The second determiner of value is the dial – obviously originality is important, but color is particularly prized. Black and two-tone (tuxedo) dials were rare up until the 70s on dress models, usually made for special order only, so black-dialed Constellations and similar watches will fetch a significant premium. Silver or champagne coloured dials are the most common. As a result, black redials are extremely prevalent. Many less-than-honest sellers will have a dial refinished to black to raise the value. Lately there has been a spate of colored “exotic” dials coming out of Southeast Asia, mainly bright blue, green and red. While there were a few extremely rare exotic dials produced over the years, the vast majority you will encounter are modern redials. The same goes for exotic color sport models – blue or white dial Speedmasters for example. New replacement dials are available from Omega in various colors, so technically it might be a legitimate dial but won’t be original to the watch, nor would it be vintage. Watch out for giveaway descriptions like “NOS dial”, “professionally refinished”, “restored dial” etc.
Chronometer models always fetch more money than standard models – in the case of Constellation almost all were chronometers (aside from some ladies models and ultra-thin automatics), but there were small runs of chronograph and Seamaster automatic chronometers over the years. Rarity means value.
When talking about rarity in Omegas, everything is relative. A rare Patek will be one of perhaps 5 or 10 examples, a rare Rolex one of a few hundred. A rare Omega is in the thousands – with millions of watches produced over the decades, something that was made in a run of 20 or 30 thousand pieces is relatively uncommon compared to a series of several hundred thousand. So when someone touts his or her particular watch as “rare” don’t expect it to be one of a handful that will never come up again. It’s more likely just an uncommon model that the seller didn’t happen to see on eBay at the time he put up his listing. I always laugh when someone claims their watch is “rare”, as it came from a batch of “only” 65 000.
The least desirable Omegas were generally produced from the late 1970s to early 1990s. In the 70s the quartz-crisis put Omega on the verge of bankruptcy. Quality went downhill fast. The 1980s were a low point in Omega design, and most watches produced during this era were bland quartz models with little to distinguish them from the crowd. The exception would be the Speedmaster Professional, which continued more or less unchanged through to the present, and some early Seamaster “pre-Bond” automatics that still have fans. My advice would be to focus on the pre-1975 period. You’ll find lots of dirt cheap, ugly Omegas from the 1980s – they really aren’t worth considering unless you really adore a particular model.
Fakes, Frankens and Frauds
Like anything else that is desirable, fakes and cobbled-together watches abound. The most popular outright fakes are the Seamaster 300 and Constellation models. There are a number of “tells” that can give them away, so research and due diligence is key when looking at these models. A genuine calibre is NOT an indicator of legitimacy, most fakes use original Omega movements. Some fakes are quite obvious, others are frighteningly convincing, particularly if you can’t handle the watch in person before buying. Frankens are another category, where a watch is put together using genuine parts, but not in their original state. Usually newly manufactured service parts fall into this category as well. An example would be a non-chronometer watch with a chronometer dial, or an old model that has been overly “restored” with new parts.
A note about the prevalence of so-called NOS (new old stock) watches. A company in Australia called Watchco was building “new” Seamaster models (300, Ploprof, SHOM) from original movements cased in new service parts. The movements are vintage, taken from less-desirable models (Devilles and Geneves), put into newly manufactured Seamaster cases with new dials and hands. The only thing vintage is the movement while everything else is new. They aren’t fakes, as they use genuine Omega service parts produced by the factory to repair and restore old models. If you were to trace the serial through Omega it would show that the watch was not a Model XYZ to begin with.
NOS is a misnomer, because a true NOS watch is a vintage item that was never sold or worn from new, and has been in storage for decades. What they are is refurbished with new parts. I don’t have a personal problem with these “Watchco” specials (in fact I have one, a Seamaster 300) but buyers need to be aware that they are not vintage, nor are they NOS. If you want a new-old Seamaster 300 or Ploprof you can wear every day they are great, and their prices are generally reasonable, but they aren’t collectible like an original vintage item and they have very little chance of growing in value. Think of it as a re-issue, or a resto-mod with non-matching numbers. You will also raise the ire of vintage purists who will tell you it isn’t a true vintage watch.
In 2007, at the height of the watch market before everything came crashing down during the recession, Antiquorum held an Omega themed auction in Geneva in association with the brand. The results from the auction were, in a word, spectacular. Watches seemingly doubled or tripled in value overnight, with many vintage pieces fetching huge prices. Some items fetched ten times their market value. Unfortunately it was a product of an inflated market and a lot of hype. The Omegamania prices were impressive, but not representative of the market in general. Things have calmed down a lot since 2007; only the finest and rarest collectibles from the top brands have maintained or gained value since 2008.
Unfortunately many collectors, particularly sellers, still reference Omegamania prices. Wouldn’t you get excited if your Constellation, which you thought was worth about one or two thousand went for tens of thousands at auction? Problem is it is still only realistically worth that 1 or 2 grand. As a result you will sometimes encounter overzealous sellers who demand exorbitant prices for something that is not particularly rare or special. Remember that Omegamania was a product of the time and the presentation, and does not represent the current market. Believe me, I wish things were that hot (my collection would be worth a lot more if they were) but they simply aren’t in today’s conditions.
All of this might be a bit overwhelming to the budding collector. It’s a lot to digest. The only way to really get into collecting is through copious amounts of research. The more I learn, the less I feel I really know, and that is part of the fun of collecting. The history is what I find fascinating; these are objects that are a direct link to the past, and a golden age of mechanical design that preceded the Quartz Crisis. You have to be passionate about watches and have a willingness to learn and absorb information. The real thrill in vintage watches is the hunt for that perfect example, whatever it may be.
Jason Cormier is a sales associate at Matt Baily, a luxury watch store in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.