Welcome to Point/Counterpoint, a new aBlogtoWatch column where two of our resident horological aficionados duke it out over a point of contention. Today, we’ve got Ariel Adams and James Stacey who will spar over the value of buying a vintage watch. Ariel says forget it when it comes to vintage, while James sees merit in the adage “old is gold.”
James Stacey: While, perhaps daunting to someone new to the mechanical watch hobby, the vintage watch market remains some of the strongest value available to today’s collectors. Thanks to the trend towards “vintage-inspired” new watches combined with the relatively slow pace of the Swiss watch industry, vintage pieces can look as modern (or as dated) as you prefer. Much like the styling, most of the underlying technology is not only similar and just as effective as today’s movements, but can often be found for a fraction of the cost.
No, you won’t get a carbon-cased tribute to advanced materials and lab-like production, but if steel or gold is good enough for your wrist, the vintage market is hard to overlook.
If you’re new to watch collecting, do some research and always buy the seller. Your patience is an investment in developing your taste, identifying “too good to be true” scenarios, and refining the available candidates at a given budget. This entire hobby is based on marketing and the charm of a well-made watch, minimize the former and you have more resources for the latter.
Ariel Adams: In my personal opinion, watch buyers today are, for the most part, better off buying new watches if they plan on wearing them regularly. The best analogy for me are cars. Sure, there is a nostalgic charm in buying an old American muscle car, but what are they like to drive? How reliable are they? In addition to lacking a lot of modern conveniences, it can be impossible to determine their mechanical condition. Watches are the same way: there can be a lot of emotional connection to a vintage watch, but how practical are they for daily wear and as reliable tools?
If you just see a timepiece as a fashion accessory, then get a vintage timepiece and don’t bother winding it. If you are in it for the utilitarian aspect or if you want maximum durability, a modern timepiece will serve you much better. Sure, you can pay less for a vintage timepiece but what is the actual wearing experience going to be over a five year period? I bet that most watch lovers still have a few modern timepieces laying around as well that they inevitably continue to wear.
James: While I would agree that the allure of a vintage car may be similar to that of a vintage watch, the difference in experience between a vintage car versus a new car is not equal to the difference between a vintage watch and a new watch.
Cars are vastly complicated objects, and while I would applaud anyone who attempts to daily drive a vintage car, daily wear of a vintage watch is not an especially tough task. Any watch will require service at some point, and most watches will not cost a fortune to service, especially when it’s a cost you’ll likely only incur every five to ten years. Any competent watchmaker will be able to service the wide majority of simple vintage movements, and if you’ve invested in something a bit more special, specialized care is to be expected (and that should be a known quality if you did your research before buying).
Yes, the watch may lack some modern conveniences, like a quick set date or sapphire crystal, but the very idea of tool watches was solidified in the ’60s with watches like the Rolex Submariner and Omega Speedmaster. While I don’t doubt that modern technologies can produce a tougher watch, how tough does your watch really need to be? If it was good enough for SEALAB and NASA, it’s not going to break a sweat with the demands of my day-to-day.
If you do your research and rely on a professional for service, the vintage experience is similar to that of buying new, but you get the added charm and nostalgia of a vintage piece as well as the thrill of the hunt.
Ariel: Wouldn’t you agree, however, that the appeal of vintage for many people is in the presumption that they cost a lot less? Dedicated collectors might be willing to put up with some of the complexities of buying and restoring/repairing old watches, but I think too many lay consumers are attracted by the romance of vintage only to be disappointed with the actual experience when it comes to cost versus reward. In my opinion, most consumers who don’t want to buy brand new would be just as well served with a pre-owned modern watch where they get a better price along with a newer product.
The enthusiast community will often take the most difficult approach in order to get something rare and special, but isn’t it wise to inform novices that a lot of skill and patience is required when it comes to buying vintage watches? I just think that the term “vintage” is sexy right now, and when it comes down to it, most people want a modern watch that is less than 10 years old. At least the original brands will be willing to service them and the movements should still be good. Do you think most consumers are even aware that brands often have policies where they utterly refuse to service watches which are 25-30 years old?