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The 5 Top-Performing Watches of 2021

By Troy Barmore
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In the last few years, the world of luxury and vintage watches has been… interesting, to say the least. We’ve seen massive jumps in prices for vintage timepieces. These jumps have been unrelenting for watch manufacturers like Rolex and Patek Philippe and wildly volatile for TAG Heuer and Universal Genève (the latter to a lesser degree). On the modern watch market, the core watches from numerous companies have become unattainable at retail – whether by genuine demand, manipulation, or otherwise. This has led to massively inflated gray market valuations and (arguably) a runaway speculative auction environment. For watch enthusiasts the world over, this tumultuous, challenging, and exciting market has encouraged many to look further afield and away from the handful of “it” timepieces. But as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.  

The Top-Performing Watches of 2021: A Cycle of Growth and Appreciation

It won’t take long for off-the-beaten-path watch choices to become mainstream as they trail timepieces that have become unattainable for all but a very few wildly wealthy and dedicated collectors. The current cycle of watch growth and appreciation appears to be unstoppable at this point, continuing its astounding pace even in the face of a global pandemic that saw massive economies brought to a standstill. Indeed, even as the world continues to struggle with additional waves of COVID-19 outbreaks, supply chain challenges, and inflation, many watches continue to increase in value.  

As the largest online marketplace for watches and watch dealers, Chrono24 has the unique ability to see a zoomed-out view of this growth via data from its pricing index. Determining the specific reasons why pricing trends occur can be highly complicated, if not outright impossible, especially without the luxury of hindsight and the perspective it affords. Still, no watch’s price occurs in a vacuum. Every watch that grows in popularity is likely a response to another watch’s popularity to some degree. For instance, when one timepiece sets a record at auction, it has a ripple effect on the whole market. So, with these trends in mind, we decided to highlight our top five most rapidly appreciating timepieces of 2021.   

Vacheron Constantin Overseas

Vacheron Constantin is a titan in the luxury watch world. Considered one of the “Holy Trinity” of watch manufacturers, Vacheron Constantin has created some of the most magnificent watches of all time. With a history dating back over 260 years, it is not only one of the most prestigious watch companies in the world but also the oldest to operate uninterrupted. Over the years, many have lauded Vacheron Constantin for several different timepieces, but in its current offerings, the most sought-after model is arguably the Vacheron Constantin Overseas.  

As is the case with many interesting watch designs, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas arose as a reaction to challenging market conditions. In the 1970s, Audemars Piguet had just released the unapologetically modern and genuinely disruptive Royal Oak – the first all-steel luxury sports watch. Along with a multitude of other brands, Vacheron sought to compete with this new expression of luxury timekeeping. Their answer was the Vacheron Constantin 222.  

Fast forward to the late 1990s, and Vacheron Constantin continued the spirit of the 222 with the Overseas. The case was bigger and the bezel more structured and industrial. Since then, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas has seen a handful of refreshes and makeovers to keep up with modern tastes. However, in 2021, this timepiece’s popularity exploded, with its price increasing by an average of 51%, according to Chrono24’s data. In all likelihood, this jump has resulted from multiple factors, including other steel sports watches with integrated bracelets becoming more challenging and expensive to acquire and Vacheron’s own increased marketing and presence in key markets.  

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

The aforementioned disruptor, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, was released in 1972 and caused quite a stir in the industry. It came as a shock to the watch-buying public at the time, which was still very much focused on precious metals. With its industrial and vaguely nautical design, large case size, and integrated bracelet, famous watch designer Gérald Genta would ultimately influence decades of subsequent watches. While its initial reception was less than positive, it quickly gained popularity and has ebbed and flowed ever since. 

Believe it or not, there was a time in the not so distant past when if you were so inclined, you could walk into a watch retailer (not even just an Audemars Piguet boutique) and walk out with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak of your choosing – what a wild concept! Unfortunately, it seems that those days are behind us. Audemars Piguet has since shifted their entire retail model to prioritize and focus solely on their own boutiques. Simultaneously, the demand for steel sports watches has exploded, driving prices ever higher. Thus, prices on the secondary market for the AP Royal Oak have jumped by 60% in 2021 alone. 

Chopard St. Moritz

The Chopard St. Moritz is unlikely to be a watch that everyone is familiar with. Like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the St. Moritz is a modern, luxury steel sports watch with an integrated bracelet. It was created in 1980 by Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, the current co-president of the brand. While other luxury steel sports watches with integrated bracelets from the era certainly influenced the design of the St. Moritz, its revival in popularity in 2021 is no mere coincidence.  

In 2019, Chopard released a new collection called the Alpine Eagle. This watch is the spiritual and aesthetic successor to the St. Moritz. It seems that when companies reissue timepieces from their past, there is a marked surge in interest in the original. It’s a curious phenomenon that began with the rise in the popularity of vintage models. Whether it is purely due to speculation around investment potential or a genuine desire to dive into the history of a brand, this effect has become pretty consistent. As for the St. Moritz, the increased attention has resulted in a 25% rise in value on the secondary market in 2021.  

Rolex Daytona

Ah, the Rolex Daytona: the watch front and center on nearly every watch account on social media; the watch that every Rolex authorized dealer in the world has to deny to would-be buyers each and every day. Despite its well-established popularity, the current ceramic Daytona saw a 38% increase in value in 2021. But is anyone really surprised? After all, it is the chronograph against which virtually every other steel sports chronograph is compared.  

In fact, one could argue that the Rolex Daytona is largely responsible for the swell in interest in not only steel sports watches but also vintage watches in general. When the Paul Newman Daytona ref. 6239 sold at auction for over $17 million in 2017, it (briefly) became the most expensive wristwatch ever sold. That moment was like the spark that set Rome ablaze, the cracking sound of a gavel taking the place of Nero’s fiddle. Ever since, the watch market has seemed to be a runaway train, with sales record after sales record being shattered as quickly as they are made.  

Patek Philippe Aquanaut

For many years, the Patek Philippe Aquanaut was something of an unloved stepchild in the Patek Philippe family. Until recently, if any steel sports Patek was going to hitch a ride on the hype train, it was going to be the Nautilus ref. 5711 – that’s right, Genta’s other, faintly nautical 1970s steel sports watch. But at the end of January 2021, Patek Philippe made the somewhat shocking, somewhat anticipated, and hotly debated decision to discontinue the Nautilus 5711.  

Almost the instant that this occurred, demand for 5711s went from near-earth orbit to the solar system’s outer reaches, passing well into six figures and beyond. At the same time, the Patek Philippe Aquanaut had been building up momentum following several successful updates and additions to the line-up in 2018 and 2019. This head start led to a 42% jump in prices for modern Aquanauts. However, unlike some of the other hot watches showing signs of leveling off in price, it seems reasonable to expect that prices for the Aquanaut will continue to jump again and again in the coming year.  

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About the Author

Troy Barmore

I have been a watch enthusiast from a young age. My obsession began when I took a summer job for the sole purpose of buying my older brother’s Girard-Perregaux chronograph. My tastes have since expanded to include vintage tool watches and modern independent brands.

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