Swiss francs ($844,620), almost double its high estimate, and an RM 67-02 made of its thin ply technology quartz, marketed as Quartz T.P.T., sold for 529,200 Swiss francs.

“Wearing my watch collector hat,” Mr. Boutros said, “I can say that I appreciate brands that push the state of the art in terms of alloys and materials. It is a science, and by using today’s materials, they demonstrate their visionary approach.”

However, when it comes to wearing timepieces with advanced materials, not all collectors are enthusiastic.

“Many of these materials play with color, and that is an aesthetic choice, I think,” said Gary Getz, a collector based in Northern California. “With the watch market and collecting phenomenon becoming more mainstream, and more of a lifestyle and fashion category than a specialist hobby, I think we are seeing a change in the center of gravity about what watch collecting is about. There is a whole segment of newer collectors who are in it for the looks, and if they think it would be fun to own a tan watch, and it doesn’t cost too much, they will go for it.”

While Mr. Getz said he loves the translucent look of industrial sapphire cases, the multi-hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars price tags they carry are out of his reach. He is, however, interested in some of the new alloys. “I love certain of the new golds, like A. Lange & Söhne’s Honey Gold,” Mr. Getz said. “I particularly like that it is not a scratch magnet.”

Mr. Getz said he wanted one of the original IWC ceramic Pilot watches (yet never got it), but he does own a Rolex GMT Batman with bicolor ceramic bezel. “I like that use of these materials a lot from both aesthetic and functional perspectives,” he said.

Kathleen McGivney, a New York watch collector and co-founder of the RedBar global collector group, said such materials don’t excite her as a collector so she has never bought any.

“From my perspective as a nerd, I am fascinated with innovative materials,” she said. “If you can make something lighter weight and stronger, cool. I want to know about it. But as a collector, the buying side of me doesn’t find it compelling enough to make it a major decision-making factor in my purchases. Yet.”