5 Tips for Buying Vintage Watches

In today’s watch market, buyers are spoiled for choice, having many variations, functions, and materials available to them. For others, this can simply be overwhelming, but for serious watch collectors, it presents a new challenge: to hunt down the old, rare piece that not many people have.

Because of today’s unprecedented interest in vintage watches, the market can be a minefield for the inexperienced vintage watch buyer. Education is still your best tool in making your vintage watch purchase memorable and fruitful. Here are 5 key steps to getting into the vintage watch game.

1. Know the kind of watch that you want.
Much like buying a new watch, knowing the particular kind of vintage watch you want will make the search more productive.Are you buying for sentimentality? Perhaps you want a watch manufactured during a particular year or period. Is there a sport or activity you often engage in? Perhaps you can choose among sport, dress or casual watches. Another approach would be to focus on specific types of movements.Vintage watch collecting is still all about searching for the watch that will meet your needs, desires and budget.

Omega Speedmaster Vintage ref 105.003
Vintage Omega Premoon 321 Speedmaster Straight Lugs Watch 105.003-65
The first watch worn on the Moon was a Calibre .321 version, one of the finest manual winding movements of all time – making this a highly collectable piece.


2. Gain as much knowledge as you can on your chosen watch model. 
Narrowing your focus not only makes the search easier, it also helps you deepen your knowledge of watches. Often, when a seasoned collector buys a vintage watch, it is a particular model or reference number that they have studied and followed for a long time. Here’s where you can do your research:

  • Books – still the best source of verified information on the provenance and milestones of a watch.
  • Auction house catalogues – these will likely include provenance, documentation, other forms of authentication, and an estimate price.
  • Blogs – there is a wealth of collectors out there who write about specific brands, categories or even specific models.
  • Forums – many collectors are online and are willing to share their knowledge about the brands and watches they are passionate about. Not only will you gain knowledge about watches, you’ll also learn from their experiences in hunting down and purchasing a watch.

The first two may cost money, and scouring through many sources may take time, but it can save you hundreds and thousands of dollars by preventing you from buying a counterfeit or a Frankenwatch.

Rolex Explorer Vintage ref 1655
Rolex Explorer ref 1655also known as the “Orange Hand” Explorer, shot to fame when it was rumored to be worn by famous actor and racer Steve McQueen.


3. Look for a reputable dealer.
So you’ve decided on a watch – you’ve just got to figure out where to buy it.While you may find it at a much cheaper price from an independent seller on eBay, the safety of purchasing a watch from an established dealer far outweighs the cost. Some questions you’d want to ask:
  • Is the seller in the business of selling watches?
  • How many years have they been in operation?
  • Do they have reviews and good feedback?
  • How much information can they give you about the watch?
  • Can they give an authenticity warranty?
  • Can they do repairs and maintenance in the future?
A retailer who has a brick-and-mortar shop or showroom is most preferable. There, you can inspect the watch in person, fiddle around with it a bit, and ask questions from the salespersons.
Rolex Submariner 5513 Vintage Stainless Steel Mens Watch
Early, matte dial references of the Rolex Submariner (like the 5512 and 5513) and the Rolex GMT Master (specifically the 1675) are considered holy grail watches.


4. Contact the manufacturer. 
Most watch manufacturers have a rich archive of the models they have produced in the past and some will even be able to extract exclusive information on the watch such as the number of pieces produced and countries of destination. They usually have a point-of-contact whom you can email.This may take some time and cost a bit of money, but it helps when vetting information that you’ve gathered. Be patient – many collectors reach out to them and they deal with similar requests every day.

5. Compare prices. 
Now that you’ve found the watch and are sure it’s the real deal, the final hurdle is ensuring that you’ve paid the right amount for the watch. Prices may sometimes vary widely for the same watch or similar models.Go through different dealers and get the average – what matters is that what you’re paying isn’t too far from the market price and it’s a price you’re happy to pay.




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