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By Laurent Martinez

Over the years, I have noticed a recurring pattern with collectors that are new to the vintage watch market. There seems to be a tendency to compulsively buy too many watches at once without clear motivation as to why.

However, it appears that many new collectors who have taken this approach are ready to part with at least half of their new collection only a few months after building it. Perhaps they were attracted to a certain style. Maybe they enjoyed the mystery of discovering something special.

Or maybe they purchased a watch thinking they got a good bargain despite never having seen or heard of the watch before.

I remember meeting a young collector in Paris who wanted to sell his watches. He came to me with bags of timepieces, but he did not really know what he had.

I unfortunately had to let him know that most of his watches were worthless. Out of the one hundred or so timepieces, he only had a few interesting pieces from Croton and Lip.

Of course, this type of collecting can have a serious impact on your wallet. Buying a watch without knowing much about its value ends up being a waste of time and money. It may end up costing you more to fix the watch than it is actually worth. You may not be able to resell the watch for the price you paid for it or worse; you may be unable to sell it at all—even at a loss.

Do your homework

So, how do you start a vintage watch collection? The most important thing to do is to do your homework to build some guidelines. This does not necessarily mean having to spend hundreds of hours researching watches, but at the very least you should invest time into setting some parameters.

For example, define your preferred style. Dressy or sporty? Simple three-handed dial or a more complex chronograph? Stainless steel or gold? Civilian watches or military-issued timepieces? While you may like all of the above, it is always better to start with some restrictions in mind to avoid getting carried away. This approach will narrow your options and give you more focus.

After you have thoughtfully acquired some pieces that fit your initial criteria, then you can expand the parameters.

 

Estimate value

In terms of estimating the value of a watch, you can always visit websites like eBay and Chrono24 for well-known brands to see what people are asking for. Yet, keep in mind that there is a difference between asking price and market price. Listed prices on eBay are a reflection of what people want to sell the watch for and not necessarily what buyers are willing to pay.

You can choose the “Sold Items” filter to see how much a watch was purchased for. What’s more, you have to also consider commission fees, state taxes, and other dues.

If possible, I always recommend going to flea markets, local watch shows or auction events to have the watch in hand before buying. This approach allows you to inspect the details of the watch and speak to the dealer to ask any questions you may have.

Talking to the seller face-to-face will give you a better sense of how accurately priced the watch is. You learn a lot this way, and most importantly doing this can give you a better feeling of what watches you actually like “in the metal.”

Be wary

Buying online can be trickier since some websites are full of retouched images and incorrect information. However, if you have no choice but to buy online, then my advice is to only purchase from a domestic seller. Buying internationally is always riskier whether its complications with shipping and customs or sourcing from regions that are known to be flooded with counterfeit products.

I would also advise purchasing watches that are priced at the lower end of the market rather than the higher end. It is easier to come to terms with making a mistake that costs a few hundred dollars over one that costs a few thousand.

Quartz or automatic?

As always, it is all about the details. For instance, new or vintage quartz watches rarely hold their value as well as mechanical watches. There is hardly any interest in quartz watches in the secondary market. You would fare better with a hand-wound or automatic watch. If you purchase a lower-priced quartz watch, the financial loss would not be too great.

Yet, remember that high-end brands like Breitling and Omega sell quartz watches and these battery-operated timepieces lose tremendous value in the pre-owned market.

Even in the mid-range market, you would be better off buying an automatic Invicta watch instead of a quartz one. I have a friend who collects mid-range priced watches and he is very successful. There is a flourishing market for mid-priced watches and they sell quickly. He is well versed in these particular watches and understands their specifications and how they differ from high-end timepieces. As such, I always try to pick his brain and ask his advice when I am about to get one of them.

Online queries

Another great tool to gain watch knowledge is checking watch forums. There are some very knowledgeable people there that are especially focused on the technical aspects of watchmaking, which can be very helpful. The great thing is that forum members are usually very helpful and willing to share information. Always cross-reference your information with several sources to make sure it is accurate.

When looking at a watch, always start with the basics. I recently saw a watch with chronograph pushers, but the watch had a calendar dial! Obviously, it was a fake.

And sometimes people pretend to know more than they do. A lady contacted me to appraise a watch she bought at a tag sale. Five of her friends told her it was a real Audemars Piguet with a tourbillon.

I had to regretfully inform her that it was not a tourbillon at 6 o’clock, but in fact, a running seconds subdial.

Take your time

In short, educate yourself, ask questions, and take your time. Do not buy on impulse and set a budget for yourself. If you can, see the watch in real life instead of just photos, but if this is not possible, do not be shy to ask for more pictures.

Most importantly, listen to your gut. Keep these tips in mind when building a watch collection and things should go relatively smoothly. Good luck!

Laurent Martinez is the proprietor of Laurent Fine Watches, Greenwich, Connecticut. Read more by him at blog.laurentfinewatches.com or visit his store’s site at www.laurentfinewatches.com

 

By Laurent Martinez

I would like to share a hopeful story with you about an American Master Watchmaker working to achieve his lifelong dream.

For the past forty-five years, Don Loke has enjoyed a long and successful career as a professional master watchmaker and most recently has launched D Loke, his eponymous bespoke watch collection.

Loke’s deep watchmaking training and industry history has prepared him well for this most recent venture.

The watchmaker

Don Loke graduated in 1978 from the Bowman Technical School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and then worked with a master watchmaker in Meriden, Connecticut.

