Are ALL the Parts Made In-House?
Many premium timepiece companies will say they design, create, and assemble their products in-house. To the public, this may be taken as these companies do not outsource any portion of the creative or manufacturing process and they do not purchase any sourced products to include in their designs. Therefore, it seems reasonable to pay more for a watch that is made 100% with the quality parts one would expect to find in a Patek Phillipe or a Vacheron Constantin creation. However, the truth is a Swiss-owned and operated watch manufacturer could purchase more common parts that are used in all watches from a factory in Germany or elsewhere and still consider the overall process to be an in-house production.
In other words, watch shopping is a lot like buying anything else expensive, such as cars, houses, or large appliances. You may love the look and features of one luxury brand and model, yet shudder when you realize some of the parts used in the production of that model came from the same place as lower-end models or even worse, share the same manufactured parts with different brands known for reduced durability and poorer performance! As a consumer, there is, unfortunately, no way of validating how many of the hundreds or even thousands of tiny parts that make up the watch you wish to purchase were in fact designed and created at the watchmaker's plant. What you can do instead to ease your mind when investing in a high-end watch is focus on the unique factors about that particular product that you find attractive and do your due diligence on the investment value of that brand's models.
How Much of the Watch is Comprised of "Swiss Made" Components?
You've read the desired "Swiss Made" description on your brand's webpage, and it looks impressive to any watch enthusiast. But, what does it mean? Can a watch manufacturer use parts from third parties located in other countries and still designate their products as "Swiss Made"? In a word, yes. As long as 50-60% of the timepiece is comprised of parts made in Switzerland, the rest may be brought in from third parties in other locations. The good news is at least you know that 50% of that watch came from a manufacturer in Switzerland. Now, we bet you wish there was a similar requirement for the "In-House" designation!
Does the Manufacturer Produce Components for Other Brands?
Another common misconception is the brand you love only produces parts for its product line. Jaeger-LeCoultre among other brands might like you to know they supply movements to high-end watchmakers like Audemars Piguet. Before you balk at this sharing of parts, remember that $50K you love is likely not made with 100% brand-produced or model-specific parts. When it can take over a year to design, craft, and assemble each model for production, creating each aspect of the watch in-house with a one-of-a-kind style can become overly expensive, which means fewer consumers can afford to buy such a product. Plus, unlike your car, a reputable watch company creates attractive investments that generally accrue in market value over time.
Do Sourced Parts Diminish the Value?
Since there is no way of knowing how much of the watch you are considering purchasing has been manufactured in-house or how many "Swiss Made" parts were used in its construction, we looked at Audemars Piguet as an example of a company that is known to borrow parts from its competitor, Jaeger-LeCoultre, as mentioned above. Consistently named as a top investment brand for timepiece collectors and enthusiasts, Audemars Piguet proves it is doing something right. In fact, a Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph produced originally in 1993 sold for 9,500 EUR (around $10,517) was valued at over 27,000 EUR (around $29,890) in 2017. That's triple the value in 24 years' time! So, no, sourced parts by themselves do not seem to diminish the investment aspect of the watch in the least.
In short, there is no way to tell if your high-end Swiss watchmaker used parts that were all sourced in-house from the hands down to the hairspring. One thing, however, is clear. As an investment piece, buying a watch can be a sound decision. The primary ingredient in finding your next timepiece for investment purposes is name recognition. It may not seem fair, but the largest monetary return will likely come from owning a revered model from one of the most widely acclaimed Swiss watchmaking companies. Try narrowing it down to your favorite 20. Then, while knowing the wrist band may be switched out at a later date, look for the watch material and design that best appeals to you for your lifestyle and interests. Soon, just as you probably do not ask who made the seatbelt clips in your car, you will worry more about not getting your new watch wet or scratched than the origin of all its parts.