A Blog About Rare Coins and Watches

Are Watches Going Away?

The watch has been around for a couple of hundred years.  Early versions weren’t wristwatches, but were pocket watches, attached to your pants by a chain so you could pull it out of your pocket to look at the time.

A fossil watch
A Fossil hybrid smartwatch

The wristwatch became popular after World War I, and for the next seven decades or so, became a fashion staple.  If you needed to know the time, you just looked at your wrist.  Or you could ask whomever was standing by, because for decades, pretty much everyone wore a wristwatch.

That started to change a few years ago when cell phones became popular.  Cell phones displayed the time as a matter of course, and if you were going to carry around a phone that had the time on it, why would you also need to wear a wristwatch?   A lot of people stopped wearing watches, and a lot of younger people simply never got in the habit of wearing one in the first place.

That’s changed a bit in the past three or four years, as the smartwatch has come along.  The smartwatch is worn like a wristwatch, and can offer the time, but it can also act as an interface between you and your smartphone, allowing you to receive notifications and text messages and also allowing you to track your stats during workouts.  Many of them have other features, as well.

A lot of people have started wearing smartwatches, and a few have started wearing one instead of a traditional watch, but watchmakers are a bit mystified at the fact that they’re not becoming a huge hit with the public.  Worse – for some manufacturers, sales of all watches are down.

The Fossil Group, which makes watches under that name but which also owns a number of other companies that make watches of all kinds, recently released a quarterly report that shows that sales were down 13% in the most recent quarter.  Keep in mind that this is a company that does sell smartwatches alongside their regular traditional models, so it’s not as though they’re selling old technology and hoping that people will buy it.

A very expensive Breguet watch
A very expensive Breguet watch

Odd thing, though – people are buying old technology.  Luxury brands of watches, that is, the companies that sell unusually expensive watches, rather than the several hundred dollars apiece models that Fossil offers, are actually doing OK.  Granted, when you’re selling to ultra-wealthy collectors, you don’t have to worry too much about economic instability.  You also know that the people to whom you’re selling aren’t people who are following trends.  If you’re buying a high end Breguet watch, it’s because you want one, and not because you weren’t aware that Fossil could sell you a smartwatch instead for $100,000 less.

Still, most of the market for wristwatches falls in the sub-$1000 range, and for those companies that sell watches exclusively in that market, they have to be worrying a bit.  There was a panic in the 1970s when quartz watches hit the market that they’d put all makers of mechanical watches out of business.  A few did go away, but luxury brands managed to stay afloat.

That was then, however.  There’s no guarantee that people will continue buying watches in the future.  On the other hand, there does still seem to be a market for quality wristwatches, and it’s possible that the Fossil Group is just having a rough year.

An Affordable Coin Set – The Susan B. Anthony Dollar

Susan B. Anthony Dollar
Susan B. Anthony Dollar

Historically, dollar coins have been quite collectible, but that mostly applies to the “silver dollar,” rather than the “clad dollar” that has been the variety issued since 1971.  Older Draped Bust, Trade, Morgan and Peace Dollars, for example, sell briskly in the marketplace, with some rare varieties selling for six figure sums.

Newer issues, such as the Eisenhower dollars and Susan B. Anthony dollars, on the other hand, sell for modest sums and draw relatively little collector interest.

Of course, for the novice collector, the “little collector interest” can be a good thing, as collecting things that few other people collect means that you can often buy them at affordable prices. Plus, you never know when something is going to take off, and the collection that you put together today for a modest price may turn out to be something of value tomorrow.

The Susan B. Anthony dollar is a great example of a way that you can put together a complete collection of coins in uncirculated and poof condition at a modest price.

Introduced in 1979, the Susan B. Anthony dollar was a short-lived coin, and is viewed by most people as a failure.  The coin was produced from 1979-1981, with a few more struck in 1999 for technical reasons.  The coin was never popular with the public, as the size and color made it easy to confuse them with a 25¢ piece.  Retailers didn’t have room for them in their cash register drawers, and vending machines didn’t take them.  The public also didn’t care too much for the design itself.

