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11 Jun

Ultimate Buying Guide to Vintage Luxury Watches

In the era of bewildering technological innovations, there is something inherently appealing about classic vintage watches, convincing more and more people to take an interest in them. But what’s the hype about?

Is it the quality, the design, the grace or the ability to last a lifetime that makes vintage watches so intriguing? Collectors and enthusiasts who hold a deep appreciation for horology consider vintage watches to be valuables and highly sought-after. If you’re interested in owning one, here we’ve addressed everything you need to know when buying a vintage luxury watch.

Let’s begin with the fundamental question.

What is a Vintage Watch?

When a watch is 25-30 years old or older, it can be called a ‘vintage’. But age isn’t the only factor that qualifies a watch as vintage. There are specific characteristics that a watch should embody to be referred to as vintage.

However, one universally acknowledged thing is that a vintage timepiece comes with history.

Characteristics Of A Vintage Watch

There are a few key elements that make a watch ‘vintage’. They are:

  • Mechanical movement

Vintage watches are renowned for their mechanical movements. Unlike quartz pieces, mechanical movements house intricate gears and springs that require manual winding. The rhythmic ticking of vintage timepieces reflects upon the traditional craftsmanship that has been an integral part of watchmaking for centuries.

  • Materials & Craftsmanship

Vintage watches stand out because of their materials and craftsmanship. Solid gold cases, hand-painted dials, and intricate engravings showcase the watchmakers’ dedication to creating not just functional but also aesthetic pieces of art.

  • Design

Vintage watches embrace the design styles of different times. They range from simple watches from the mid-century to bold pieces from the 1970s. Each vintage watch embraces a story of its own, and by exploring these design aesthetics, one can better understand and appreciate the ever-changing world of vintage watches.

  • Patina and wear

Over time, vintage watches develop a patina – a naturally ageing effect that adds uniqueness to each timepiece. Signs of wear, such as fading, scratches or discolouration, can also be present, reflecting the watch’s journey through time.

  • Historical significance

Some vintage watches mark pivotal moments in horological history. Whether that includes introducing intricate complications, automatic movements, or water resistance, these timepieces paved the way for the technological advancements that continue to shape modern watchmaking.

Why Buy a Vintage Watch?

This is one question anyone interested in horology has in mind: Why go for a vintage watch at all? Well, it’s a fair question.

In an industry where watches are equipped with the latest advancements, the dial retains the colours well, is more resistant to scrapes and scratches, and keeps better time than the one produced 30-40 years ago; why would anyone want to buy vintage? Ironically, that’s the whole point!

  • AESTHETICALLY:

Wearing a vintage watch is a statement in itself. The fact that not everyone can go into a store and pick a vintage timepiece makes it so special. Vintage watches have an inherent individuality, each with its own story, scratches, ageing signs, etc. The discolouration symbolises that the watch has lived a life – something a new model lacks.

  • FUNCTIONALLY:

Many are sceptical about the practicality of vintage watches. But despite their age, many vintage timepieces are reliable tools for accurately telling time. With simple yet robust mechanical movements, vintage watches require minimal maintenance. Remember, anyone owning a vintage luxury watch takes great care of it; hence, it will be perfectly sturdy and suitable for everyday wear and tear.

  • FINANCIALLY:

Undoubtedly, specific vintage luxury watch models perform exceptionally well as investments. Unlike new watches, whose value depreciates as soon as you purchase them, a vintage watch model could increase in value over time. Historically speaking, vintage watches have proven to be terrific investments.

You’ll be surprised that some vintage models from renowned watch brands have fearsome waiting lists. For instance, the Ceramic Rolex Daytona, Rolex GMT-Master II ‘Pepsi’, Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711, and others have almost eight years of waiting time. This is because of the insane demand for these vintage models.

However, you’ll generally find many vintage watches waiting for you and not the other way around.

13 Things To Consider When Buying Vintage Watches

Buying a vintage watch can be a rewarding experience. It offers a unique blend of history, style, and craftsmanship that contemporary watches often cannot match. However, to make a wise and satisfying purchase, it’s important to understand what to look for and avoid.

Here are some crucial factors one must consider when buying a vintage timepiece.

