In an age of digital expansion, a vintage watch remains an unmatched investment of utilitarian style. Representing a moment in history, these rare pieces reflect a hunt for the distinct – not just a purchasing ability at a luxury store.
But if you’re considering a venture into this market, you’ll want to experience the excitement of the exploration without its pitfalls. We asked Hamilton Powell, founder of Crown & Caliber, for his expert advice and direction. His team cleans, services and sells high-end, vintage watches for individuals without all the hassle and risk of fraud and scams.
Know your history
Before you purchase a vintage watch, it’s important to know a little bit about the brand and model’s history. Knowledge in this fields helps you appropriately price a vintage piece and gives you a greater appreciation for its heritage and characteristics that make it stand apart. Vintage watch forums are a good resource for more insight including: ChronoTrader, TimeZone, and Vintage Rolex Forum.
Buy the seller, not the watch
If you only take away one thing, make it this. You may find a beautiful watch online or at a local shop, only to find out after purchasing it that the movement isn’t original or the dial is refinished. These aren’t necessarily bad things as long as you know about it up front, but if you find out after the fact, you can almost guarantee you overpaid. For that reason, you need to trust the seller.
If they’re reputable, they can usually tell you what is (or isn’t) original to the watch, if replacement parts are OEM (original equipment manufacturer) or aftermarket, when the watch was last serviced, if it’s been refinished, etc. If they’re clueless about these questions, be cautious and conservative with your offer. In a best-case scenario, the watch will likely be due for a basic service.
Very few vintage watches are “NOS” (new old stock). Expect your new watch to show signs of use. These imperfections add character to your timepiece. A black dial turned chocolate brown from exposure to the light or a few nicks on the bezel make your watch unique from all others.
However, when it comes to wear and tear, the condition of the dial is essential. Your dial will likely show patina (slight discoloration) from aging; uniform patina is desirable. Patina is so in vogue right now that many brands, including OMEGA and Longines, are creating faux patina for their new watches. If the dial looks brand new, it’s likely a refinished dial – which isn’t a bad thing, but realize that it significantly decreases a watch’s value in certain models, like the Steve McQueen Rolex Explorer or a Patek Philippe Calatrava ref. 2526 (the first automatic Patek Philippe). Personally, I advise buyers to be picky about a dial’s refinishing, as it can be the defining difference between owning a historic watch or not.
Beauty below the surface
Our mothers taught us that beauty isn’t skin deep, and that’s also true with watches. You may find a vintage watch that looks stunning on the outside but is full of concerning surprises once you open it up. It’s not uncommon to find poorly serviced movements or movements with non-authentic parts (the latter is often to be expected). Find a reputable watchmaker to inspect your watch after you purchase it. He or she can ensure the entire watch is authentic and will continue to keep good time for years to come.
Buy what you like
This may seem obvious, but don’t worry about what trend to follow or what bloggers think you should own. At the end of the day, all that matters is that you paid a fair price and enjoy your watch, regardless of whether it has original hands or consists solely of replacement parts. You’ll have a classic watch thanks to the care of previous owners – and now you are its trusty steward.