The end result was a coin that largely sat in bank vaults, rather than being used as a circulating coin.  Often derided as the “Carter quarter,” the Susan B. Anthony was quickly forgotten and was eventually replaced by the Sacagawea dollar in 2000.

Susan B. Anthony Dollar proof
Proof Susan B. Anthony Dollar

All of that is bad for the government, but good for collectors.  An entire collection of Susan B. Anthony dollars consists of only 18 coins – 12 business strikes and 6 proofs.  Seventeen of those 18 coins were produced in the millions, and the rarest of the bunch, the 1999-P proof, at 750,000 struck, isn’t particularly rare, with examples often selling for as little as $30 or so.

Yes, some PCGS certified examples of some of the dates can sell for $3000 or so, if you’re the type of collector who must have the best example out there.  For the majority of us, for whom a simple uncirculated example is good enough, there are many examples of all 18 of those dates and mint marks out there.  That means that it’s relatively easy to put together a complete uncirculated set, and you can do it for only a few hundred dollars.

You can often find complete sets for sale, but building one from scratch might be a bit more work.  Not because the coins are rare, but because so few dealers bother to stock them due to lack of demand.  That means that you will still get the thrill of the hunt as you track down some of the harder to find dates, such as the 1981-S, which was struck only for collectors.

Coin collectors who aren’t millionaires rarely have an opportunity to put together a complete set of any coin in uncirculated condition.  If you want to do that and declare victory at least once, the Susan B. Anthony dollar presents a great opportunity to do so.

Where Coins and Watches Meet – The Corum Coin Watch

$20 gold coin watchCoins and watches might seem like two completely separate hobbies, and two hobbies that would not likely intersect with one another.  For the most part, that’s true, but there is at least one place where the two hobbies do meet – the coin watch.

First produced by Swiss watchmaker Corum in 1965, the coin watch is a rather unique piece of horology.

The watchmaker developed a patented process in 1964 for slicing a $20 U.S. gold coin in half.  The resulting watch was made with an ultra-thin automatic mechanical movement.

The reverse of the coin became the face of the watch, with the obverse being visible on the back side of the watch case.  As an added touch, the edge of the watch case was given a reeded edge in order to further simulate the appearance of a coin.

The 34 mm size of that particular coin made it well suited to being used for a watch, though an American law in place at the time made it illegal to “deface” U.S. currency.  Nevertheless, the watch was issued, and Corum continues to make them to this day, though most current issues use more modern currency (including denominations from other countries.)

Current examples of the watch use quartz movements, which are far easier to build to the requirements of the watch, as the coin itself adds quite a bit of thickness to the watch.  By using a quartz movement, rather than a mechanical one, Corum is able to prevent the watch from becoming either overly thick or overly heavy, though it’s pretty heavy anyway, due to the presence of nearly an ounce of gold.

I’m not sure how much the watches sold for in 1965, but original examples are frequently seen for sale in the $10,000-$15,000 range.  It’s also worth noting that Corum used this format for a pocket watch, as well, though the coin pocket watches are quite rare.

Corum isn’t the only company to make a coin watch, though they appear to have been the first.  Shinola, a company based in Detroit, Michigan, has also started to make them, as well.  These mainly use a U.S. 25¢ piece that is inset in a square case.  The watches are built in the United States using Swiss-made parts, and are far more affordable than the Corum models, as they do not have an ounce of gold in them.  The Shinola models are priced at roughly $1200, though prices vary slightly by model.

Coin collectors likely (and rightly, I might add) frown on defacing gold coins to use them as watches, and that’s easy to understand, since most American gold coins were melted down in the mid-1930s as the United States had gone off of the gold standard and had revoked the legal tender status of gold coins by that time.  Citizens were required to turn over their gold coins for other forms of currency, though collectors were allowed to keep them.

Since millions of gold coins were melted down, nice examples are rare and expensive today and those that have been turned into wristwatches have only contributed to their rarity.  Still, a $20 gold coin does make for an interesting watch.

Ugly Pocket Watch sells for $85,000

al capone watchSometimes, when something sells for a lot of money at an auction, you look at it and say, “Yeah – I get it.  That’s a lot of money, but the item is pretty cool.”

