Professional Advice: 5 Tips for Buying Vintage Watches


Whether you are buying out of sentimentality -- say, you wish to have a wristwatch out of the entire year of your arrival -- or simply for investment purposes, instruction has become the most important element when it comes to purchasing, or collecting, vintage timepieces. During my last decade-plus with FratelloWatches, I have obtained a lot of e-mails from people who have fought with their purchase of a vintage watch; in virtually every response to such e-mails, I have offered five bullet-point guidelines, which I shall share with you.

1. Don't buy without investigation

It is tempting to make an impulse purchase on a nice-looking vintage timepiece that you see in the window of an antiques dealer or watch shop. However, there are lots of traps you can fall into -- traps of which even the seller may be oblivious. So be certain that you do your homework and learn about the opinion you would like to buy. You should only pull the trigger on a classic timepiece whenever you have become something of a specialist on a new or special watch version. For many, risking $300 or so on a classic watch isn't a worry, but if you are on the market for particular vintage Rolexes, as an example, which can readily have a price tag of $10,000 or more, you are going to wish to be certain that you've completed your own research. When you detect very similar-looking watches offered at reduced costs, you'll want to know what the gaps are. Perhaps naturally, as with every major purchase, you're advised to get on the internet and look up the watch you need before purchasing.

After you've decided which brand or watch model you're after, have a peek at some of the watch websites which are regarded an authority on the subject. (It is, of course, easier if the watch is from a significant brand rather than one that has long ago ceased to exist) It is also possible to find offline. Many books are written on amassing certain brands, diving watches, chronographs, famous watches, etc. Frequently, these books are found on Amazon or sites like WatchPrint. If you can not find what you're looking for there, you can check out eBay, where many sellers offer books that have been long out of print. Additionally, compare. Try to locate similar watches in watch stores (both online and offline) and note that their condition and costs. After a time, you will find a pretty good comprehension of the market prices and the requirements these watches are generally in. Look closely at the facts: do each of these watches have similar palms, printing on the dial, bracelets, bezels, date discs, et cetera? In the instance of a Rolex or Patek Philippe, this can be the difference between spending $5,000 or $10,000 or more. Train yourself to have an amazing eye!
2. Share the passion

Many fellow collectors of classic watches are online also, and frequently share knowledge about the watches or brands they're passionate about. It is possible to go to the major watch forums on the internet and read a number of the experiences that others have posted. Make use of the search functions of a forum before asking any questions; a few of these questions are asked a million times before, and have already been answered. If you're looking for an exotic brand which doesn't have any specific forum of its own, then you are able to visit the bigger watch programs, where you will either find generic (or even 'public') forums or a vintage section that covers a selection of brands. Ensure that the questions you ask are very specific. If you already have noticed a watch you prefer, include a few pictures and clearly state the version name and -- if possible -- the reference number and particular caliber that is inside. This will help the experts to provide you with the correct answers. In the long run, make certain you don't remain simply a "lurker" -- share your own experience of purchasing a classic watch.

Vintage watches from Jaeger-LeCoultre

3. Contact the producer

Quite a few watch manufacturers possess a rich record of what they have produced previously. At a few of the brands, you can even request an extract of the archives (this might cost a bit of money) with information regarding its manufacturing year, state of destination, number of pieces produced, caliber number, and instance and/or reference quantity. Additionally, some manufacturers have a point of contact for you with questions regarding their classic watches or watches. Be patient. Don't bother them every other day, asking if they have had the opportunity to read your email. These brands get many comparable e-mails out of collectors. If you have had no reply after two weeks, then you may want to send a friendly email to ask again.

4. Locate a watchmaker

Based on my personal experience of collecting watches because the late 1990, this is possibly the best suggestion I will give you, alongside teaching yourself. Find either an independent watchmaker or one who works for a large retailer. He will be your best friend for years to come. Ask around for a watchmaker with plenty of references, and what's more, ask if he's able to source replacement (or fresh) parts. Some watchmakers concentrate in a certain brand or have strong knowledge about specific movements. In addition, don't be scared to inquire about prices, and about the length of time it generally takes to repair or service watches. Some of the repairs can have a long time, mainly because some parts of vintage watches are very difficult to source. Sometimes, components are no longer accessible at all and have to get re-created from scratch. Ask about all these things when you contact a watchmaker. If he can not perform the job, don't hesitate to inquire if he has any colleagues who can. Again, some watchmakers have quite specific skill sets and specialties. You won't offend them by asking.

5. Find the Right Price

Ah, price... for some people, the most interesting part. As mentioned previously, prices may vary broadly on watches that look very similar. The most significant things is that you compare the watch you need to others like it by checking online watch-market platforms or offers at watch stores. Is overpaying to get a watch that the end of the world? No, so long as it's doesn't exceed too far the average market price, and so long as you are delighted with your purchase. From time to time, people fall in love with a watch due to a specific patina on the dial or the faded shade on a bezel. If that's well worth a bit extra to you, go for it. But you don't want to pay too much for a watch that is clearly not worth it. Thus again, compare! Ask about the guarantees a seller may provide you in case you find out -- after buying the watch -- which it is not as "original" as it appeared to be or it does not operate properly. In the latter scenario, of course, keep in mind that it's sometimes difficult to provide a two-year guarantee on a 50-year-old watch. Be sensible, but make certain to have a gentlemen's agreement on returning the lookout if you are not satisfied. Having said that, it's important that you buy from someone that has a good reputation for selling vintage watches. Word of mouth is very important, and any negative remarks on his manner of selling watches can destroy his organization. But if there aren't any points of conversation following the purchase, it's ideal to stay calm and keep the communication open and friendly.

Vintage Omega Speedmaster

A little bit of discussion is expected when it comes to buying a classic watch, but also keep in mind that excessive bargaining might have influence on the seller's willingness to assist you then if something is wrong with the watch. More to the point, ask your watchmaker (see #4) or the watch maker (see #3) exactly what the cost is of a service overhaul. From my personal experience, I always compute a service to the cost if buying a watch. Consequently, if the watch doesn't function correctly but you do not want to return it (maybe it is still the nicest watch you've ever seen), you've at least kept a little budget available to have it overhauled. Those are my top five. Collectors, any extra tips that I've missed? Please leave them for others -- and meto read in the remarks. For people who are new to the vintage collecting game, allow me to know if these were useful!