Selling vintage styles. It’s the reason every watch brand has spent the last few years rummaging through its archives looking for models from the past to reissue. This thirst for heritage has also led to an increasing interest from those looking for original vintage watches, spurred by the thrill of finding an obscure reference or simply the desire to wear a timepiece that no one else has. But how do you start?
There are deals to be had out there. Doubtless. But there’s also a good chance that a dreaded Frankenwatch will be sold – a timepiece sewn together, like the legendary monster, from various parts stripped from unrelated watches. In an effort to avoid getting caught up in your own horological horror story, here are some tips for buying a vintage watch that will ensure your story has a happy ending.
Things to consider before buying:
Education, Education, Education
Is patina a good thing? Does a case need to be scratched? What does it mean that the lume on the hands doesn’t match the numbers? The answers to these questions (which, by the way, yes; minimal; you have a Frankenwatch, run!) can only be found by doing research.
The best place to do this is on forums. You tap into the beehive of the watch community, which will help you with all your questions. watchuseek is by far the largest. It has 432,353 members and numerous forums, from general “look at what I bought” chats to discussions offering advice on where to start when buying vintage watches.
If you’re looking for more brand-specific advice, you can think of: Rolex Forums and Omega Forums, where the discussion is more focused – very useful when trying to decipher the history of obscure reference numbers, which these brands specialize in.
Buy the seller, not the watch
Again, forums are a great place to get advice about a seller. There is an entire section of Watchuseek devoted to scammers and people to avoid. However, if you’re buying from a private individual, don’t be afraid to be a bit of a nuisance.
Look at what else they sold, check for feedback. Ask a lot of questions and request a lot of photos. Any reliable seller will expect this and won’t mind giving as much information as possible. When you’re about to hit the buy button, ask for a sample photo – a photo of the watch in today’s newspaper with a handwritten note next to it of the seller’s name.
Check the details
If you can’t verify it in real life, make sure all the details are correct. Ask if the dial has been replaced. If the case looks super shiny despite its age, you may have a watch that is too polished. Find other samples of the watch you’re looking at to make sure it has the correct hands, bracelet, and lume color.
If the seller is evasive, please check the serial number on The watch register to see if it’s stolen. You can also use that number to check the age of the watch. Sites like Wrist chronology have lists of serial numbers that you can check it with. Box and papers are great, but not a deal breaker, especially with a vintage find that has had a few owners.
The best vintage watches to buy
According to Kes Crockett, watch specialist at Fellows AuctioneersThat all depends on the budget. “If you’ve got less than £1,000 to spend, I’d play it safe with half an eye on the watch’s good condition and the cost of maintaining it over the next few years,” he says. “It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of buying a stylish vintage watch that needs servicing, only to find that the parts needed to service it aren’t available.”
His best tip is to look at Omega. It is of exceptionally good quality, the parts are easy to find and it can be serviced by your local independent watchmaker. You will also find some interesting models.
As Chris Mann, host of popular podcasts Time 4 A Pint says, with a little digging, you can still buy the head (without bracelet included) of the iconic Speedmaster ref. 145,022 – the pre-Moon watch and the first to be fitted with the caliber 861 – from 1968 for £2,000-£3,000, while bargains can be found at Speedies from the 1980s and 1990s.
Vintage Grand Seiko
Crokett also suggests looking for Grand Seikos, the acclaimed Japanese watchmaker, which is “high quality with the potential to increase in value as the world becomes more aware of them as a brand.” Markers such as Tissot and Longines, which have recently become more commercial, are also worth exploring.
If you have over £1,000, Crocket’s favorite brand is Jaeger-LeCoultre. “I still believe it is vastly underrated by the general public, especially in the UK, and it has created some truly iconic watch models, including the Memovox and Reverso, which are still being made. watchmaker of the watchmaker.”
Of course, if you’re buying with ROI in mind, you can’t go wrong with Rolex. They have value like few other brands. Just do the research suggested above as the Fauxlex market is booming too.
Patek Philippe, Breitling or Cartier are also wise investments. Tool watches – divers, chronographs, mil spec or pilots – are good too, but make sure you buy from brands that are the iconic examples of these families. So IWC for pilot watches, Tudor Submariners from before the 60s or an original Heuer Carrera in the chronograph category.
Where to buy a vintage watch
It’s much easier than it used to be. Many watch stores now have a vintage section in their store and there is a whole host of sites to browse where the stock is always changing.
This British company offers a 360-degree approach to buying a vintage watch. Get financing and maintenance or visit some brick-and-mortar boutiques to browse in person. The internal experts are an excellent first point of contact.
With an extensive catalog that is well designed and easy to navigate, analog/shift brings a modern feel to vintage watches. Founder James Landin wanted to break through the tightness of the market without losing sight of the authenticity that is so important to collectors. It was acquired by the Watches of Switzerland Group in 2020.
What started as a blog for watch enthusiasts has grown into one of the best watch resources on the web. The Hodinkee Shop (featured image, above) was launched in 2012 and, in addition to pre-owned and vintage models, also sells exclusive new releases in collaboration with manufacturers. Browse by type or brand, or get recommendations from Hodinkee’s expert team.
Matthew Bain is one of the world’s most trusted names. Someone who has been buying and selling timepieces since the 1980s, their online store is a good place to find genuine oddities and hard-to-find gems. For the beginner it is also an interesting resource to refine what you want.
An international marketplace where you can buy and sell watches. Chrono24’s huge range includes watches from professional sellers and private collectors. There are helpful guides for beginners, which clearly work. The company claims that in 2020 watches worth a total of two billion euros were sold through its platform.
Watches from Bob
If you are specifically looking for a vintage Rolex, talk to Bob. While the site sells other brands, since 2010 the focus has been on Rolex with comprehensive buying guides and history for newbies as well as seasoned hacks. Plus a small but impressive collection, featuring everything from vintage Submariners to rare President styles.
Vintage Watch Auction Houses
eBay can get results, but the sheer number of listings and variation in quality can make it a daunting place to search. That’s where auction houses come in. It’s not all $17.8 million Paul Newman Daytonas, you can find bargains and without the risk of getting ripped off. Here are three auction houses to try.
Yes, it’s a renowned international house, but you can still get a bargain. The last auction had a legendary Seiko Bullhead – a 1970s chronograph so named for the positioning of the pushers at 11 and 1 o’clock – with its original Fishbone bracelet for just $484. It offers both online and IRL options – for in case you want to swap your pajamas for a paddle.
Based in the UK, Fellows specialize in watches and jewellery, so you are definitely in safe hands. In addition to live auctions, Fellows also has timed auctions, which run over two weeks, without an auctioneer. It gives you time for research, as well as the ability to rebid if you’re defeated.
This site connects you to thousands of live auctions from smaller auction houses. Join now or leave an absent bid. It’s also a great research resource due to its sheer number of lots and its 29 million strong auction results database, which has hammer prices dating back to 1999.