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Box and papers; an endless debate

This is going to be a lengthy one but if you are thinking of buying a new watch or diving into the vintage market it might provide some useful views and advice.

I have a reservation for the upcoming Omega Speedmaster SpeedyTuesday. A watch that was developed by Omega in collaboration with the guys over from Fratellowatches. It was announced that the watch will not come in an expensive, luxurious, huge and heavy box but in a watchroll with some extra compartments housing the Omega spring bar tool, a couple of straps and a polishing cloth. I personally like the idea but some of the guys in TZ-UK are arguing that they would love a box especially when they sink a respectable amount of money into a watch. So this got me thinking, how important is to own a full set? And how important is it when considering new or vintage watches?

a full set TinTin

Whenever someone walks into an authorised dealer and buys a brand new shinny watch, usually walks out with the watch itself, a nice presentation box encased by another not so nice carton one, an instruction booklet and a signed warranty card. This set is usually referred to as a full set by collectors. It should be mentioned that none of this is set in stone. Rolex used to offer small metallic anchors and calendar cards back in the day and Sinn used to enclose a spring bar tool with some of their watches.

A full set Sinn 103 missing the spring bar tool

Special editions also offer an extra certificate and sometimes a number of extra goodies as well. Raymond Weil enclosed a small model of a piper plane when they introduced a special edition watch and Sinn enclosed a DVD and a knife when they introduced their EZM2 GSG9 a few years ago. Different manufacturers seem to come up with different ideas and different limited editions that offer a number of extras when a new watch is bought. It definitely seems like a good marketing idea, but does it add any value to the watch? Well, that is something only time will tell.

At this point it should be mentioned that such collaborations and limited editions have not been around for a long time, so papers and added extras should be expected especially when a premium is requested when compared to the normal edition model.

This is not to say that the past has not seen a number of obscure models such as a Heuer Carrera with a Volvo dial, a Rolex Airking with a Domino’s dial or even the Heuer Audi Sport lemania chronograph. These models though, used to be ordered from the companies themselves to give to long time or exceptionally performing employees, good clients, business partners etc.

Omega, has introduced a number of special editions throughout the years that seem to command much higher prices now than they used to in the past. Some of these examples include the first series Snoopy, the Gemini, the Mitsukoshi, the Japan racing etc. Omega has started controlling their supply much more closely the last few years but a lot of limited edition dials and handsets can be found through ebay or other vendors. This means that a normal speedmaster can be converted to look like a limited edition one and hence command a higher price in the open market. The first two models mentioned above also featured special casebacks engraved with a limited edition number, which cannot be found as easily and this fact seems to protect potential buyers who have done their homework. For the Mitsukoshi and the Japan racing models, things are not as straightforward. The watches are encased using the normal speedmaster cases and the casebacks that do not bear any differences when compared to the mainstream model. In cases like these papers may offer a significant advantage, that is if someone knows how to read them. This is not a bulletproof recipe regarding authenticity though. Fortunately, Omega has keeps an excellent record regarding their production and their deliveries and can offer information regarding each watch that left their factory when using the Omega archives service. This service comes with a fee but my personal opinion is that it is worth it, especially when high value and hugely sought after models are considered.

Lets focus on Omega and their excellent service for a moment and lets assume that someone is interested in a normal 145.0022 Speedmaster from the late 60s or early 70s that comes with box and papers. The Omega archives will give the interested buyer some useful information. Unfortunately, they will not offer any information regarding replaced, incorrect parts from a possible service somewhere along the line. So untrained buyers might go ahead and buy a watch feeling quite confident at the time only to find out later that they overpaid for the watch due to a replaced dial or bezel. What is more important? Having a watch with box and papers and replaced parts? Or having a pristine example with all the period-correct parts but no box and papers? I know which of the two I would choose.

Lets get real for a moment, with the exception of the big brands, how much does a potential vintage watch buyer care about papers? I own a full set, hard to find Lorenz Sub with the lemania 5100 movement and I honestly don't think that papers add any extra value.

A full set Lorenz Sub

The debate can go on and on forever but the fact is that wherever there is money to be made people with not of the best of intentions try to get involved. Counterfeiters can produce weathered papers and reproduction boxes, shady dealers may replace parts on expensive watches to make them much more desirable. I was only recently reading that Rolex claims that most of the Paul Newmans they receive for service are not completely authentic one way or another. As far as Rolex is concerned, Tiffany dials are commanding huge premiums at the moment and a lot of perfectly good watches have been destroyed by chancers who have added the brand name on the dial. Rolex does not offer a service similar to Omega at the moment so unless someone is 100% sure regarding the provenance of the watch, I would say that papers are a must. Even if the buyer is certain of the authenticity, how easy it will be for him to convince the next buyer down the line to pay a huge premium without solid evidence? I would strongly recommend not pulling the trigger on such watches unless seeking the opinion of experts in the field.

The market has matured the last few years and buyers seem to be much better informed at the moment. The Internet helps a lot. A lot of knowledge is out there and a lot of online communities are willing to offer great and sound advice. Unfortunately there is also a downside, as collecting has turned mainstream and prices have skyrocketed, a lot of knowledgable collectors have become disenchanted, also a lot of excellent examples are being kept in safes and when they change hands they do so in private deals. This means that good condition, desirable watches are much harder to find nowadays and when they are found, expect to pay a significant premium.

I was lucky to find a sharp, unmolested big block a couple of years ago without trying too hard. It came as a watch-bracelet only deal but it is unpolished and the chamfers on the case are just a joy to look at. Whenever I go online now, I can see a lot of examples being offered and most of them have been polished to death. Quite a few of them are offered with box and papers. But you are not going to wear the box or the papers now are you? I strongly believe that when you look at a watch you should be able to see what the designer intended for you to see and not someone else’s interpretation! Please keep in mind, that period correct boxes, instruction booklets and even unfilled can be sourced from different vendors but the prices for these have also gone up the last few years.

A 79170, Tudor Big Block, with box and instruction booklet

Another thing to think about is what are the chances of finding a rare watch that has been around for more than 30 or 40 years with box and papers? Lets also assume that you have been chasing a unicorn and it finally comes up, would you even consider holding off buying a perfect example in the off chance that one comes along later on as a full set?

Take this Excelsior Park Monte Carlo as an example, does the absence of box and papers make it any less desirable?

A loose Excelsior Park Monte Carlo

To sum up, I would expect to get box and papers for a relatively new or a special edition watch. But, when faced with dilemma of buying a tired, full set through a low feedback eBay seller or a great, loose example from a source I trust, what would I do? If you have been paying attention to what was debated previously you have more than enough information to make your own decision.

As always, do your research, and when you feel confident pull the trigger on the example that expresses you best!