Dave I. is a new convert to the world of horology. When not searching online for that perfect watch deal, he can be found obsessing over his shoes and relaxing with a pint of locally brewed craft beer.
So. You’ve been diligently building your watch collection slowly over time, purchasing good bang-for-the-buck inexpensive timepieces (such as the Seiko SKN809, or a Timex Weekender to name a few popular choices). You’re happy with your watch(es), but now you’re getting the itch. You want to purchase a vintage watch. Something with a bit of character. Something with some history. Something that maybe one day you will hand down. Trouble is, where do you start? How do you go about taking that first step towards getting that exotic timepiece?
I recently did this dance. And along the way, I learned quite a bit. You’ll certainly be able to tell, quickly, what watch I was after and acquired. Here are four tips that I think anyone looking to purchase a vintage watch should keep in mind during the process:
#1. Know what you want/like.
This might seem like an obvious point, but decide what you want before starting your search. Make a list of anything and everything you want in your watch. The variety of available watches can be overwhelming, and not having a clear understanding of what you’re after can be an exercise in frustration. For me? My list of wants/likes lead me to a vintage Omega Speedmaster. I’d had my eye on Omega watches for a while, but the lack of a chrono in my watch collection, combined with the history of the Speedmaster was enough to seal the deal. Some questions to ask yourself, and this list is by no means exhaustive, include:
- Brand: What brand/manufacturer are you interested in?
- Age: How old/vintage do you want?
- Size: What case size/diameter are you looking for?
- Style/Features: Do you want a chronograph or something busy? Or do you want something with a simple dial/face?
- Investment vs. Heirloom: Are you planning to flip the watch later, or hold on to it for keeps?
Make a list of anything and everything you want in your watch. Seriously. Write it down. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can move on to step two…
#2. Invest some serious time into research.
Great! You’ve determined the criteria for a watch you want. Now comes the time consuming part; doing your research. Find out everything you can about the watch. For example, watch manufacturers may make subtle changes to a watch from one year or decade to the next, and this can have impacts on price and maybe quality. Watches are a bit like cars. A 1967 Ford Mustang is not the same as a 1987 Mustang. That’s a pretty severe example, but, you get the point. For me, I was looking for a Speedmaster, built/sold after 1980 but prior to 1997, with the C861 movement. My reasoning was that watches prior to 1997 had the movement I was after, were more or less readily available in the used market, but more important to me were lumed with tritium. The tritium lume ages with a nice patina to it, which was pleasing to my eye. Now I just had to figure out where to purchase my watch.
Online Sources: So where to start your research? The website WatchuSeek has a wealth of information in the forums and is a good starting point. Another source of information are message boards/forums that are dedicated to the brand of watch you are interested in. Searching these forums, and/or posting questions can help narrow your search down to a specific model. Plus there’s always Dappered Threads too (yes, that was a shameless plug, but Dappered is about getting a good deal, no?). For my search, I spent a lot of time on the Omega, Rolex, and WatchuSeek sales forums.
In Person Sources: Lastly don’t discount speaking with real live people (they are out there). Jewelers can be a wealth of information and can answer questions about potential purchases. As a recommendation though, don’t waste their time with generic questions such as “what is the best watch I can get for X dollars”. These are professional people with busy schedules. But asking a specific question (such as “I’m looking at purchasing a insert watch here, and I’ve read that servicing can be expensive. Can you tell me what a service would cost and how often can I expect to service my watch?”) can help with your search.
And speaking of price, this bring us to step three…
#3. Set your price point.
Prices on vintage/used watches can vary greatly as there are many factors that go into pricing a vintage/used watch. So again, it pays to do your research. The website WatchRecon can be a good source of pricing information, as can websites such as eBay and Chrono24. But before making any purchase make sure to research the seller. This is enormously key. As the saying goes “You’re not buying the watch, you’re buying the seller”.
To help make sure you don’t make a purchase from a less-than reputable dealer, peruse the watch forums for feedback of the seller. Run google searches on the seller’s ID. Ask questions of the seller about the watch either in direct private messages or on the forum itself. If you’re not happy with the responses, walk away. Another watch will present itself. There’s always another train comin’. And finally, if looking at purchasing the watch on eBay, pay close attention to the seller’s reputational score.
If all this looks good to you, then you’re in the final phase of your mission…
#4. Be patient – then pounce!
With all of this information at your fingertips, you’re now ready to make your purchase. Except the watch you’ve so painstakingly researched might not be available for sale just yet. Or the watch is for sale but not at the level of quality you’re after, or the price point you’re willing to spend. So the waiting game begins. Some websites will allow you to establish email alerts, letting you know when a watch with the exact price parameters and quality level you’re after is for sale. For other sites, it might involve daily (even hourly) visits to the website to see if/when your desired timepiece goes up for sale. Of course, you will be tempted to compromise on some of your factors. Price, quality, whatever. If you’re not the patient type, just keep in mind these wise words: “If the opportunity is too good to be true it likely is.”
My experience had me watching Omega, Rolex, and Watchuseek forums like a hawk. Used Speedmasters were coming up for sale surprisingly often. But I was determined to stick to my guns. I kept a close eye on who was selling watches regularly versus the one-off sellers. I finally settled on a seller who had outstanding reviews, and had sold some Speedmasters in the past. On top of that, the Speedmasters he/she had sold were in my price range of between $2,000 and $3,000 USD. I waited. I watched. I pounced. And when I did, I ended up with just what I wanted.
Happy watch hunting!