I never met my grandfather.
He died when my father was still in college. But as we approach Father’s Day — my first without my own dad — I find myself thinking about Frank Cole a lot.
Growing up, all I had were stories.
About how he was a kind man, a good doctor — but one with a quick, nasty temper. (When someone cuts in a line or runs a red in front of my car, I can feel the vestigial Cole anger.)
About his heroics as a young Jewish Army medic during WWII, earning the rank of captain before war’s end.
And about how he always believed in quality over quantity.
(He’d spend three times as much as most people on a pair of nice shoes — but he’d get the kind of shoes that would outlast his feet.)
That’s probably how he wound up with his Patek Philippe watch.
It’s not the most famous Patek Philippe — nor the most expensive.
And its face needs a cleaning — some staining occurred when the watch mechanism was repaired recently.
Still — while it was a pricey watch when he bought it — I’m sure my grandfather never imagined it could pay for a year of college or make for a nice down payment on a house.
But that’s exactly what it could do today…
More Than Just a Timepiece
Of course, I’ll never sell my grandfather’s watch. It’s one of the few connections I have to my paternal lineage.
Men often don’t have much in the way of jewelry or antique possessions (especially from the Greatest Generation). But watches are one of the most common family heirlooms around.
When I was in Sweden recently — at the year’s largest stamp show — walking the streets of Stockholm, JustCollecting founder Mike Hall and I passed a Patek Philippe shop. And he started telling me about his own watch.
In the stamp show, the only nonpostal object on display was a pocket watch owned by the postmaster who created modern stamps.
And when I was in college, I decided to get a watch that I hope will turn into a family heirloom someday — a Soviet submarine captain’s self-winding watch.
(Its value has gone up around 600% since I bought it 20 years ago on the streets of Berlin, so I’ve got a nice head start.)
There’s no doubt — watches are great investments. Unlike many of the tangible assets we recommend, they don’t even need to be especially rare to be extremely valuable.
But the rare ones can climb to astronomical prices — like the $17.75 million Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona recently fetched.
Even so, that’s not why they’re my favorite collectible…
For me, watches are about family. The fact that a nice one can financially rescue some unknown descendant in a pinch someday — that’s the icing on the cake.
And that’s what makes investing in rare tangible assets so special.
Not only are they a tremendous store of wealth… If the markets tank tomorrow, my Patek Philippe will be worth just as much as it is today — if not more.
Not only do they increase in value on par with the markets or better… My submarine captain’s watch value has trounced all the stocks I’ve had from that time to this. (Two bursting bubbles can do that to stock values.)
But they also have meaning beyond the financial.
Which, coincidentally enough, is what drives the financial value of collectibles in the first place. Sentimental value is often stronger, more durable and more predictable than P/E ratios, quarterly earnings or annual revenues.
After all — whatever may happen in the future — it certainly won’t change how I value my grandfather’s Patek Philippe.
If you don’t have any category of tangible asset that calls to you the way watches do to me, I suggest you explore a bit. See what catches your eye. Figure out what kind of collectible fits your personality and lifestyle.
Because while leaving a healthy stock portfolio to your loved ones is nice, I guarantee it will be the physical things — imbued with your essence — that prove most meaningful.
And those will probably be the things worth the most in the end anyway.
Editor-in-chief, Unconventional Wealth
P.S.Watches are one of my favorite things to pass on to future generations. But they are far from the only type of investment that can carry financial value, sentimental value and beauty all at the same time…
My colleagues and I here at UCW would love to hear about your treasured heirlooms… Send us your photos and memories at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Cole is the editor-in-chief of Unconventional Wealth. He’s been covering the alternative investment space for nearly a decade and writing about finance and investment for almost 20 years.
Ryan has walked the walk for years, living a very unconventional life. He’s led snowmobile tours through the mountains of Colorado, settled in Japan for five...