A&E Guide: To Buying and Collection Vintage Watches

Eliza Scarborough   |   01 - 01 - 2018

What to Look For, and Where to Look.

Men’s watch collecting has exploded over the past 10 years, and continues to grow in both the contemporary and second-hand markets, with vintage styles from the 1940s through the ’60s commanding record-breaking prices at auction. Now, more than ever, watches are being bought and sold online, with collectors having access to the finest, rarest, and most sought-after pieces from around the world with the click of a mouse. So, whether you’re in the market for a gold dress watch, a steel sports watch, or an antique pocket watch, it’s important to educate yourself about what makes a piece authentic and valuable.


Whether you are in the market for a vintage gem or a mint condition preowned modern classic, the fun is to keep moving onwards and upwards to a more interesting or rarer watch. It is possible to make a profit on your acquisition, break even or take a very small hit, but, with a good buy, you’ll always be in a position to move on to the next watch on your wish list. Christie’s is a great place to educate yourself on where to start, because they have watches at all different price points, even if you’re an entry-level collector, while at Chrono 24 you can get a good idea of the market value of the watch you are looking at. A rare watch is not intrinsically old or vintage, its rarity depends on the production numbers and availability.


If you’re an entry-level collector, Patek Philippe has some really accessible price points, and Longines is definitely rising. These aren’t typical names that a lot of people have heard of, but they are ones that are fast appreciating. Rolex sports watches are also very good at holding value, with the Submariner 16610 in particular, as it is out of production meaning values are on the way up. Also look at the demand for particular watch models, with any watch from the Patek Philippe Nautilus range doing very well at the moment due to the waiting list. Panerai’s are pretty good at holding value too, but be sure to get one with a manufacture movement and stick to the Luminor range.


In the watch world, just as location is important for real estate, condition is important for watches, so you want to look for a watch that hasn’t been over-polished. If you look at the case, you want the watch to have crisp edges, and sharp definition, which means it hasn’t been over-polished in its lifetime and it still has the same definition as it did when it first left the factory. You also want to look at the dial condition, making sure that it hasn’t been refinished.


A full set of the original box and papers the watch came with will add value, and just as crucially, make it easier to sell. Provenance is important to the buyer and gives them confidence, so the originality of a vintage timepiece is essential. Also, be aware that the dial, hands, and bezel should be original to maximise financial opportunity, with evidence of official service history.


The key to avoiding fakes is to look in the right place to start with. If the price seems too good to be to true, then it is. But if you are not sure and are buying privately, you can arrange to meet the seller at an authorised dealer and ask them to check it for you. They key is doing your own research, and there are lots of experts online too. Knowing the hallmarks and details of the watch can help you establish an indication of the authenticity of it.


A watch that is not in excellent shape can perhaps be bought at a lower cost, but remember that this may come at a price. Restoring a watch back to good and fully functional condition can be very costly. It often depends on age, brand, and movement, so when going after a bargain it is better to do your homework and check on options and costs for maintenance before you buy. When a brand does not exist anymore, or if you want an independent opinion, find a reputable watchmaker near you.


Watch-care is integral to the longevity of your timepiece. No matter the age, model or brand, all watches should be given the same treatment. First and foremost, it’s never wise to attempt to repair your watch yourself, an appointment should be pencilled in the diary for every two to three years to have it serviced by a professional, and if your watch is waterproof, check its seals annually.

By Eliza Scarborough



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