Every vintage watch has a story to tell, and that’s what makes them special. Each piece offers a unique window into the past that traces back through generations, and owning one means getting to enjoy a piece of decades-old mechanical art. Welcome to the world of vintage.
There has been a huge upsurge in vintage watch collecting over the past twenty years, a natural consequence perhaps of the mechanical watch revival that took place in the 1990s after the doom-laden era of the quartz crisis had receded.
Since then vintage watches have grabbed the watch industry’s biggest headlines, with a number of Rolex and Patek Philippe models regularly selling for well over a million dollars at the most prestigious auction houses.
Vintage watches have never been in such high demand, with even models from lesser-known brands seeing their value increase ten-fold over the last decade or so. Of course, precious few vintage timepieces—or any timepieces, for that matter—will reach anywhere near the astronomical price ($17.75 million) fetched by Paul Newman’s Daytona in 2017, but a vintage watch by a brand like Omega or Zenith which sold for a couple of hundred pounds in the 1990s, would fetch several times that in today’s market.
If you’re wondering what defines a vintage watch in the first place, the answer isn’t set in stone. Some people consider any pre-1980 model to qualify as vintage, while others insist it’s anything over 25 years old. Any watch over a hundred years old, on the other hand, is classed as an antique—one you might consider locking in a safe rather than actually wearing.
If you’re thinking of starting your own vintage collection featuring the most established brands, there are a number of names and models to consider. Vintage Patek Philippe pieces are among the most desirable, whether it’s a pre-World War II time-only Calatrava, a 1970s Nautilus or any perpetual calendar model in gold or platinum.
The most popular vintage Audemars Piguet models are the first-generation Royal Oaks, a luxury steel sports model launched in 1972 that gave rise to a whole new genre in high-end watchmaking.
Extremely rare and therefore much sought-after are vintage Panerai watches, of which as few as 350 were made between 1938 and 1994, after which the brand finally began making watches commercially and for the civilian market, rather than just for the Italian navy. Vintage Radiomir and Luminor models now command six-figure sums at auction.
Vintage Breitling and vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre watches are generally more affordable than the above, but even more wallet-friendly are a number of chronograph models by the legendary Heuer.
Vintage TAG Heuer (as it is now called) is best represented by several chronograph models with strong motor-racing links, the most famous being the square-cased Monaco. Famously worn by Hollywood maverick Steve McQueen, this distinctive and iconic timepiece is now a regular in the brand’s catalogue, with a number of dial variations and special editions. There’s something extra-cool about the early models, though, whose tiny imperfections enhance their appeal.
A few oft-repeated rules for budding vintage collectors are as follows: always buy from a trusted seller; try to buy watches with all original parts (dials, for example, have often been repainted or replaced on older watches); and never wear any vintage watch, whether a diver’s watch or not, in water as it will have almost certainly lost its water resistance due to the seals on the gaskets eroding.
And don’t be put off by faded lume, the odd battle scar and a little patina. Part of the charm of a vintage watch is that it’s been around the block a few times, had a few different wearers, got a few tales to tell.
At Watchfinder we sell a number of vintage models from brands including Rolex, Tudor, Zenith, Omega and more. Browse our selection online today to find your perfect vintage timepiece and add another chapter to its story.