1. Find the kind of vintage watch you want

When buying vintage luxury watches, avoid impulsive decisions at all costs. While you might be tempted to browse the watches online, it’s never a good idea. Spend a few days researching the watch you wish to buy. Choose the watch manufacturer you like the most and the kind of features you’d want in a timepiece. Whether you choose Omega, Rolex, or any other brand, researching will help you narrow down your options quickly.

2. Stick to a budget

Determine your budget range before starting your search, as the world of vintage luxury watches is filled with numerous attractive options. Vintage timepieces can vary widely according to brand, condition, exclusivity, historical significance, etc. Setting a strict budget will narrow your options and help you focus on watches that align with your needs, preferences and financial constraints.

3. Do some research

After you have a brand or a watch in mind, consider some important questions about it:

  • When was the watch made?
  • What materials is it made of?
  • How does it work?
  • Does it need servicing?
  • What sets it apart from other vintage timepieces?
  • What is the serial number?

You’d want to find out everything about the watch you’re eyeing to feel confident when investing your money. You can find details on online forums or visit an expert.

4. Assess the condition

Check the watch’s condition properly. Look for signs of wear, such as scratches, discolouration, dents, etc. See if any parts have been replaced or if the watch has been serviced, as this can significantly impact the value. Check the tick-tock of the watch, as it can reveal a lot about the piece’s condition and how well it’s keeping time.

5. Check its authenticity

The massive popularity of the vintage watch market and the luxury watch market, in general, has welcomed the biggest problem—fake and replica watch models. The exorbitant price rise has attracted scammers to sell imitations of some of the most in-demand vintage models. Therefore, buying from reputed dealers or sources is imperative to ensure your watch is 100% authentic.

6. Originality of the components

If you want to buy a vintage watch with all the original parts, prepare to scrutinise it. For instance, check if the patina has occurred due to ageing or if the hands and markers have been painted to match one another. If you spot a non-original part, it doesn’t necessarily indicate a fatal scenario. In earlier days, servicing a watch involved replacing components to restore it to a condition akin to its original state, including changing the hands, bezels, dials and even bracelets. But you surely want to know about that.

7. Reputed seller

There are numerous online and physical stores selling vintage luxury watches. But you must always deal with a recognised online or in-store seller. Ask the seller about the watch authentication process, certification, warranty, shipping method, original paperwork, return policy, and other terms and conditions. Also, check their online reviews and testimonials to learn about their reputation. If you’re not confident about the seller’s approach, it is best to move away.

8. Check the provenance

All vintage watches have past lives; sometimes, having a fascinating history or a famous previous owner can significantly add to the watch’s overall value. One such example is the Rolex ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona. Additionally, checking the watch’s provenance or ownership history helps verify its authenticity. This information includes the watch’s original purchase, previous owners, any significant event associated with it, or any notable repairs or services it has undergone.

9. Box & Papers

The box and papers for a vintage luxury watch almost always increase its value, but the amount will not be the same for all the models. For some, the price only increases by a couple of hundred pounds, and for others, it is worth six figures. original box and papers attest to the watch’s authenticity, which means an additional gain in resale value.

10. Consider the polishing

Before paying your hard-earned money for a vintage timepiece, you’ll want to check whether and to what degree the watch has been polished. Your bright, shiny watch may actually have been stripped of its former self, worn down over repeated polishing, taking away from its original vintage charm. Look for crisp angles and lines and a minimum of case scratches. While polishing is fine to an extent, ensure it has not been polished to death.

11. Check the bracelet

As vintage watches are worn previously, expect to find some stretches here and there on the bracelet. When the pin wears down, a bracelet gradually elongates. The drilled holes in the bracelet’s link expand and create more space for the pin to play in the bracelet. While some folks like a little stretch on the bracelet, others like it tight.

Although it’s a matter of personal choice, you must ensure your end links remain straight and intact to avoid the risk of your watch becoming dislodged. The hollow links are most prone to this tendency, so ensure each pin is securely drilled into the vintage watch.  

12. Service History

Ask for the vintage watch’s service history. Regular servicing and maintenance are crucial for the performance and longevity of a vintage timepiece. A watch with regular servicing indicates proper care and maintenance over the years.