A good example of that would be the recent sale of Babe Ruth’s 1927 World Series ring, which sold for $2.1 million in a recent auction.  Granted, the 1927 New York Yankees are regarded as one of the greatest and best-known baseball teams of all time and the ring was also being sold by actor Charlie Sheen, who is himself famous.

That’s a lot of provenance, and the ring itself is a nice looking piece of jewelry.  So when someone paid $2.1 million for it, most people probably saw that value in that, even though it was a tremendous amount of money.

On the other hand, the recent sale of a pocket watch that belonged to legendary gangster Al Capone sort of falls into another category.  Sure, Al Capone is one of the most famous criminals of all time, and he’s famous for his years of crime, his incredibly lavish lifestyle, and the fact that he managed to avoid being jailed for his crimes for years before finally being imprisoned for tax evasion.

The watch sold for $84,375 at an auction of crime and police-related memorabilia called the Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawmen, held recently in Massachusetts.

To read the description, the watch certainly sounds impressive.  It has an odd triangular shape and a platinum case, accompanied by a platinum chain.  The watch was made by the Illinois Watch Company, which certainly isn’t a household name, but one which apparently had a solid reputation back in the day (the company’s remains are now owned by the Swatch Group.)

The bezel of the watch was set with 72 cut diamonds and a platinum dial with gold-toned numerals and watch hands.

23 cut diamonds were used on the back to form the initials “AC”, and those were surrounded by an additional 26 diamonds.

So the watch is platinum and gold and it has a lot of diamonds on it, and it was owned by one of the most famous, if not the most famous gangster in the era of well-known gangsters.

It’s still an ugly watch.

Now perhaps the watch hasn’t been cleaned up and was being sold “as is.”  It’s possible that it might, as they say, “clean up nicely” and make an attractive presentation piece if given some TLC by a reputable jeweler.

It’s also possible that Al Capone had lousy taste and just asked the Illinois Watch Company to build a tacky-looking watch for him.  It’s really hard to say.

It doesn’t really matter, anyway.  The watch was undoubtedly purchased by someone who was interested in the item as an example of something owned by a major crime figure.  It almost certainly was not purchased by someone who is a collector of watches.

The watch was offered for sale by a grandson of Capone, and accompanied by a letter of provenance, which said:

“Shortly after the passing of Albert Francis ‘Sonny’ Capone, his daughter, Barbara Prince, nee Capone, a resident of California, delivered the watch described below to me, along with other personal property that at one time was the personal property of my great grandfather, Alphonse G. Capone.”

An interesting piece, to be sure, but not necessarily one that will appeal to everyone’s taste.



Everybody’s in the Watch Biz Now

There was a time when wristwatches were relatively rare and expensive things that could be purchased only through a watchmaker.  Of course, these days, there are lots of companies making watches,.

That’s not a bad thing.  More competition means more improvements and newer gadgets and a better product overall.  It can also help to bring prices down.

But now, it seems like everybody is getting into the watch business, including companies that you would think wouldn’t have any interest n watches at all.  Even stranger, it seems as though a bunch of companies that wouldn’t have any interest in watches are suddenly interested in smart watches, of all things.

Fashion watches aren’t new.  Lots of companies that primarily sell clothes are aware that people buy watches to go with their clothes and so they’d like to offer them as fashion accessories.  Most of these companies just buy watches from other companies, put their own name on them, and sell them as their product.

armani smart watchPeople who are serious about watches don’t take these fashion watches very seriously, except in the rare cases of high end fashion companies that actually do design and market their own watches.  That’s pretty rare, though.  Most companies just slap new names on them.

The latest company to do this, and with a smart watch, no less, is Armani.  Yes, Armani, as in, “the company from whom you’d buy a suit.”  Apparently, Armani is worried that somebody might buy a suit, decide they want a watch to go with it, and then go elsewhere to buy that watch.

So they’re now marketing their own watch.  Or at least, they’ve announced one.

No, of course, Armani isn’t making the watch.  It’s being made by Fossil, who apparently make a lot of watches for a lot of companies.  I did not know that.  It’s called the Emporio Armani Connected, and it’s going to be based on the Android Wear 2.0 operating system.

