What are the best Vintage Watches to buy?
We are often asked, what is the best vintage watch I should buy? What a question! What is the best car to buy, what is the best vacuum cleaner, what is the best, well anything!
Firstly there are questions that need to be asked. Is it just a vintage watch for telling the time, or are you looking for a vintage watch that will just look good, maybe both, or maybe it’s an investment that interests you.
The latter it’s fair to say is where we can advise you the best. The first two questions are easy to answer, any watch will tell the time, but if you want style, then this comes a little more expensive, if its prestige, well you will purchase this from as little as £1000 for a brand new watch from Omega to Tag Heuer , from Oris to Longines.
But if course the point is, its new. So you will have paid the full retail price and it’s doubtful it will A, hold its price, and B, will be an investment until you have kept it for a very long time. So this leaves the investment market.
Buying Vintage Watches as an Investment
In reality to realise an investment in time, needs time itself. If you have purchased from a dealer then you are likely to have paid his profit, and vat on the profit he has made, so it’s possible that if you buy an Omega let’s say for £2000, he may well have had it serviced, that’s £300-£400 for starters, then if he has paid say £1200 for it, there is vat of £160, (20% of his starting profit), so in fact he has only made £240 profit on a £2000 watch, so no one is going to become a millionaire if he deals in watches. It’s true to say that if that dealer is selling 20 watches a day, it’s a good return, or if he is selling a vintage Rolex or Patek Philippe for say £10,000 a time, then again it’s a good return.
Implications of buying vintage watches
As an investor though there are some serious risks to be considered. The first is buying blind via Ebay and other such sites. Many times these sites are fine, but beware, many vintage watches are fakes and it takes an expert to spot one. These days even Rolex copies have genuine looking boxes and papers! Some are also ‘aged’ to make them look genuine, so unless you really know what you are doing this can be a costly mistake.
Then there is the auction route. Much safer, but again, there are no guarantees so a watch that needs work could be very expensive. Rolex will charge anything up to £500, and most other watch houses will be similar, and we always recommend you have your watch repaired or serviced by the maker, as this will enhance your investment. Also boxes and papers help, although not vital , however it helps the investment although you will pay more in the first place.
So what is the best vintage watch for investment?
To be honest, always buy something you personally love, or want to wear. If you like the sports, divers, steel look, then Rolex will always hold their money, especially the Submariners.
Classics of course, especially 1950s and 60s will always be just that. Why is it such a classic? Well the origins of the Submariner can be traced back to the Rolex President Hans Wilsdorf. He would listen to his employees and he listened to the ideas of Board Director and sea diver Rene Paul Jeanneret. It was his suggestion that Rolex developed a watch that looked good and was also a practical watch for diving. The company had a range of models, but not quite the right look for Rene Paul. In 1953 the company produced the Submariner along with other bold names like the GMT Master, Milgauss, and Explorer. This saw a huge explosion in Rolex popularity and their watches were suitable for almost any environment or sports activity.
The watch was tested by August Piccard, who strapped a prototype to his Bathyscape deep diving submarine. The vessel dived over 3100 metres, when it rose to the surface, the watch was still working!
In 1960, the submarine Trieste dived to the deepest point of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. A Rolex prototype with an Oyster case was strapped to the vessel, 10900 metres deep, the watch not only survived 1,125kg/cm pressure but looked as good as it did before its immersion. In essence, the older a Sub is, the more it is worth, with papers and box, anything pre 1970 will be five figures minimum, probably six. Definitely the latter pre 1960s, and good examples 1980s £6-£10000.
*** An example of price for a Patek Phillippe would be the Complication range, usually from £12000 to £85000. A 2002 model Complication in rose gold would be in the £25k range. The model 5035 was the world’s first production annual calendar model. The new movement was so complicated, yet the maker’s managed to produce something so elegant and collectable at the leading edge of design and technology.
*** Vacheron have to a degree found life difficult in trying to have an iconic look, yet many of those who really appreciate prestige and class will own such a brand and care little for something ‘iconic’. They have introduced the ‘Overseas’ collection which will cost the collector in the region of £5-£12000. One such model is the steel 47040. An automatic Swiss movement water resistant to 150 metres.
Jaeger Le Coultre
*** 1833 saw the first watch from this maker, Antoine Le Coutre. He produced high quality time pieces and in 1937 it was Antione’s grandson who joined forces with Parisian watchmaker Edmond Jaeger who produced ultra thin timepieces. (More history within this website- see vintage watches) Lets concentrate though on the Reverso range.