13. Investment potential

While this may not be the first thing you’d consider when buying a vintage luxury watch, there’s no harm in knowing the investment return. It’s wise to invest in vintage watches with the potential for value appreciation over time. Consider vintage watches with rich historical significance and unique features or those with limited availability, as they tend to command higher prices on the secondary market.

Top 5 Vintage Watch Investments Today

Now that you’re familiar with the know-how, it’s time to think about which vintage watches you should add to your collection straight away. Sure, there are numerous options, but if you want to level up your style stakes while buying a watch that is undoubtedly ‘vintage’, here are the top picks.

1. Rolex ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona

We had to inaugurate the list with the best – the Rolex Daytona ‘Paul Newman’. This legendary timepiece sold for nearly £15 million in an auction, making it the priciest timepiece ever sold. This also makes it one of the toughest gems to acquire. Buy a vintage Rolex Daytona, and you’re guaranteed a crowd pleaser, an icon with an esteemed racing heritage, precise timekeeping and standout contrasting dial design.

2. Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 3700/001

The Patek Philippe Nautilus 3700/001 is the original Nautilus produced by Patek in 1976, also known as the Jumbo. This vintage timepiece is rare due to its limited production and its discontinuation shortly after its release. The watch has an iconic porthole-inspired design with an octagonal bezel, integrated bracelet, and horizontally embossed dial. Collectors worldwide covet the Patek Philippe Nautilus, and its popularity continues to grow.

3. Omega Seamaster Proplof 600

The old-school Omega Seamaster Proplof 600 has been a favourite amongst vintage watch lovers ever since the prototypes debuted in 1969. The watch made waves with its horological phenomenon encompassing a distinct steel monobloc case with a stunning water resistance of 600 metres. This feature made it most suitable for exploring the sea and helped grow industries like diving, which needed tough gear for deep dives. It is one of the finest and most reliable examples of vintage watchmaking. This tool watch’s immense popularity resulted in Ploprof making a comeback in 2023.

4. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 5402

Introduced in 1972, the AP Royal Oak changed the landscape of luxury sports watches forever. Gerald Genta designed a spectacular watch that became one of the most coveted timepieces worldwide. The Ref. 5402 has an all-steel allure, combining elegance and functionality. It has an integrated bracelet, an octagonal bezel and a dial with a date function. This vintage watch design was based on one of the ships from the novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Royal Oak is a classic investment and is more popular than ever.

5. Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222

If you want to buy one of the best vintage watches out there with added strength and packed with lineage, the Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222 is the one. Released in 1977 to commemorate the brand’s 222nd anniversary, the watch is a celebration of the brand’s history and a bold entry into the realm of luxury sports watches. It is easily recognisable for its distinct tonneau-shaped case, octagonal bezel, clean dial with applied hour markers, date window, luminous hands, and integrated bracelet.

At a time when only precious metals were used to design watches, this vintage Vacheron Constantin in steel represented a departure from the conventional notion with its sporty and contemporary outlook. For its exclusivity and desirability, this is undoubtedly one of the best vintage watches for investment with a solid horological appeal.

Where To Buy Vintage Luxury Watches?

It might sound to many as an exaggeration, but where you buy your vintage watch is more important than what you buy. We’ve already mentioned the problems of fakes and replicas, as there are oceans of them out there, with corrupt dealers trying to take advantage of the unaware.

There are three main sources from where you can buy vintage watches:

  • Professional watch dealers (online & in-store)
  • Auction houses
  • Private individuals

It is best to buy vintage luxury watches from a reputed professional as they probably offer the best of all the requirements—convenience, transparency, and protection.

Luxbrokers is a reputed name in the industry with over 40 years of combined experience. This means you have highly qualified and experienced experts to give you the best quality vintage timepiece. We offer online and in-store services, allowing you to buy the watch conveniently.

Choose from a wide range of pre-owned vintage watches, all authenticated by our skilled experts. Rest assured of secure payment options, insured delivery, and friendly service. Call 0207 123 5081 to speak to one of our experts.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The world of vintage watches is vast, and no one guide will possibly answer everything you need to know. But that’s the fun part of it. You find out interesting tiny details over time. If you’re interested in joining the club of vintage watch collection, the most important lesson is to stick to the pieces you sincerely enjoy rather than the ones you think may increase in value over time.

No one knows the future, and regardless of how your vintage watch performs in the market, you’ll always own something to cherish.

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