Master watchmaker Don Loke at his atelier in Connecticut .

After this experience, he went back to Bowman and took clock making courses to finally finish in 1984. After Lancaster, Loke attended WOSTEP, the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where he graduated first in his class.

Learning from Masters

While he was at school he met Michel Parmigiani and Philippe Dufour—two master watchmakers and renowned personalities in the Swiss luxury watch industry.

This was just the beginning. Post-graduation, he was invited by Breguet and Jaeger-LeCoultre for training in Switzerland and became the official after-sale person for Breguet in the U.S. when it was still owned by Chaumet. He also worked for two years with Master Watchmaker Dennis Harmon, in Waterbury, Connecticut, after which he became Technical Director of movement maker ETA for the American market. Loke soon joined UTAC Americas (which distributed Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Bertolucci, and Girard-Perregaux) as its technical director.

During this time, Loke also learned from Master Watchmaker Daniel Roth in Switzerland, who taught him the ins-and-outs of the highly complex tourbillon mechanism. By the mid-1990s, Loke worked with prominent companies such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Gerald Genta, and Daniel Roth.

Loke served as U.S. representative for Parmigiani Fleurier in the U.S. for more than six years.

When Loke found out that Michel Parmigiani was striking out on his own, Loke reached out to his old friend and eventually became the U.S. representative for Parmigiani Fleurier for more than six years. Don even interacted with legendary horologist George Daniels, discussing his new escapement and the double-wheel escapement Loke eventually developed. After seven years, he turned the escapement into a Solidworks program.

George Daniels and Don Loke

High-level services

When Don Loke is not working on his own bespoke projects, he services incredible watches, ranging from minute repeaters to chronographs. He also restores intricate timepieces that require special attention, recreating parts from scratch to make identical versions of the original components. At the same time, he currently is in charge of the North American Service Center for Louis Moinet—a brand that makes exceptional watches that range between $80,000 and $350,000.

Loke currently is in charge of the North American Service Center for Louis Moinet. Pictured is the Louis Moinet Memoris Red Eclipse.

As you can see, Loke’s specialty is working on high-complication timepieces and his passion for watches and watchmaking has only augmented over the decades. 

Own brand: D Loke

After all these years of dedicating his time to other brands and watches, Don Loke recently began to make eponymous bespoke watches. He established two shops. One is the “clean room” to house machinery for fine turnings, cuttings, wheel making, and pinion producing. He has a microscope for measuring, a guilloché machine with forty-two discs for dial decorating, and an oven for enameling.

Loke at his workshop.

This room is also where Don Loke stores his sketches, drawing, layouts, and 3D modeling. The other is the “dirty room” for more heavy type work. Prototyping takes place at his shops and production models are executed with CNC technology.

Loke’s guilloche machine.

Dress chronographs

The first D Loke watch model is a chronograph dress watch—an idea Don Loke stored in the back of his mind for decades—where the chronograph pushers are hidden from sight.

Inside the 5 ATM water-resistant titanium case is a dial with asymmetric sub-dials and ornately cut center hands resembling blades. The rich blue details on the dial change color depending on the light, and there’s a crown at 9 o’clock to rotate the inner timing bezel.

Two D Loke dress chronographs.

The limited edition D Loke dress chronographs run on chronometer-rated Concepto calibers, a hybrid Swiss movement based on the ETA Valjoux 7750.

The Concepto Cal. 8100 (quality 1) decorated movement regulated by Loke to chronometer standards.

The watches took six months from design to manufacturing, and while the watch is made in Switzerland, the quality control and finishing are done in the U.S. There are twenty-five examples of the white-dial version, twenty-five examples of the white dial (with a blue bezel) version, and 300 examples of the blue dial version.

Although the watches are currently only available for purchase directly from Don Loke, his goal is to be in stores like Manfredi Jewels or Betteridge.

D Loke dress chronograph on the wrist.

Second model

Loke is already working on his second watch model and is currently completing the prototype of a new lever escapement. At the heart of the watch will be a 100% proprietary movement, based on Don Loke’s design and technical drawings – his very own invention.

Loke says he will source handmade gold dials from J.N. Shapiro in California. As a result, this will be a handmade watch made entirely in the United States. Don expects to manufacture five prototypes in the first year and he will become the first American watchmaker to make his own high-end watch powered by his own movement. The aim is to present this timepiece to the U.S. market by the end of 2020 with a price tag of $65,000 to $75,000.

Daniels connection

The third D Loke watch model will be a model with a double pivoted and spring detente escapement—invented by Don Loke based on conversations he had with George Daniels.

Yet again, this is his invention, with designs and technical drawings built from scratch. With already twenty-five orders in the books for this upcoming watch model, the American market should see it by the second quarter of 2021 with a price tag of $175,000.

Ultimately, it is Don’s dream to have his own watch on his wrist. Another goal of his is to bring his three children into the business. All are highly skilled engineers.

With all of these ideas and designs, including a future tourbillon piece, Loke is going to need plenty of talent and skill.

I love this spirit of entrepreneurship, and I wish Don Loke the very best and abundant success with his new company. Stay tuned for the end of the year when he unveils his new watches.

Laurent Martinez is the proprietor of Laurent Fine Watches Greenwich, Connecticut. Read more by him at blog.laurentfinewatches.com (where this article first appeared) or visit his store’s site at www.laurentfinewatches.com