In all honesty, getting into vintage watches is as complex, or as simple, as you choose to make it! You can devote your life to collecting rare timepieces, researching their every detail or you can just decide to add a bit of vintage character to your life purely for the unique style that it brings. We thought we’d compile a list of things to watch out for when purchasing a vintage watch at auction, so read on to find out more.
What Does ‘Vintage’ Mean?
For watches, there is no strict time period that makes a watch “vintage”. At its broadest, the term covers anything from the earliest wristwatches of the 1910s and 1920s up to 1990. There’s some debate over whether watches from the 1990s and 2000s can yet be described as vintage – you’ll sometimes hear people say “contemporary vintage” or something similar. The majority of vintage watches are from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, with an increasing interest in pieces from the 1980s as well.
Vintage Watches with a story
The most interesting vintage watches are those that were developed for a specific purpose: the so-called “tool watches“. Rolex made its name building such timepieces, like the Submariner (diving), the Milgauss (nuclear research) and the Explorer II (spelunking) — vintage examples that are consistently top picks among collectors and auction houses alike. Because timepieces used to be legitimate pieces of kit, many of these great old tool watches were actually bought and used for the purposes for which they were designed, which only adds to their mystique, value and stories.
Here at Plymouth Auction Rooms, we’ve had many vintage Rolex watches come through our saleroom doors. Notably, an Oyster Perpetual Submariner circa 1959 sold for an incredible £17,100 plus fees due to it’s fascinating backstory and incredible condition.
It was one of two submariner wristwatches given to Stanley Sayer by Rolex and had been in the family since. Stanley Sayer was a film cameraman working for Technicolour, who also worked on several film sets including Superman and Star Wars. He was a keen diver and inventor of the minisub. The minisub enabled divers to move underwater effortlessly, steer a course and light their way ahead.
Around 1959, Rolex were interested in using Stanley and his machine in their advertising portfolio and took a number of photos with him in action wearing one of their watches for publication. In payment for his services, he was invited to keep the watch that he wore in the press shoot and also given a second Submariner, which he then gave to his son in 1961. Stanley wore the watch daily until he passed in 2000.
What to look for in vintage watches
If the watch comes with accessories such as papers, boxes, tags, instruction booklets and point-of-sale materials from the shop where it was originally sold, it will be of particular interest to collectors and is likely to cost more. But such things may not be of interest to you if you are looking to simply buy a good value watch to wear and enjoy.
When buying vintage watches at auction, look for auctioneers that provide a clear catalogue, detailed descriptions and high-quality images. If in doubt, ask questions in good time before the date of sale.
Keep an eye on the condition
Condition is the biggest difference in vintage watches and can mean the difference between a £2,000 watch and a £14,000 one. You might be surprised to learn that, when buying a vintage watch, original condition is paramount! Does the lume on the dial match that on the hands? If not, chances are the hands or dial have been replaced. Are the edges of the case smooth or sharp? It’s better to have a watch with its original finish, despite the scratches that come with age, rather than one that was polished or repaired beyond recognition.
Interested in buying vintage watches at auction?
We regularly consign vintage watches from well-known brands such as Rolex, Omega, Breitling, Phillipe Patek and more. We regularly host watch valuation days where our in-house specialist will offer you a free auction valuation for your timepiece. The next watch valuation event is taking place on Monday 20th of March, so please do get in touch with our team to make an appointment. Give us a call on 01752 254740.