Gold Through Time – The Wearability and Worth of Karat Gold Watches
“Gold is proved by touch.” — French proverb
So let me tell you a little story about my friend, Jackie. Jackie started a company called, “My Story.” She is a self-made businesswoman, a go-getter, an avid runner, a beautiful person, and single. For years, Jackie wanted a child. She attempted – more than once – to have a baby via in vitro, but it wasn’t in the cards for her because Mother Nature had much better plans. In late 2013, Jackie adopted Julia, a gorgeous redheaded baby girl, and to celebrate this pinnacle day in her life Jackie purchased for herself a “push” present: a 1960’s vintage Rolex in 18K yellow gold.
Jackie’s purchase isn’t so uncommon, though, as women drive 70% to 80% of all consumer purchasing. And according to a 2015 article on Forbes.com, that purchasing is made through a combination of their buying power and their influence, meaning that, “even when a woman isn’t paying for something herself, she is often the influence or veto vote behind someone else’s purchase.”
Now let’s look a little more closely at gold as it pertains to Swiss watches. I, myself, own a late 1940’s Longines in white gold, and while a few of my other Swiss watches are made in alternate materials, it’s that watch that I most enjoy wearing and it’s the one that receives the most attention. Nearly a half-million gold watches are made in Switzerland annually, and while gold and other precious metals only make up 2% of the overall units sold worldwide according to the Federation of the Swiss watch industry, they make up the highest percentage of the value category at 39%, with Rolex producing more than 200,000 units alone, per year.
I recently had the pleasure of hearing Eric Wind – Vice President, Senior Specialist of Watches for Christie’s – teach a seminar on vintage watches at the American Gem Society Conclave in Washington D.C. When I asked Mr. Wind what the highest price ever paid for a vintage wristwatch at Christie’s was, he told me $5.7 million ($5,708,885 to be exact), back in 2010. According to Christie’s website, the watch was an 18K yellow gold signed Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar with moon phases and a Tonneau-shaped case that was manufactured in 1943 – a year that saw few 37+mm cases made. In fact, if we take a look at the most expensive watches ever sold at auction – both wristwatches and pocket watches – seven out of the top ten had gold cases.
But numbers aren’t everything when it comes to emotion. Gold makes us feel something. It represents more than prestige, though it has diligently made its place in history as the alloy that portrays wealth, stature, and accomplishment. Gold stands for dedication. It is the trophy one most covets as an Olympic athlete. It has coated the walls and domes of some of the most visited churches and state houses in the world. It adorns the fingers of lovers, the necks of mothers, and the wrists of many, many others. Gold has throughout time held its place in history, and to quote the late German-born economist, Hanz Sennholz, “No other commodity enjoys as much universal acceptability and marketability as gold.”
Personally, the attribute I most admire in a gold watch beyond it representing wealth or worthiness is its wearability. Yellow gold, as most of us know by now, is and has been for years the go-to metal for fashion jewelry and there’s a reason for that. Yellow gold can be worn on a red carpet as easily as it can be worn to the movies. It’s versatile because it can be finished brightly to give it a more polished look, or with a satin appearance to make it more casual. It can be made in 22K so that the wearer experiences a deeply pure yellow color, or it can be alloyed with silver (15%), copper (6%), and cadmium (4%) to give it a green appearance. There are many ways karat gold can be produced and many colors it can be created in, which makes it unlike any of the other precious metals that watch cases are often crafted in.
Yet while the Swiss watch market saw in 2015 its first downturn since 2009, the introduction of the Apple watch brought wrist adornments to a new audience – the tech generation – and those watches are available in both 38mm and 42mm, in 18K yellow or rose gold. This is one more way that gold has proven itself not only versatile but also unexpendable.
As for me, I have my eye on a gold watch or two that I’d like to purchase for myself once this writing thing takes off. A recent trip to Baselworld in Basel, Switzerland introduced me to many watchmakers I had been previously unfamiliar with, so my watch wish list more than doubled by the time I took the ten-hour flight back home. And every one I found myself falling in love with was gold. A few were white gold, a couple were yellow, and one was a glorious rose gold with a dark brown leather strap and stunning mother-of-pearl dial. So many watchmakers are now adding a wider variety of women’s watches to their lines because as I had mentioned previously in this post, women are the ones with the majority of the buying power right now, and those numbers are bound to rise. Nearly 4.2 million women in the United States earned six figures or more according to the 2013 U.S. Census, and what better way for a woman to celebrate her accomplishments than with something she purchased for herself with the money she earned herself, that she can pass on eventually as an heirloom. Don’t think for a second that little Julia isn’t going to eventually get Jackie’s gold Rolex. There’s no doubt in my mind that she someday will.
Watches will likely be made in gold for many years to come. It is not a metal that has gone out of style even with price and market fluctuations, however, it is a metal that is rare now, and according to Goldman Sachs’ European Metals and Mining Analyst, Eugene King, may become even rarer in the future. So start saving your dollars and get the watch you want as soon as you can, gang, because the scarcer something gets, the more expensive it is bound to become. I don’t even want to think of living in a world where new gold watches no longer exist.
This post is brought to you in collaboration with and was sponsored by May is Gold Month, an annual celebration of all things Karat Gold. Visit MayisGoldMonth.com for weekly trends, extraordinary golden deals, and for a chance to win $1000 Karat Gold Jewelry shopping spree. Follow @MayisGoldMonth on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Or via #MIGM #MayisGoldMonth.