Buying Your First Vintage Watch

Buying Your First Vintage Watch

We are delighted to bring you the views of Daniel Somlo from Somlo London, one of the leading authorities on vintage and antique timepieces. Here he shares his thoughts on what to look out for when buying a vintage watch.

So you have been reading magazines and newspapers, maybe browsing social media and it seems that all of a sudden…Vintage is EVERYWHERE!

Retro styles are coming back, classic cars continue breaking records in auctions etc, but more than anything else? The watch industry. There has been a huge upsurge in the popularity of vintage watches, to the point where the giants of the watch world are producing carbon copies of their most sought after vintage pieces.

It seems that finally the trend of enormous blocks of metal adorning the wrists of celebrities and footballers is drawing to a close and that classic styles are returning, prompting endless homages to the back catalogues. However, ‘You’ are not to be placated by the reproductions; ‘you’ are the next vintage watch connoisseur, and as such, only an original vintage piece will do! And so beggars the question, in the rich yet danger fraught realm of vintage watch collecting, where does one begin? 

It is a question that every single watch collector has asked him or herself once. Whether it be a conscious decision to start from scratch, or a progression from simply owning a vintage watch to wanting to build up a collection from that starting point. But what direction to go and how to approach it are the first hurdles to overcome.  

In my opinion, the best way to start is to address a few core points:

Firstly, and I would be kidding myself if I were to say this isn’t most people’s primary concern: budget. Realistically, how much are you looking to invest in a vintage watch? There is no magic number which says ‘You must spend X on a watch for it to be good.’

There are watches in every price bracket which are good watches and a £15,000 watch may be worse than a £5,000 watch. The main objective here is to find a price that suits you and a watch that fits that number.

Also, bear in mind that it is your first foray into an incredibly complex and organic market, so rather than trying to eke out an investment opportunity on your first try and making a profit on it, buy something you love.

I say this because no matter who advises you or how much you choose to invest, there is NEVER a guarantee that what you buy will appreciate. This way, at the very least, whatever happens to the value, you have a watch that you bought because you liked it.

The second thing to consider is what type of watch you are interested in. By ‘type’ I do not mean brand, rather the style of watch you find most interesting. There is no point deciding to collect only vintage Cartier if you are looking for a diving watch as you will be searching for a long time. There are many categories of watch to choose from but they generally boil down to two major groups: Dress watches and Sports watches.

A Dress watch tends to be a more simple and elegant timepiece. Often used as a more formal option the dress watch tends to be worn with a long sleeve shirt or suit. It is often thin and with minimal complication and would frequently be fitted with a leather strap. They are also more likely to have precious metal cases.

The Sports watch is on the other end of the spectrum. The concept of a ‘sports’ watch is actually fairly modern and in their day were known as ‘tool watches’ in that they served a purpose other than merely telling the time. These watches were fitted with functional complications such as scaled chronographs (timers), dual time-zones or enhanced water proofing capabilities for diving. They Sports watches were generally larger and more rugged than the dress watches and were most often made in steel with stronger, harder wearing bracelets rather than leather straps.

Watches tend to fall into one of these two categories however there are numerous exceptions and cross-overs, so the goal is to find a style that works for you. Think about what you want your watch to say about you, what functionality you want and what image you want to cultivate for yourself. Are you looking to make a statement or have something that blends in seamlessly with your chosen style? Will winding up your watch every morning be a tedious chore or do you enjoy the ritual of manually renewing the vigour of your treasured companion. All are important things to consider and all are very personal.

The next point is the one that divides opinion most, the brand. There are thousands upon thousands of watch brands out there, some with hundreds of years of pedigree, some very new and others who have been sadly lost to time. Many have their own cult followings and much of the time, it is a member of one of these followings that convinced you to take the plunge.

With vintage watches, much of the appeal is the history. Both brands and collectors like to monopolise on their companies’ firsts and the great individuals that became their patrons and ambassadors. Both of these traits are enticing to prospective new collectors, whether it be OMEGA with the first and only watch worn on the moon or Rolex with Paul Newman and the Daytona that bears his name.

It is the unique nature of the brands with their individual approach to the watches they produce which is often what initially fosters a desire to collect watches.

And so, armed with your new found expertise it is time to start on your vintage watch journey. Remember the key points, buy the best quality examples you can afford from a reputable source and above all go with your heart and buy what you love!

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