Vintage watches are a tricky area, even for seasoned collectors. There is something special about a vintage with which brand new timepieces can’t compare. Whether we speak about a genuine antique or one that is not quite old as to be historic but has made a previous owner proud, there is history and hidden stories within its clockwork. A working vintage watch has been around and commands the respect that comes with age.
The path to owning a genuine piece of watchmaking history is a minefield full of hidden danger. If one has a gambler’s heart and confidence, however, then they might just like it here. High risk- high gain is the name of the game, when it comes to collecting vintage watches. There are a number of reasons why one might desire a vintage over a new watch. Some like the fact that they are making a purchase not influenced by swanky showrooms and attractive branding. Bargain hunters hunt for bargains, and the nostalgics as a reminder of simpler more graceful times. Lastly there are the treasure hunters, who search far and wide, hoping to find an undiscovered and valuable timepiece to buy low and sell really high.
A word of caution though- the times they are a changing and although one could occasionally come across a watch of value at some flee market or estate sale, internet has pretty much ruined the game.
Big time auction houses, well-heeled connoisseurs and specialist dealers have invaded the vintage watch market and it is almost impossible for a novice or occasional collector to outbid them in energy or money. This is why most of the action these days lies in the offerings from auction houses. In addition, you can opt to buy from one of the many online vintage watch dealer or increasingly rare vintage watch shops. On the upside, this has greatly increased the sheer number of both covetable vintages, as well as reputable places to buy them from. Finding a vintage watch to suit all tastes and budgets has never been easier.
On the other hand, watches have long been recognized as valuable collectibles. Moreover, the easily available information on the internet greatly reduces the chances of finding a real bargain. Finding a cheap vintage from a reputable company like Patek, Rolex, Omega, Audemars or Piguet is nearly impossible. You might be able to procure one at significantly lower price than a brand new watch, but the prices of vintage watches in general have become much more aggressive over the last decade so. This is especially the case for the two biggest names- Rolex and Patek Phillipe , which are almost always unaffordable. If you have your eyes on a vintage Patek, you will find yourself competing with some of the wealthiest collectors including top industrialists, royals and heads of states. In addition, Patek too is always enthusiastic to reacquire (often at any cost) vintage models for their museum.
When buying a watch with an interesting history or ownership, from auction houses, an additional problem surfaces. The validity of the claims is hard to verify, owing to the big money at stake. The urge to accept the flimsy history at face value is strong, and once the sale is made it is in the interest of both the buyer and the auction house to maintain the dodgy story.
Finally, the expenses incurred in servicing the vintage watch after purchase must also be considered. Regardless of what anyone says, your vintage watch will certainly need to be dismantled, cleaned, oiled and certain parts repaired. Although this is often part of the charm of acquiring a vintage, the costs are high- sometimes more than what you paid for the watch itself. Companies like Cartier and Patek claim to repair any watch they have ever made, but it will cost you, especially if the necessary parts are hard to come by.
To conclude, although it is possible to make money out of buying and selling vintage watches- it requires extensive research, time and labor. This is why most collectors collect watches for the joy of building a collection. For someone with genuine love for vintage watches, the best idea is to buy what you love and can afford; it is best to leave the business of watches to those for whom watches are a business.