James: I would agree, in part, that it comes down to the watch and the collector. While the pre-owned market offers a considerable value on modern watches, I don’t think it detracts from the value proposition or specialized appeal of a vintage watch.
The main concerns when servicing a movement do not vary wildly by the age of the movement being serviced. Provided parts are available and that the watch in question is an everyday sort of piece, you likely don’t have to rely on the original manufacturer for service and general upkeep.
The current story surrounding vintage watches tends to focus on the extreme examples, steel Pateks, crispy Newmans, and Evil Ninas, and while those are impressive, drool-worthy icons of the hobby, they are a microcosm of perceived value within a niche marketplace. They’re trophies, not examples of what the average enthusiast would wear day to day.
Considering the forum-favorite concept of “bang for your buck,” a clean vintage watch is going to be very hard to beat. Vintage watches can be found at nearly any price point, and (in most cases) they have bottomed out in terms of depreciation.
Thanks to a combination of eBay, buying and selling forums, and vintage re-sellers, it’s entirely possible to find a great watch (likely from a recognizable and successful brand) in ready-to-wear condition for under $1,000. If you’re concerned about service and upkeep, speak with a watchmaker before buying, and try to buy something that was recently serviced so you can wear it for a few years before it needs any TLC.
Ariel: The main message I think people can take away from what you just advocated is that it is possible to have a positive experience with vintage watches, but you need to do your homework and search a lot. I agree; for vintage to be a good experience, you need to become a mini-expert in a lot of little things ranging from where to buy watches and what they should cost to determining condition and quality. What you are describing is an enthusiast’s sport and not something I can easily recommend to the lay person who just wants a few nice and reliable watches to wear on a daily basis. Just because you can have a good experience with vintage, that is certainly no indication that you will. It’s a pleasurable hobby for those looking to spend the time, but that doesn’t represent everyone.
Along those lines, I feel that vintage watch buying and collecting should really be its own category alongside buying new watches. It shouldn’t be a “new or vintage” conversation, but rather a conversation of how people can incorporate vintage watches into an otherwise healthy passion for timepieces. For instance, are there one or two models that anyone can blanket recommend and if purchased as a vintage watch will lead to a positive experience? No, because condition and mileage may vary.
With that said, there are isolated examples here and there which are nicely restored, good-condition vintage timepieces that make for solid and relatively reliably daily wears – but those items come and go and aren’t the type of thing I feel exist in enough quantity that watch lovers should be tirelessly waiting to find one versus buying something newer that, in most instances, requires less homework and risk.
James: I don’t think that getting into vintage watches needs to be seen as some sort of part time job, or even an all consuming facet of the hobby. If you’re too busy to learn about something you find interesting, even on a casual level, there’s no possible way you’re still reading this. The cash vs. time conundrum can be applied to the vintage market too, just take your stacks of cash to Christie’s or Antiquorum. The point isn’t just that a vintage watch might be cheap (which is not an accurate generalization), it’s that they offer value proposition different from that of a new watch – a distinct appeal.
The truth is, if you’re calculating the value of your time over simply enjoying an almost entirely unnecessary fascination with tiny outdated mechanical objects, then I can’t possibly persuade you to see the light. Just bookmark this page and check back after you retire.
While I would agree that the uninitiated should stick to new watches if they want the best chance at a fuss-free experience, I think that most people who would call themselves a watch enthusiast will flirt with the idea of a picking up a vintage watch. It’s like a rite of passage among watch nerds. If you’re a layman, I encourage you to find the deep end and just jump in. This isn’t a cheap hobby, but Google has made it much, much more approachable, and the learning is largely free.
No, there aren’t any two models that anyone can recommend, but if you stick with serviced examples from well respected sources, your chances of a positive experience are very high, if not partially guaranteed (by sellers offering a review period with the possibility of return). Despite being vastly similar, new watches and vintage watches have a different appeal, and I think the romantic notion of “the hunt” is stronger with vintage pieces.
New watches may require you to save funds, place an order, and then wait while the watch makes its way to the retailer. Finding that perfect vintage piece may start with a photo that leads to untold hours on forums or, if you’re lucky, reading books. Eventually, once you know enough to separate the wheat from the chaff, it’s time to get serious. You start to call or write re-sellers, ping owners on instagram, and setup notifications on your phone for specific keywords. Then, one day, the stars align, and whether you win the auction or are simply the first to respond to a sales post, your grail has arrived. I’ve only had this experience with a couple of watches, but it made their addition to my collection a very personal and rewarding experience.
Finally, I would agree that vintage watches shouldn’t come at the exclusion of modern watches, both have their merits. However, turning your back on the vintage market, especially as a watch enthusiast, will only serve to deprive you of one of the great experiences this hobby has to offer. So go buy some books and do a few hundred Google searches. Even if it takes years to pull the trigger, I’d wager that from start to finish, you had fun.So, there you have it. The time, money, and potential disappointment of searching for a reputable vintage watch for the intangible reward of the collector’s satisfaction. Worth it? Let us know what you think and take our poll below.