Is it the Brand or is it the Movement? - Part 1
If you take up watch collecting for any length of time you will inevitably be asked the Big Question by people you know, ?What?s the Best Watch??. We all know that the answer is the same as it is for questions like ?What is the best Dessert??, or ?What is the best boat??. The answer is that it all depends on what the buyer wants and it?s different for each collector. But we also appreciate that some ?things? are better than others of a similar nature. Thus it is for watches. New collectors should do their own research and they should march to the beat of their own drummer when it comes to collecting watches, but there are still some general trends, histories and situations that influence the long term values of many watch brands and many models of movements.
Using with the Lemania 5100 movement as a very famous example we might better understand watch collecting by understanding this product?s life cycle. During the 1960s there was a great quest amongst watch companies to produce an automatic chronograph movement (that hopefully accommodated ?date? as well). By the end of the 60s this quest had been realized and not only were there great movements like the Breitling/Heuer/Buren automatic chronograph and the Zenith 400 movement, but shortly afterwards came the Valjoux 7750 and many others. This doesn?t even count the number of great chronograph modules that were developed during the same 1965-1975 period by companies like D & D. One of the best of these automatic chronograph movements was the Lemania 5100.
The Lemania 5100 was a 17 jewel movement with a number of integral plastic parts. It distinguished itself by being one of the most rugged automatic chronograph movements ever made. This was important in the face of a tidal wave of Japanese automatic chronograph movements that began to appear in the mid to late 1970s. The Lemania 5100 movement took a little bit of time to perfect but once it was being made in maximum quantities this movement was used by dozens of watch companies to make automatic chronograph watches. The movement can be fitted to allow a watch to be a day/date model with 24 hour day/night indicator and will usually have a 12 hour chronograph counter. What is most important besides any other factors already mentioned is that watches using the Lemania 5100 movement have the easiest minute counter to read of any mechanical chronograph ever made. The reason is that not only is the seconds counter mounted on the center pinion like most chronographs but the minute counter is also center mounted and it uses the same 60 minutes normally found on the dial to show the elapsed minutes.
This brilliant design stroke set the Lemania 5100 movement apart from other automatic chronograph movements. In spite of arriving on the scene at the worst time for the watch industry, this movement was consistently in production for 2 decades. Omega, Tissot, Eterna, Silberstein, Revue-Thommen, Hamilton and many other companies designed watches using the Lemania 5100 movement. Eventually at the start of the 21st century, the tooling was worn out, and Swatchgroup (Lemania?s most recent owner) decided to end production of the movement and movement parts. Many collectors consider themselves lucky to have any brand of watch containing a Lemania 5100 movement, and that goal will only become harder to attain in the future.
So is it the brand or the movement that is most significant when deciding what watches to choose for your collection? Using the ?5100? example, the brand may enhance the value of any particular watch using the Lemania 5100 movement so an Eterna Automatic Chronograph might not have as much ?market value? (assuming equal condition) as an Omega Speedmaster using a Lemania 5100 movement. The Revue Thommen 5100 chronograph can be very expensive if it is the titanium cased version. And the Alain Silberstein models can be even more pricey because of the artistry of their designer. So brand can be a huge factor in terms of current value. On the other hand all of these brands seem to have appreciated in value over the past 30ish years about the same compared to their original cost. Assuming equal condition, most of the watches using Lemania 5100 movements have retained the same amount of their value compared to their original price when new. But as well, all of these watches are now in the same boat as far as repair is concerned.
As of 2004, there are no more Lemania 5100 parts being produced unless Swatchgroup changes their policies. Whether you wear out a movement part or break something inside an Eterna w/Lemania 5100 mov?t or an Omega Speedmaster w/Lemania 5100 mov?t, getting a replacement part will require cannibalizing another Lemania 5100 movement or having the part hand made, and this situation can only become more difficult in years to come. This is an important consideration for collectors who want to use their watches, and that can often be as much fun as buying selling or displaying your collection. Repairing a Lemania 5100 watch now-a-days might cost more than the watch cost new at retail. This often comes as quite a shock to a new collector. Not only that, but as fewer of these movements are seen by watchmakers and repair techs, they will become less experienced at fixing them. I know of a few repair techs now, who won?t even clean this movement any longer. If one of these movements is ever damaged by a watchmaker, the hassle of settling with the customer is immense. It isn?t as easy as sending out for a new part any more. In fact I?ve been besieged by watchmakers looking for repair parts for Lemania 5100 movements for nearly a year now.
So always keep in mind that whatever watch model you buy or whatever brand, the movement can end up being the most important factor for a watch collector who wants fully functional watches. In the case of Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet and a few others this is less of a factor because I have had both of these companies make a part to repair one of their own watches. It is possible to get a hand made part produced to repair a Lemania 5100 as well. But keep in mind that if a movement is out of production and there are no longer repair parts that are easily obtainable, the value of the watch and movement go down considerably if wearing the watch is important to the purchaser. A slow beat fusee movement pocket watch made in the 1700s will almost always need parts to be made by hand if a repair is required, so that is usually factored into the price. But more than a few new collectors have been caught unaware when they bought an expensive watch with only a small movement ?problem? at what seemed to be an incredible price, only to find out that repair parts were no longer available from the original manufacturer. And brand doesn?t always help any in this situation. For example, there are now quite a few Rolex movements that have no service parts available.
So when you are starting a collection always consider checking on the availability of repair parts when the watch with a simple movement problem is priced so you want to buy it. It is always possible to find a company that will make a part to service a watch but the cost may make the watch purchase a very bad deal indeed. We?ll discuss more about brands and movements and how these two factors influence watch values in the future. Good luck and have fun collecting watches.
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