Jaeger Le Coultre invented this ingenious idea more than 80 years ago, and is still faithful to the original idea. Originally the company was asked by a group of polo players if a watch could be invented that would protect the dial and glass. The company invented a clever swivelling case that would turn 180 degrees and thus protect the case front with a plain solid back. This was both casual and dressy, and ideal for any sports purpose. This watch has been a great success for the company and it was popularised by polo players, skiers and racing drivers.
A bit out of the ordinary are
In 1874 Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piquet, watchmakers extraordinaire created a company with the idea of creating complex watches. Their company now over 140 years have been innovative and one of their earliest creations being the first minute repeater watch, a watch that chimed the time down to the nearest minute at the touch of a button.
In 1921 they were producing watches for Tiffany, Bvlgari, and Cartier. Today each watch is created by a small team in Switzerland and one of the few companies not conglomerated into a huge patchwork of companies. As an investment, if in good condition with box and papers, this watch house will always hold its value.
Can their be a more iconic brand than Omega? In truth it is not really an investment brand as with Rolex or Patek Philippe. However, many vintage Omega, that is pre 1960 will certainly have not gone down in value, and a good watch in fine condition with original box, and maybe papers will still be sought after by collectors. Older Seamsters and Speedmasters are desirable and whilst they may not top fine collectors lists, they fall into that nice bracelet of being quite cost effective at between £500-£1500 for vintage strap models, and £1500-£2500 for chronograph models, and Seamasters from around £1700 up to £2800. There are exceptions, the Seamaster Ploprof will be around £4000 (rsp £6000) , and some James Bond or moon landing Speedster may fetch a higher price if with box and papers.
The Speedmaster was introduced in 1957 arguably Omega’s most famous watch. It had a large black dial with contrasting white hands and an external tachymeter dial. The Professional came out in 1965 , and it was the 321 calibre version that was taken on the Apollo moon landing mission.
Another watch probably not for the investment collectors. However on saying that this watch house produces some very stylish watches. Like Omega fine vintage specimens will still be sought after and will attract collectors who will pay over the odds for a good vintage Longines watch. Most famously though was the watch created for Charles Lindbergh. Called the Hour Angle he actually designed this watch in 1931. This timepiece would aid Lindbergh with navigation enabling him calculate a precise location when taking his historic flight over the Atlantic. The Hour Angle was in fact the improvement required to calculate longitude based on GMT. In addition to markings on the dial and bezel he could now confidently navigate over open water.
The watch has been produced by Longines as copies of the original for many years, and good pieces from the 1990s would fetch around £2000, but a pre war model would cost considerably more
Usually collectors specialise in this area collecting watches from WW2 through to present day. Pilots watches, especially Luftwaffe are highly prized. For example a German military watch- Revue Sport- black dial with luminous hands and arabic figures would cost around £300.
However it would cost one a lot more to purchase Heuer military chronograph watch, WW2, with Swiss Military markings could cost around £3000. One can pay just a few hundred pounds for a 1960s military watch, but if a box and papers are included, then the price can double.
The British Army only really started to purchase large numbers of watches for military use after 1944. The same criteria of black dial, steel case, luminous hands, jewelled movement, shatterproof glass. Makers included Omega, Cyma, Buren, IWC, Longines and Jaeger Le Coultre. The Germans did issue watches in WW2, and the initials DH were engraved on the backs of these. The U boat commanders were issued with high grade chronometers and these are highly collectable.
A final precaution before buying a vintage watch
Remember one golden rule- condition is everything. Our advice is that unless you know this market inside out try to buy or do a deal with a reputable dealer, that way you may pay more to start with, but you will know that your investment is safe and you have a guarantee. It’s a bit like buying shares, blue chip companies will be a little more expensive and wont perform in a spectacular way, but you know your investment is safe, or go with a small AIM listed company, in oil maybe, you may win big, but you are more likely to lose. The wonderful thing about a vintage watch as an investment is that compared to many other forms, you get the pleasure of wearing it, so much better than staring at a share certificate!
I like to publish interesting industry news and articles weekly here from my blog at www.vintagewatchesandjewellery.co.uk/vintage. If you like what you see then please share, or ask a question. We are to help answer your vintage watch questions, we also buy vintage watches and vintage jewellery so get in touch by email or call us directly 01373 462089 (Charles Hart, Jewellers)