Buying watches is always a pretty exciting endeavor. Whether you are buying from a secondary market dealer or straight from an authorized dealer after getting the long-awaited call for a watch that you've lusted over for months or even years – it's a special time. However, after building up a solid collection of modern watches, at what point do you start to look into the wild world of vintage timepieces? It's hard to tell, really, as our personal preferences are all so unique, but here are some pointers that you should consider while exploring if you should go for a vintage watch.
Why Are You Buying It?
First and foremost, before you explore the world of vintage watchmaking, you need to consider why you want to buy a vintage watch. Generally speaking, vintage watches are more fragile than modern watches and require more care, attention, and ease of use. You can't exactly wear a vintage GMT-Master ref. 1675 around as though it was a modern GMT-Master II ref. 126710BLRO "Pepsi."
So, why are you buying it? This will guide the type of watch that you want to buy and the parameters that you look for in the watch. Are you buying it for the vintage aesthetic? Are you buying it as an investment? Are you buying it because you're passionate about a certain thing and the watch featured in said thing, such as a movie or TV show, at a sports event, or on the wrist of someone you admire? Or is it just a watch you've liked for a while and want to finally add to your collection?
Once you figure this out, you can build a picture of the watch that you want. If it is an investment you are after, you will need to buy a watch that is entirely original and in fantastic condition with its full set. If you are after a watch that was worn by someone you admire, you might want to buy a particular variant of the watch, with a particular dial arrangement and so on. Likewise, if they watch featured in a movie or was worn by a sports star, you'll need to figure out what model it was and what variant it was exactly. Once you have that nailed, you can begin your hunt and start learning about all of the intricacies to do with the watch you are after.
From the dozens of dial variants that exist to the choice between pointed crown guards or square crown guards and the million other things that can vary between watches, you will at least have an idea of the watch you want and how rigid you are in wanting that exact watch. For example, if it is an investment piece, you might be a bit more lenient on the particular variant, whereas if it's the watch your grandfather wore, you might not be. Either way, this is a personal decision and something you'll need to explore yourself.
Have You got a Sizeable Collection?
Building on the point that vintage watches, or at least the majority of them, are not able to be worn daily, you should ask yourself if you have a large and colorful enough collection that you can justify spending what will probably be a large amount of money on a watch that will likely only see very little wear compared to your other watches. Of course, if you have an extensive collection already, then it won't be an issue as you probably only wear each watch for a day or two, which a vintage watch can quite comfortably handle.
However, if you want a vintage watch to be the second or third watch in your collection, then you will need to be quite careful about the watch you buy as you will want to wear it a lot. Some vintage watches can be pretty fragile, and some can be a bit more robust. If it's a watch you'll need to get plenty of wear time with to justify purchasing; then you might want to consider neo-vintage watches from the 90s or 2000s as opposed to pieces from the 70s and 80s. As your collection grows then older, then you will be in a better place to buy older vintage watches.
Your Experience in the Market.
Perhaps one of the most important factors you should consider when asking yourself if you should go for a vintage watch is your level of experience in the watch market. Do you understand the minefield that vintage watches can be? The level of care they require, the maintenance costs, the potential risks with unoriginal parts, or the risk of acquiring a frankenwatch?
While it might seem that buying a vintage watch should be exactly like buying a modern watch, it is quite the opposite due to the sheer variety that exists out there. In a world where a slight dial variation could be worth tens of thousands, and sometimes up to millions of dollars, you should dip your toes in to test the waters before jumping in. Read up on as much you can, handle some vintage watches, so you know what they feel like on the wrist and in your hands, and get some personal time with vintage watches to see if it's something you want to own.
Do You Know Who To Trust?
Finally, we come to our final point that you should consider when looking to get into vintage watch collecting; is there someone you can trust to tell you the truth and not take advantage of you? Building from our last point, vintage watches and the entire market they exist within can be a minefield, and it has its fair share of unscrupulous dealers or dealers that don't know exactly what they have. Try to find a renowned dealer with an extensive range of expertise in the watch or brand you want and stick to them. Corroborate what they tell you from other sources and never be afraid to get a second opinion. Build a rapport with this dealer and learn from them.
While you will likely have to pay a premium from a premium seller, it will be worth it in the long run as they will either stand over the originality of the watch and will have had it serviced. Furthermore, they will know if a watch has replaced parts due to their knowledge, and they'll be upfront about it. After all, honesty is the most valuable asset any watch dealer can have. As a customer, knowing you can truly trust what you are being told makes the entire purchasing experience less daunting and a lot more enjoyable.
In the end, buying a vintage watch is the beginning of the next step in your watch collecting journey and will be incredibly exciting; just be sure to take it slowly and be careful.