This might be a very narrow lens through which to look at vintage watches, but it’s about time we stop wishing for something that no longer is. Vintage models (the good ones, at least) fetch thousands of dollars and are a pain to service. More often than not, those who buy vintage watches don’t wear them for fear of damaging them, which means they are collected as museum artifacts and not so much as timekeeping devices that people actually wear. Although I understand why people buy vintage watches, I'd like to offer some context around some of the most coveted vintage watches and what we could spend our money on instead. Because there are options that make more sense: either modern watches or vintage-inspired ones. Source: www.hodinkee.com
Vintage Watches Used to Be Contemporary
One morning, I had this random thought: the Rolex Explorer I ref. 1016 used to be a contemporary, modern watch: the best of the best upon its release in 1963. Those buying this watch in 1963 did so because they wanted the most advanced, most rugged adventure and exploration watch available at that time. The Rolex Explorer was designed for real adventurers—not weekend hikers—and few brands could rival Rolex’s superior engineering. In contrast, those buying this watch in 2023 aren't getting the best of the best. Instead, they're getting an old watch that fetches tens of thousands of dollars on the pre-owned market and costs a fortune to service.
Similarly, a 1980 Omega Speedmaster was the superior chronograph of 1980. The Speedmasters of today are far better than the old ones, both in terms of engineering and manufacturing. They also cost more. While many watch enthusiasts and collectors love buying a birth year Speedy, many cannot do so because of how expensive they have become. Once again, the cost of servicing these watches is only increasing because original parts are getting sparser and, the more expensive a vintage watch becomes, the less people wear it. In other words, what used to be the best of the best no longer is, and today, brands make better watches.
Vintage Watches Used to Be Equipment
Another thought that came to me that morning was the following: we romanticize vintage watches in ways that are sometimes strange and perhaps lack context. Picture this: Sir Edmund Hillary wore a prototype Oyster Perpetual to Mount Everest and we are under the impression—because of the dozens and hundreds of articles written on this topic, of which I’m guilty of contributing to—that he enjoyed it. He was paid by Rolex to wear the darn watch and perhaps he couldn’t care less who made it or what was special about it. He, just like any respectable and proper explorer, needed a functional, reliable, and legible piece of gear that told time. Not a Rolex, not a Smiths, but a good watch.
Watches used to be just that for many people, until they no longer were due to technological advances, computers, and digital wristwatches. Most people who wore a watch did so because they needed to. Most did not wear a Patek Philippe perpetual calendar to go to the office or a Bulova Accutron to go to mass on Sunday. Instead, they wore small, time-only watches with reliable movements inside. Nowadays, we tend to give too much meaning to vintage watches as if the people who wore them then had the same perception. You know what? In 2053, someone is going to write an article about a vintage MONTA Oceanking and say how much better things were in 2023.
Alternatives to Buying Vintage
So, if we should not buy vintage, what should we do? The first option is to buy modern and contemporary watches: those that represent today's horological zeitgeist and are made with modern tech for today’s tastes. We as a society tend to look to the past to figure out what to do today: whether it's for music, movies, technology, design, and of course watches. We wonder about things made before us that we can take inspiration from. Instead, why don’t we create watches that look like they are made in 2023 and that represent who we are today. This brings me to the second option: buying vintage-inspired watches. These pay homage to how things used to be whilst being adapted to today’s technology and taste.
Honestly, I’m a hypocrite. I do love vintage-inspired watches, and nowadays, I’ve become obsessed with faithful recreations of World War II field watches. Not because I wish I could have been a GI landing in Normandy, but because I appreciate the simplicity and utilitarian nature of these watches. They told time. That’s it. I say this to say: I’m also guilty of romanticizing vintage watches which are now being held out of context. As mentioned earlier in this article, many watches we now admire were most likely “just watches” for those who bought and wore them. I do understand the allure of vintage watches because they were generally smaller and more elegant than many modern timepieces. This is why I suggest looking into modern or vintage-inspired watches instead of purely vintage models.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Please leave your comments below.
Featured image: www.lumeville.com