The Connected will come with 8 different configurable watch faces and will have a traditional round face, so at least it will mostly look like a real watch.

The watch will use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100 processor, which seems to be a pretty common one in current Android smartwatches.  Armani hasn’t yet announced a retail price, but given that it’s being attached to a luxury fashion brand, chances are that it’s going to be a bit pricey as Android smartwatches go.

It would be nice if fashion companies would just stick to fashion and leave the watches to the watch companies.  That’s just my 2¢.


Finally – An Attractive Tourbillon

greubel forsey tourbillon 24 secondsA tourbillon isn’t a new invention; the first patent for it was issued in 1801.  Back then, there were problems building watches that kept accurate time, and the tourbillon was invented to help offset the effects of gravity on the escapement and balance wheel.

While long used as a means of keeping better time, the tourbillon today is best known as a “me, too!” addon that’s frequently found on high end watches.  They might help keep accurate time, but high quality watch movements have been pretty accurate for decades now, with or without a tourbillon.

Still, they do look interesting, and that’s where the problem comes in.  As a tourbillon adds thousands of dollars to the price of a watch, watchmaking companies feel that they must be seen.  That’s OK, except that they’re really not all that attractive.  Nevertheless, if you’re paying for that amazing, gravity-defying gadget, then the watchmaker is likely to put it where you can see it.

That may be on the back of the case, visible through a transparent case back, but most of the time, they put them in the case where you can see them from the front.  More often than not, the tourbillon appears at roughly 6 o’clock on the watch face and is visible through a part of the face that’s transparent.

All of that is fine, but most watches with a tourbillon simply don’t look that good.  They tend to have this “look at me!” vibe to them, and the complication is usually prominently placed on the watch, perhaps with other complications, as well, and the whole thing ends up looking rather busy.

Busy is not what most people want in a watch.  It’s certainly not something they want in a watch that’s really expensive.  When you’re spending a lot of money, it’s OK to have a watch that attracts attention.  It’s not OK to have one that attracts attention because it looks like a pile of wreckage in a junkyard.

That’s where the new Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes comes in.  Admittedly, at $325,000, this watch is jaw-droppingly expensive.  It’s also one of the most handsome watches I’ve ever seen that had a tourbillon as part of the movement.  It’s there, at 9 0’clock, and you can stare at it all you like.

But you won’t be staring at it because it’s some sort of monstrosity.  You’ll be staring at it because it’s an attractive and surprisingly understated watch.

The Tourbillon 24 Secondes has a yellow (or red, blue or chocolate) gold case with a leather strap, and the case measures 43.5 mm across.  The mechanical movement features a 72 hour power reserve, which is fairly generous for a mechanical watch.

The price is steep, and availability will be problematic.   The company intends to produce only about 100 examples of this magnificent timepiece.  They will be sold through their own network of authorized sellers, so if you’re looking for one, now is the time to track down a dealer.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

2 headed nickelIn some hobbies, production mistakes are regarded as just that – errors, and they’re disregarded or at least not held in particularly high regard.   A record by the Beatles with the same label on each side might be regarded as an oddity, but it isn’t a record that collectors will pay a lot of money to own.

It’s different in the coin world, where production standards are very high and where the U.S. Mint takes tremendous care to ensure that no mistakes occur.  Mistakes do occur, however, and that’s not surprising, given that the Mint produces billions of coins every year.

Still, they’re better at it than they were in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, where date overstrikes, mint mark overstrikes, and off-center strikes were far more common than they are today.

One particular oddity that has never been common, however, is a coin bearing the same artwork on each face.  Either a two-headed or a two-tailed coin are both quite rare, with only a handful of examples in existence dating to the first days of U.S. coinage.

How rare are such coins?  To date, there are only four known examples:

  • Two Washington Quarters with tails on both sides (undated, obviously)
  • A Roosevelt Dime with tails on both sides (undated)
  • A Jefferson Nickel with heads on both sides (2000-P)

That’s it.  Part of the reason for the relative rarity of double-anything coins is that there are two dies used to strike a coin.  One is known as the “hammer” die and one is known as the “anvil” die.  They’re made with shafts of different lengths, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to accidentally confuse the two, making it almost impossible to pair them up incorrectly…unless you’re doing it on purpose.

