When Paul Newman’s steel ref. 6239 Rolex Daytona hammered for nearly $15.5M in 2017 (including the buyer’s premium, the total cost was closer to $18M), something in the watch industry changed.
Of course, the “luxury sports watches” — the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus, etc. — were designed from the ground-up as luxury items, with luxury price tags to boot. (The original Nautilus cost over $3,000 in 1976, or roughly $15,000 in today’s dollars.) But a steel “exotic dial” Daytona with an off-the-shelf Valjoux movement — a watch that Rolex couldn’t give away upon its debut because customers weren’t attracted to its quirky face — to see one of these things trade for millions was a wake-up call, even if it did belong to one of the greatest actors of his generation.
These days, we’ve become so used to certain steel sports watches — hell, steel watches in general — trading for unbelievable amounts of money, that we’ve come to accept it as normal. And indeed, in certain, isolated cases, steel as a valued rarity is justifiable: The Patek Philippe ref. 1518 perpetual calendar from 1941, for example, hammered for roughly $11M (including fees) in 2016. Only four of 281 pieces are known in steel, and this was Patek’s first serially produced perpetual calendar chronograph. Okay, we get it.
This upward trajectory in superlative, historical sports watch pricing has, however, carried the rest of the market with it. Steel sports watches carry a significant premium compared to five or ten years ago, and though global events including recent inflation have cooled the market somewhat, there’s no denying that if one were to compare the price of, say, a 5-digit Submariner in 2022 to that of its price in 2012, one would be in for a shock.
Of course this doesn’t mean we’ve stopped believing in the place a steel sports watch plays in one’s collection. That Submariner we mentioned? Buy one of those, and you’re set for life with respect to wearability, aesthetic staying power, brand cachet, and more. Forget about the price for a moment — because you’re purchasing an asset that will outlast you. The classics are the classics for good reason, and we stand behind them.
But should all this give you pause, allow us to offer an alternative to the insanity of steel, a tonic to a world in which a brand-new Oyster Perpetual — an entry-level Rolex, if you’ll forgive the moniker — is difficult to buy at retail, and, in certain cases, trades for several times retail second-hand. Allow us to suggest to you: solid gold.
But wait, you’re undoubtedly saying to yourself — gold is a precious metal. It’s rarer than steel. Why in tarnation would you suggest that a gold watch is a better value than a steel one? Well, to be fair, in many cases it’s not. But there are instances in which gold provides tremendous value over a steel sports watch in today’s market. Think about dress watches, for example — maybe not from the likes of Patek Philippe, but you can find gorgeous, smaller-diameter dress watches from incredible brands for less than half the price of a neo-vintage Submariner.
Hell, you can sometimes find a solid-gold Datejust for less than the price of a Sub. (Just not on a matching bracelet. That’s a ton of gold.) Also: not all gold is yellow. This most desirable of metals comes in many forms, including more inconspicuous white that looks, in effect, like steel. And that’s not to mention red gold, rose gold, pink gold, etc. It’s worth looking into each of these to see what catches your eye, as different watch companies have different (sometimes proprietary) takes on the metal.
So without further ado, here are a few recent examples of beautiful gold watches on offer from Analog:Shift.
NOTE: The price ranges we quoted are accurate as of publish, but markets are of course subject to change. Check our listings frequently for examples of current pricing.
Lucien Piccard Ladies 'Cocktail' Dress Watch
Lucien Piccard Ladies 'cocktail' Dress Watch - IN THE SHOP
‘Cocktail’ watches were all the rage in the mid-20th century…and we think it’s high time these gorgeous, svelte timekeepers saw a resurgence! Especially the hand-wound type — just think of the micro-mechanics involved in forming a movement that can fit into this watch.
LECOULTRE DRESS WATCH
LeCoultre Dress Watch - IN THE SHOP
This American-market Jaeger-LeCoultre with its fancy bezel and beautiful, vertically brushed silver dial is the ideal of understated beauty. Housed in a thin, 14K yellow gold case, it’s a watch that would trade for multiples of its price if made by another high-end maison.
UNIVERSAL GENEVE AUTOMATIC DRESS WATCH
Universal Geneve Automatic Dress Watch - IN THE SHOP
Simply a beautiful design object regardless of brand, it doesn’t hurt that this 35mm rose gold dress watch from the 1950s is made by none other than Universal Genève, and features one of that brand’s famous automatic movements.
CARTIER TANK LOUIS
Cartier Tank Louis - IN THE SHOP
This wouldn’t be much of a list if we didn’t include at least one Cartier on it, would it? Feast your eyes on a gorgeous, yellow gold Tank Louis. Dating to the 1980s and featuring a hand-wound movement, it’s one of the crop of essential gold watches.
AUDEMARS PIGUET DAY DATE DRESS WATCH
Audemars Piguet Day Date Dress Watch - IN THE SHOP
Just imagine, if you will, what this type of complicated watch from a high-end Swiss marque would cost if it were steel in today’s market. This incredible, vintage AP is a day-date model with automatic winding for well under $15,000. Pretty impressive!
PATEK PHILIPPE CALATRAVA
Patek Philippe Calatrava - IN THE SHOP
The quintessential dress watch, the Calatrava first debuted back in 1932 — a time when many couldn’t afford Patek’s more complicated pieces because of the effects of the Great Depression. This most excellent white gold Reference 5196 — now sadly discontinued — is a friendly reminder that not all gold is yellow.
NOTE: These are just a few examples of the growing value in gold watches — a side-effect given the steady upward trajectory in steel sports watch pricing. We say keep an eye on this space. It seems amidst the furor for steel, that gold may finally be having its moment!