Sunday, 8 July 2018

Buying a vintage watch

Whatever you wear, there are two items a man can own that add a touch of style to his appearance. Whether worn with formal, evening wear or weekend casual a good vintage watch and a pair of good quality shoes make up for many sartorial shortcomings.

Daniel Craig wears a vintage Rolex Daytona

Buying a new watch can, with a very few exceptions, be like buying a car - your purchase drops in value as soon as you've bought it. There are, of course, advantages to buying new - the seller's warranty and the sheer pleasure of owning a new, high quality, timepiece, but you may want to consider buying vintage.


A good collection of old Omega and Lemania watches (image Grey Fox)

If chosen with care, an older watch will reliably at least retain its value and is a pleasure to own. It will accumulate signs of its owner's character; the battered leather strap, the scratches on its case and glass and, in due course, the development of rich creams and browns to the luminous markers and dials of a watch older than 20 or so years.

Most older designs are simple and well-proportioned and, while there are many beautiful modern designs, new watches can be oversize, fussy and sometimes blingy in appearance - choose wisely.

Many makes have fascinating histories. This 1968 Omega Speedmaster is of the type worn by NASA's astronauts from the sixties through to the age of the International Space Station and was worn on the Moon. Omega still make this model, albeit with a different movement to that used in these early examples.

Omega Speedmaster Professional 1968 model - as worn on the Moon - image courtesy of Ming

The most beautiful part of an old mechanical watch is very rarely seen by the owner - the movement is a tiny glistening engine that's a marvel of micro-engineering, as this Omega movement from a simple military watch from 1953 shows -

Movement of an Omega '53 RAF pilot's watch - image courtesy of Ming

What to buy as your first vintage watch depends on your taste and the depth of your pocket. You'll rarely go wrong with a Rolex Submariner or GMT Master or older Rolex Datejust. Some models of the Omega Speedmaster or Seamaster will also be a good buys. These will be ideal starters to a larger collection or will make ideal choices as watches to wear every day if properly looked after and serviced. Mechanical watches like these are capable of being accurate to within a second or two a day.

With experience you may want to develop a theme for your collection. Some collect military watches, some chronographs, or watches of the types worn in Space, or from a particular brand. Most just buy what they like.

You can pay a few hundred pounds for a vintage watch, but it's likely to be a lesser brand, less attractive or in poor condition. To begin with, stick to well-known brands until you develop your own tastes and understanding of what to look for. They will also be more reliable investments, although I hope you buy a watch for the pleasure of ownership rather than to make money - something it is harder to do now that ten years ago. 

Always buy watches you like and will wear. There are some collectors who buy, never wear and keep their collection under lock and key. There's no pleasure in that at all. I'm of the school that likes to see the history of a watch in its patina. Be prepared to spend money on servicing the watch every five years or so. This can be pricey, but is essential.

A 1960s Tissot chronograph with Lemania movement


Quartz watches can be collectible, but they rarely have the romance of a mechanical watch, with that tiny motor ticking away n your wrist and producing remarkable accuracy and reliability. Neither will they, in general, be as good an investment as a mechanical timepiece.

If you're knowledgeable, the best place to buy such watches on watch enthusiast fora and marketplaces - but even though you will deal with trustworthy and enthusiastic sellers, you may still make mistakes. For the newcomer, a generally safer option is to buy from a well-established and reputable dealer from whom you will obtain a warranty and reasonably reliable guarantee of authenticity.

Finally, here are four useful tips for buying a vintage watch from a reader, David. I'm grateful to him for his help:

1. A fifty-year-old watch should look old. If it looks like it just came from the factory, something's off.

2. Replacement parts sink a watch's value. Take Rolex and Patek, the two most collectible brands: The original dial (the face) holds 60 to 70 percent of the watch's worth.

3. Some collectors ask for the original box and papers, but they don't matter. Few people kept them. I don't even do it now.

4. If a watch hasn't been serviced in five to ten years, plan to have it done yourself. It costs £300 or more.

5 Always ask about the return policy.

[This feature was edited and updated June 2018].

5 comments:

DavidNex said...

Below are some points while buying vintage watches...

1 A fifty-year-old watch should look old. If it looks like it just came from the factory, something's off.
2 Replacement parts sink a watch's value. Take Rolex and Patek, the two most collectible brands: The original dial (the face) holds 60 to 70 percent of the watch's worth.
3 Some collectors ask for the original box and papers, but they don't matter. Few people kept them. I don't even do it now.
4 If a watch hasn't been serviced in five to ten years, plan to have it done yourself. It costs $300 or more.
5 Always ask about the return policy.

Grey Fox said...

Thank you DavidNex - useful advice.

GF

Eric Wind said...

It is great that you are covering the joys of owning vintage watches, David! Best regards, Eric Wind

Tony Lupton said...

What about winders for automatic watches? Do you have any thoughts on those?

regards, Tony

grey fox said...

I've never used one Tony but any use them to keep auto watches going to keep them accurate and lubricated.

GF

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...