That is the speculation on the double-headed Jefferson Nickel, according to a recent article in Coin World.   The coin has been PGCS certified as MS 65, but few people believe that the coin is an actual Mint mistake, especially since there is only one known example.  Not only that, but the coin has been weakly struck, with Jefferson’s image being poorly defined on each side.

Despite the coins lack of perfection, it is unique in that it is the only currently known example of a U.S. coin pressed with heads (and a date) on both sides.  That, regardless of condition, makes it a Pretty Big Deal in collecting circles.

The nice thing about a double headed coin is that it does have a date.  The dates of the other three known same-sided coins can only be guessed, since the dates are on the obverse and these coins don’t have one.

Of course, not everyone collects error coins, but those who do largely collect nothing else, and if you’re looking for a truly odd example of an error coin, along with one that is almost guaranteed to let you win any coin toss, then you might want to look at this one.

According to the article, the coin is now in the possession of Mike Byers of Las Vegas, and it’s being offered for sale for $100,000.




Want This Porsche Watch? Buy a Car!

porsche 911 turbo s watchThere are lots of nice watches on the market, and lots of new ones that come to market every month.  Many, especially in the $10,000+ price range, are also limited in production.

Depending on how “limited” these models are, they might be available on a first-come, first-serve basis, or they might be sold only to regular customers, or they might be distributed through some other unusual mechanism determined by the manufacturer.

Usually, the people who buy such watches are already people who have a large collection of really expensive watches.

In the case of the new Porsche 911 Turbo S chronograph, however, the company has decided to determine who gets to buy one of these stylish new timepieces through an entirely different mechanism – you only get to buy the watch if you have already purchased the matching Porsche automobile.

porsche 911 turbo s carThat’s pretty amazing, given that the car itself is a limited production model, with just 500 of them being produced.  At a price of roughly $250,000, the number of buyers is likely to be somewhat limited, though the car can reportedly has a 205 MPH top speed and power in the 600+ horsepower range.

Porsche Design, who created the car, also designed the watch, which carries a price tag of $12,650.  The case is made from titanium, and has a black PVD coating.  It comes with a black titanium bracelet, but is also accompanied by two leather straps.

The movement is a Werk 01.200, and the watch is a certified chronometer.  The timepiece has a 48 hour power reserve, 25 jewels in the movement, and a flyback module.

The center strip on the watch, which is shown as orange in the photo, will also be available in Golden Yellow Metallic, Carrera White Metallic, Agate Grey Metallic, Black, Guards Red, and Graphite Blue Metallic, so you can order one to match the color of your car.

You can order both the car and the watch at your neighboring Porche dealer.  Each is limited to 500 pieces, so be sure to order quickly.  No word on whether the glove compartment includes storage for the watch.

I also have no idea if this is the beginning of a trend from Porsche Design.  Will future watch models also be limited in production and offered only to people who buy the cars?  It will be interesting to see if any of the car owners part with the watches, and it’s pretty likely that if they do, the price on the secondary market is going to be a lot more than the original retail price, given that only car buyers will be permitted to buy the watch at all.


What Kind of Watches Interest You?

pocket watch
A pocket watch

The average consumer likely regards a watch as something that tells the time and little else.  At their most basic, a wristwatch is exactly that, and nothing more.  It’s a portable clock, and over the past 100 years, most people have worn one at one time or another but likely haven’t given them a lot of thought.

Horologists, or watch/clock aficionados, feel differently, of course.  These are people who are fascinated with devices that tell time and they often have collections of them.  You might find collectors who own dozens, or even hundreds of wristwatches, and each of them has a story to tell.

Each individual collector, however, has their own interests and motivations and if you’re new to the hobby, you might not even understand what sorts of watches that people collect, or why they collect them.

There are a wide variety of watches out there and hundreds or even thousands of companies have made them over the years.  It’s true that many makers simply manufacture timekeeping devices, usually made with inexpensive Chinese parts, and those are made to tell the time and do nothing else.  These watches can often be purchased for less than $10 and are of little, if any, interest to collectors.

