Edward Howkins, Dec 11 2020

A Beginners Guide To Buying Vintage Watches

A Beginners Guide To Buying Vintage Watches

This blog is a continuation of our “How to Buy a Watch” series. Check out the rest of the series:

When you buy a watch, you are going to buy either a new watch, a used watch, or a vintage watch. For the purposes of this blog, we will say that a vintage watch was built before 1995. If you are thinking of buying a watch, you should consider buying a vintage watch. In this blog, we will tell you why you should consider buying a vintage watch, and what to look out for if you do.  

Why You Should Buy A Vintage Watch

We think there are 3 main reasons to buy a vintage watch:

  • Price
  • Unique designs
  • Size

Vintage Watches Can Be Cheaper Than Modern Equivalents

Sometimes, buying a vintage watch is a good way of buying into a luxury brand, at a lower price. Many luxury watch brands increase their new watch prices every year. Vintage watches are not marketed by the watch brands themselves, so pricing is driven by customer demand. If you search around, you can find vintage versions of the watch that you want for a lot less than the current retail price. For example, a vintage Omega Seamaster will cost you less than £1000, and the modern version (which is a re-issue of the vintage one) will be over £5,000

There are exceptions to this, for example, very rare vintage watches which sell for a huge premium to their modern equivalents. The most expensive wristwatch ever sold was the Rolex Daytona owned by Paul Newman. Rolex still make the Daytona model, however it is quite different to the very rare version that Paul Newman wore.

1963 Omega Seamaster

1963 Omega Seamaster

Vintage Watches Are Less Common And Can Be More Unique

There are many more vintage watches than modern watches, as they were produced over many decades, by a huge range of brands. Lots of watch brands don’t exist any more. By buying a vintage watch, you can often find something that you won’t see many other people wearing. Some of these watches are very desirable by collectors, so they are more expensive. Others can be a very low-cost way to buy a watch design that you like.

Jaquet-Droz Caribbean Diving watch from the 1970's

Jaquet-Droz Caribbean Diving watch from the 1970's

Vintage Watches Are Smaller

If you have smaller wrist, then a vintage watch could be a good thing to consider. Modern watches are typically larger than vintage watches, as style has dictated watch sizes over the past decades. A modern men’s watch will typically have a diameter of 38mm to 45mm. A vintage watch will have a diameter of 33mm-38mm. If you find modern watches feel a bit bulky on your wrist (as many people do), then you should try a smaller vintage watch on to see if it feels more comfortable.

Rolex have acknowledged recently that the feel of a vintage watch is what some buyers want, and their newest Submariner model has been designed to sit on the wrist like a vintage watch.

Notice the size difference between the vintage Sicura on the left, and the Modern Breitling on the right

Notice the size difference between the vintage Sicura on the left, and the Modern Breitling on the right

What Should You Look For When Buying A Vintage Watch

The two main things to assess when you are buying a vintage watch are:

  • Condition
  • Provenance

You should first try to work out the condition of a vintage watch.

Have a look at the dial, the case and the hands. Do they look rusty? Does it look like there has been water damage?

What colour are the markers? Sometimes these will turn a nice creamy colour. This happens when the lume (which is used to make the watch glow in the dark) ages over time. Many collectors find this desirable, and value watches where the lume has been replaced less.

Does the watch look to be in very good condition? If so, Is it new-old stock (NOS) or has it been re-furbished? NOS watches have never been sold, so look new, despite the fact that they are very old. You should ask the seller whether the watch is NOS or has been re-furbished to look new. A NOS watch is more valuable than a re-furbished watch.

You should also consider the provenance of the watch. That means, where it camne from and what its history is. Have parts been replaced? Does it look how it should? It doesn’t necessarily matter if parts have been replaced – when they get damaged, watch makers will replace watch parts, and this is the same as any mechanical object. For example, when your car is serviced, you would expect broken parts to be replaced.


It’s important that you understand what parts have been replaced, particularly if it is any of the visible parts. This can drastically affect the value of the watch. Watches can be made to look like a much rarer version with a replacement dial or hands. You don’t want to pay over the odds for a watch which is cobbled together from different models. These are called Frankenwatches

How Do You Avoid Buying A Frankenwatch

Very simply, by purchasing from a trusted seller – who has a history of validating the authenticity of watches, and pointing out things that have been changed.

There are also plenty of resources available online to help you validate whether a vintage watch you are thinking of purchasing is worth what it is being sold for. We at The Watch Collectors Club will make the definitive list of these resources available to our members.

Rolex Oyster Royal - replaced dial

Rolex Oyster Royal - replaced dial

Rolex Oyster Royal - Super Oyster Crown

Rolex Oyster Royal - Super Oyster Crown

Should You Buy A Vintage Watch?

It’s important to remember that vintage watches might not be as reliable as modern watches. They might not be as waterproof, and they might be more delicate, and will have different servicing needs.

However, we at The Watch Collectors Club think that they can be a great way to buy an interesting watch from a great brand. If you do your research you can get a great watch for a sensible price, and be pretty certain that you won’t see anyone else wearing it.

Keep following us for more buying guides, and of you want to see some pictures of our vintages watches, follow us on Facebook and Instagram (links below).

Please let us know what you think, and forward this to to your friends.

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