Even though your favorite watch is no longer in production doesn’t mean it’s unobtainable. It’s quite the opposite, in fact, if you’re willing to put in the work.
Fans of Joni Mitchell’s hit song “Big Yellow Taxi” will know that the famous singer said it best with the lines “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” It’s a lyrical reminder that we should appreciate what we have while we have it. Given that we’re human, however, we often first realize just how good something is after it’s been taken away.
For watch lovers, this is a feeling we know all too well: A new model comes out and we like it, but we’re not sure if we love it. Sometimes we need a bit of time to warm up to things and get comfortable with the changes to a watch and the bold (or often not-so-bold) design tweaks. Then, just as we decide we actually like the watch in question, we discover the limited series is sold out, or the model is no longer in production; it has already been replaced by something else, which in turn makes us want the original watch even more. The question now is: Are we ready to pay the skyrocketing prices on the pre-owned watch market, or will we always keep dreaming about our grail watch that is no longer available at authorized dealers? To answer this, let’s take a look at three very special timepieces that are out of production.
Discontinued Watch # 1: Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is without a doubt one of, if not the most, recognizable rectangular luxury watches in the world. Introduced in 1931, it can be thought of as one of the world’s first real “sports” watches, having been designed for polo players to wear during matches. The rotating case with a solid steel case back enabled the watch to be turned over during play, thus protecting the crystal from accidental damage.
The initial design was so successful that its fundamentals have remained largely unchanged over the decades; though, there have been many variations of the Reverso since then. Nowadays, it is worn more as a dress timepiece than a sports watch, even though JLC still remains heavily involved in the world of polo.
In 2011, the Swiss manufacturer celebrated the 80th anniversary of the Reverso with the Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931 (ref. 2788570). It was presented in a 46.8 x 27.4-mm swivelling, rectangular steel case measuring just 7.2 mm thick, showing that the true appeal of the Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931 is its sheer simplicity. Rather than trying to create something elaborate or flashy, Jaeger-LeCoultre instead opted to stay as close as possible to the original Art Deco design.
The black dial features baton-shaped hands and hour markers, which have a faux patina lume treatment to give the watch an overall vintage feel. Likewise, the brand name does not appear anywhere on the dial, with only the word REVERSO at the 12 o’clock position. Flipping the watch over reveals a solid case back, which is consistent with the original model. Inside, you will find the exceptional in-house, manually-wound JLC 822 caliber. A COSC-certified chronometer, it has undergone Jaeger-LeCoultre’s famed 1,000 hours of control testing.
Loved by many for its ultra-thin case and vintage appeal, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931 is unfortunately no longer in production, although prime examples can still be found on the secondary market.
Discontinued Watch #2: The Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000 Ref. 116600
The Swiss luxury watch industry is known for being particularly slow when it comes to making changes. Often, a brand will release the same model over several years, with nothing other than changes to minor details like dial colors, rather than creating something entirely new. At Rolex, however, the pace of change can sometimes be downright glacial. Rolex is not only one of the most recognizable luxury watch brands in the world, it is also known for being the most consistent. That’s why collectors pay attention when something unexpected happens there.
This was the case in 2008, when Rolex decided to take the original Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 out of production, replacing it with the much larger 44-mm Sea-Dweller Deepsea (DSSD) ref. 116660. This was the first time in the model’s history that there was no traditional Sea-Dweller available in the Rolex catalog, and fans were not happy about it. It wasn’t until six years later that Rolex brought the Sea-Dweller back, unveiling the Sea-Dweller 4000 ref. 116600 at Baselworld 2014.
Rolex Sea-Dweller, Image: Bert BuijsroggeLike its predecessor, it was offered in a 40-mm case, substantially smaller and slimmer than the DSSD. However, it featured plenty of updates too, like a new Cerachrom ceramic bezel, a “maxi dial” with larger lume plots and hands for a very modern look, and Rolex’s patented blue Chromalight display for excellent illumination in low-light conditions. Inside was the automatic Rolex caliber 3135, complete with a date display at three o’clock and, of course, no Cyclops lens.
Just three short years later, however, Rolex removed the Sea-Dweller ref. 116600 from its catalog, replacing it with the Sea-Dweller ref. 126600 unveiled at Baselworld 2017. Not only is this model larger (43 mm), but it now also features a Cyclops lens over the date window at three o’clock, something that has never, ever been done on a Sea-Dweller before.
Some enthusiasts love the new direction Rolex has taken with the Sea-Dweller. Others… well, not so much. Fortunately, you can still find some great examples of the Sea-Dweller 4000 ref. 116600 on the secondary market despite its limited three-year production run. It seems likely that prices will only increase as time goes on, meaning it’s probably best to pull the trigger sooner rather than later if you want one in your collection.
Discontinued Watch #3: Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5970
For many collectors, the Patek Philippe ref. 5970 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph is considered the ultimate grail watch. In production for just seven years—2004 to 2011—it was the shortest ever production run for a perpetual calendar chronograph from the manufacturer, with only one dial and case series produced. Offered in a 40-mm case available in platinum or yellow, white, or rose gold, it was noticeably larger than its predecessor, the ref. 3970, making it the perfect size for a modern-day dress watch.
Throw in a perfectly balanced, modern-looking dial complete with a tachymeter scale, and it’s not hard to see why some hardcore aficionados refer to the ref. 5970 as the greatest Patek Philippe ever made.
It’s more than just aesthetics that make this watch so appealing, however. The brand is renowned for its perpetual calendar chronographs, and the ref. 5970 was the last such model to use a Lemania base movement (when its successor, the ref. 5270, was introduced, it housed Patek Philippe’s own in-house chronograph movement). Visible through the sapphire case back, the CH 27-70 movement was heavily modified by Patek Philippe, and finished to the highest possible standards. This same movement was used in the ref. 3970, and its base, the Lemania 2310, is now widely regarded as one of the best mechanical movements in history.
Considered one of the safest investments when it comes to Patek Philippe watches, the appeal of the ref. 5970 is undeniable. The platinum models are generally considered the most desirable—for obvious reasons—although it is believed that the yellow gold versions are actually the rarest. One thing is for sure, however: as time goes on, the price of the ref. 5970 is only going to go one way, and that’s up.