Other types of watches do interest them, however, and here are just a few of the different sorts of watches that people might collect:

  • Pocket watches –  While largely out of favor with the public now, the earliest watches were those designed to be carried in the pocket.  Many of these were quite intricate and featured cases made from precious metals, along with sometimes unusual mechanical complications.
  • Mechanical wristwatches – Originally, the only wristwatches were the mechanical variety.  These had to be manually would every day and if not would regularly, they would stop.  Mechanical watches are still made today, and high end models are surprisingly reliable in their ability to keep accurate time.  Many high end mechanical watches also feature additional complications, such as the date, the day of the week, the phases of the moon, and more.  One elaborate complication is a tourbillon, a device intended to help keep accurate time while offsetting the effects of gravity on the watch.
  • Automatic wristwatches – Automatic wristwatches are an extension of mechanical ones.  A moving weight within the case winds the watch as it is being worn, making manual winding (which can still be done, if needed) largely unnecessary.  Many automatic watches also include elaborate complications.
  • Quartz watches – While most watches sold today have quartz electronic movements, the first such watches are now nearly 50 years old and are themselves rather rare today.  They were also quite expensive when new, which means that they sold in fairly small numbers back when they were first introduced.  While people who collect vintage quartz watches are a small subset of watch collectors, some of these early models can sell for quite a lot of money when they turn up for sale.
  • Famous brands – Many brands of watches are long-established and are famous in their own right.  Collectors often become attached to specific makes of watches, such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Bvlgari, Chopard, and Audemars Piguet, to name just a few.  Each of these makers has made hundreds of different models over the years and some are relatively common and others are quite rare.
  • Ultra-limited edition models – Many watches are made in limited editions, but some are produced in quantities of well under 100.  When produced by famous makers, these watches always attract attention from collectors and often make tremendous investment items.
  • Precious metals – Some high end watches feature cases made from precious metals and may include jewels, such as diamonds.  A few newer models may have their cases milled from sapphire.  All of these models were expensive when new, but can sometimes be a good value when acquired used.
tourbillon watch
A watch with a tourbillon

These are just a few of the different types of watches that interest collectors.  Obviously, each collector has their own interests and motivations and you will likely never find any two watch collections that even remotely resemble one another.  Collectors do like to share their stories and interests, however, and even collectors of mechanical watches might find a collection of early quartz models to be interesting, even if they have no interest in collecting such items themselves.

That’s the beauty of collecting anything.  The collector gets to decide what they’re going to collect, the extent of their collection and why they’d like to collect.  Regardless of the reasons, it’s all interesting and fun.

2017 Silver Proof Sets Released

2017 silver proof setCoin collectors are undoubtedly excited about the release of the 2017 silver proof sets, which the U.S. released this week.

While coins made for circulation haven’t had any silver content for decades, the proof sets include a dime, several quarters and a half dollar that are 90% silver.  These coins are also proof coins, which are specially produced to offer a mirror-like shine.

The 2017 silver proof set includes the following coins:

  • One Lincoln penny
  • One Jefferson nickel
  • One Roosevelt dime in 90% silver
  • Five quarters in 90% silver from the Beautiful Quarters program, featuring Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa; Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, DC; Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri; Ellis Island in New Jersey; and George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Indiana.
  • One Kennedy half dollar
  • One Native American $1 coin

These coins are all proofs, and were all minted at the San Francisco mint.  They will, of course, bear the “S” mint mark.  The sets will be sealed in clear plastic lenses that make them easy to display but which will protect them from handling and the elements.

The set is available for sale at the U.S. Mint Website.  You can also likely find it for sale at your local coin shop.

Proof coins have long been favored by collectors over circulation issue coins.  These coins are especially made for the collector market and are intentionally limited in production, though not so limited that people cannot actually buy them.

Dies are chosen carefully in order to ensure that the coins struck will be exceptionally nice examples.  The dies are also specially polished in order to give the newly minted coins a mirror-like finish that is never seen on coins minted for general circulation.  Proof coins are usually minted in exceptionally small quantities and often provide a good investment.

As three of the coins in this particular set include silver, which is not used in the coins minted for general circulation, they’re even more desirable than the coins you’d find at your local bank.