Collecting vintage watches within everyone’s reach?
The world of vintage watches is exciting for collectors. The market offers a wide variety of brands, models and styles so that it can become an affordable hobby for any pocket. A passion quite similar to hunting in terms of strategy and, if we may draw the analogy, a simile that reflects very clearly the way we at Icône understand watch collecting.
As in hunting, collecting the piece is the moment when a whole process culminates that for most people is more important than the trophy itself. This is the result of a reflective process; if we do not define what, how and when, we end up accumulating, instead of collecting. It is normal for a watch collector in their initial steps to aim for scattered targets; in the case of vintage watches, it is enough for the watch to be old to fall into that category. As time goes by, the collector gets more specific to be able to focus on pieces that meet a number of requirements.
A useful guide for collectors
In order to shorten the way from trophy “accumulator” to actual collector, we offer a guide based on our experience which we hope will be useful.
As we have mentioned, collecting vintage watches offers a wide range of possibilities; it is not only based on Rolex sports watches made in the 60s or 70s and Patek watches or chronographs from the 50s, although they are the most eye-catching and news-generating watches on the market. On a more affordable level, please find below some general recommendations:
First of all, it must be taken into account that this is a type of watch where there is a great difference in price between NOS (new old stock, watches that have never been used and include their original boxes and documentation) units and units that have been used over time with greater or lesser signs of deterioration. At this point, except for very important collections, it is common to discard these NOS units due to their price and focus on pieces that, even if used, are in good or very good condition.
Another recommendation is to choose the brand according to the attention it gets from the world of collecting: Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Omega, Blancpain and Audemars Piguet offer the possibility of certifying the originality of the piece and of issuing a document that confirms this, hence allowing the collector to accredit each of the pieces. Unfortunately, this is not possible with other brands, either because it is not the company’s policy to offer this service (as is the case with Rolex, Tudor and Breitling, among others) or because the manufacturer no longer exists (which is rather common with watches manufactured in the 50s and 60s).
Selection criteria for vintage watches
Generally, the brand or time period is not sufficient as a selection criterion, because it is too broad. Take Omega, for example: during the 50s it has classic watches, both timepieces and chronographs, whereas in the 60s and 70s the offer skyrockets: classic or sports, automatic, manual or quartz watches. It is not something specific to Omega, all manufacturers tend to offer a wide catalogue range.
A quite effective way to reduce the range is to limit it by purpose: diving watches, steel chronographs, military watches, watches showing moon phase movements … If we combine these functions with the manufacturers, we get a very interesting niche to focus on a good collection of vintage watches, with the added advantage of being able to widen the focus as we complete the pieces.
By combining all the above considerations, we are offering several interesting alternatives to get started in the world of vintage collecting, which we will try to develop in future articles.
Alternatives for a good start
Steel chronographs from the 60s: they are not difficult to find and offer a very wide price range, from pieces with Venus 180/190/200 movements that can be found in watches from many brands of that time in the range of €1,000-1,500 up to pieces with Valjoux 23/72/92 or Lemania movements in watches from well-known brands, such as Omega, Heuer or Breitling, in the range of €2,500-5,000.
Diving watches from the 1960s: every collector knows that the origin of diving watches can be found in the models presented by Rolex, Blancpain and Omega in the mid-50s. Their success led to the emergence of countless brands that, with similar aesthetics and relatively cheap movements, offered features similar to those of the initial three. Still renowned brands, such as Longines, Girard Perregaux or Tissot, but also many manufacturers that no longer exist or that have been absorbed by others, such as Zodiac, Endura, Sandoz, Legrand, Vulcain, Mido, Lucerne, etc.
All of these watches range from €400 to €1,500. Just an important consideration within this segment: more often than with chronographs of that time, manufacturers used chrome-plated brass to make watch cases in order to cut down on costs. Chrome cases are significantly more affordable than steel ones, but they are less resistant over time, and it is common to see watches with part of the chrome worn off.
Military watches from the 1940s: At the end of World War II, the MOD (Ministry of Defence of the United Kingdom) decided to equip its staff with wristwatches for military use with certain specifications regarding case characteristics, type of dial and hands, etc. A total of approximately 150,000 watches were supplied by 12 manufacturers. The manufacturers were Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, IWC, JLC, Lemania, Longines, Omega, Record, Timor and Vertex, each in different quantities.
They are pieces that are very well documented on the Internet, all of them boasting highly robust movements, around 35 mm in size and within a price range between €1,500 and €5,000, depending on the manufacturer and condition. Needless to say, the advantage is that it is a closed collection with just 12 pieces to get, which are called by collectors “The Dirty Dozen”, i.e. the film of the same name directed by Robert Aldrich.
As you can imagine, the possibilities offered by collecting vintage watches are huge, without having to consider high-priced brands. As usual, a good starting strategy when defining the collection range and good advice from experts will reduce the purchase of unwanted pieces or those that have to be sold later on in order to accumulate pieces that are really worthwhile.