When you first start getting into watches, it’s just a matter of time before you start considering diving into the world of vintage watches. Maybe it’s an unusual reference that first captures your imagination. Or, you may be trying to track down a watch that no longer is made, say a Universal Genève or a Sinn made by Fricker. Whatever the case, it isn’t long before you’re scrolling through pages of used Rolex Submariners, trying to find a hidden gem that would be the perfect addition to your collection.
As you enter into the world of vintage watch sales, there are a few key guidelines to keep in mind before you buy.
If you’re new to buying vintage, the best advice we can offer you is to buy from a reputable seller. If you’re still acquiring the first few vintage pieces of your collection, we suggest only buying from a seller with a stellar reputation and plenty of reviews. It’s true that buying from this type of seller may mean you pay a premium on your vintage purchase. Consider it a tax for the privilege of knowing that the watch is authentic, that the movement has been serviced, and that the seller will stand by the reference. If you’re not sure where to start, step away from eBay for now, and gravitate towards Crown & Caliber, Govberg, Hodinkee sales, or Analog/Shift. These established sellers will be able to provide you with a good amount of information about any reference you purchase. (And “recently serviced” will mean more than just a squirt of oil on a movement that runs 2 hours slow.)
If you choose a reputable seller, you’ll probably have access to a watch’s recent service history. This can give you a sense of how much of the watch is original. A service history is the CarFax of watches, and it’s an important component of deciding to make a purchase. For Rolexes, a service record from an authorized Rolex Service Repair Center can definitely determine if the dial has been replaced or re-lumed. In the case of certain watch references from the ‘60s and ‘70s, this can be incredibly important information.
Image source Beware the infamous Tudor “Red Ranger,” a notorious fake.
One of the only difficult things about buying vintage watches is reconstructing the history of a watch that can be somewhat shrouded by the past. It can be difficult to determine which parts of the watch are original and which parts were added after it left the factory. A watch with few of its original parts is known as a Frankenwatch, and these unholy amalgamations dot the listings of shadier sellers. It’s also worth being on the lookout for fake watches. There are a few references that are easier to fake, so you’ll see certain types pop up more often than others. Bring a healthy dose of skepticism whenever you’re considering buying a vintage Tudor Ranger or Tudor Submariner. In fact, any older sports watch should be considered guilty until proven innocent.
If the vintage watch you’re eyeing is older or rarer, consider buying a double of that reference, perhaps one that’s less cosmetically appealing. Gears, crowns, and glass do wear out, and having a second watch on hand for parts will allow you to breathe a little easier when you’re wearing the watch. Many vintage references can be difficult to repair without original parts, and even brand-authorized repair shops won’t be able to fix a movement without those parts. If you have the extra coin on hand, it’s well worth the investment.
Once you’ve made your purchase, you may want to wear your vintage reference on something other than a metal bracelet. We have a few rubber watch straps that can be used on vintage luxury watches or any watch with a particular lug size. Of course almost all vintage watches look great on leather straps as well. Meld the sixties with the twenties and build your own combination watch that even Dr. Frankenstein would be proud to sport.
Many thanks to watchmaker Chandler L. and polymath Nick P. for their guidance on this article!
Cover Image: Source
Written By: Meghan Clark