How To Buy A Vintage Watch & Not Get Ripped Off

How To Buy A Vintage Watch & Not Get Ripped Off

Rolex, Omega, Breitling, IWC and more. When we talk about things that get better with age, wine is always what comes to mind. If all you want is to get a little drunk, an expensive, hundred-year-old wine is not going to be your drink of choice. But if what you really want is to enjoy the experience of drinking wine, it doesn’t get any better than shelling out for an exceptional bottle.

Likewise, if all you’re looking for is a practical way to keep track of time, your mobile phone is your best bet. But if what you really want is to wear a piece of history, it doesn’t get any better than owning a vintage timepiece. Investing in vintage watches can be daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never look back. After all, how many other things in your investment portfolio can you wear on your wrist?

Benefits Of Buying A Vintage Watch

In our modern age of ‘new now next,’ we’re always looking for the shiny new thing, for the next edition, and we want it now. We barely have a chance to get used to our old iPhones before Apple puts out a new one and suddenly everyone has to get their hands on it. In the watchmaking world, you could drop thousands on a brand spanking new timepiece that features all the latest complications, or you could save the thousands for a vintage watch from one of the most respected names in the industry.

The first watch would no doubt serve you well for many years, but the second has something special that the first just doesn’t. The vintage watch is unique, a better opportunity to represent your personal style, a gadget made at a time when quality, reliability and longevity were of the utmost importance, a wearable piece of history. Let’s start with the basics…

Where To Start Looking For A Vintage Watch

Knowing where to buy the watch of your dreams is just as important – if not more important – than choosing the watch of your dreams in the first place. The vintage watch market is brimming with fakes, dodgy sellers, and the dreaded “frankenwatches” (yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like). There are four primary options when it comes to purchasing vintage: dedicated watch dealers, auction houses, retail stores and the Internet. Each one has its pros and cons.

The Internet is a mixed bag. There are reputable dealers to be found on sites like, and a combination of reputable dealers and total scam artists to be found on sites like eBay. Retail stores like Club Monaco stock carefully curated collections of vintage watches, but charge extra because the stores get a cut. They also don’t have experts on hand to help with the purchasing process.

Auction houses can be a source of rare watches at surprisingly affordable prices (providing that demand isn’t high), but the time commitment required is a major drawback. Specialists supply the most impeccable pieces and have the in-depth knowledge to guarantee you get your money’s worth. But rest assured, it will be a lot of money. You won’t be getting ripped off, but you certainly aren’t going to get a deal.

What To Look For A Vintage Watch

If you’re ready to invest in vintage, here’s what to look for…

  • Quality: Some of the most impressive vintage watches include awe-inspiring complications that boost their value. A perpetual calendar watch, for example, displays not only the date and month, but also the day of the week, the year and the moon phase – all while accounting for the differing lengths of months and leap years. The movement needs to be set only three times every 400 years (which means only one in your lifetime, at most).
  • Reliability: A well-made watch is practically a piece of art. Look for a respected, sought-after movement, like the Valjoux 72, so you know your new watch isn’t going to freeze up the minute you strap it round your wrist. A quality movement is both precise and extremely desirable. Also look for the company’s logo on the case, dial, crown and movement for further proof that you’ve got a first-class watch on your hands
  • Price: If you’re looking for an investment piece, Rolex and Patek Philippe are the go-to brands. Watches from these companies tend to rise in value most. The devil is in the details where investing in vintage watches in concerned. Small changes made between different versions of the same watch can mean the difference between a $5,000 investment and $50,000 investment. Do your research ahead of time and know exactly what you’re looking for.

What To Avoid When Buying Vintage

Consistency is of paramount importance when it comes to choosing a vintage timepiece. An investment-worthy watch should be in original condition, so be on the lookout for irregularities that indicate it’s been tinkered with. Your decades-old watch should look old. If it looks like it just came from the factory, it’s not because someone took good care of it – it’s because something’s off.

Is the case surprisingly smooth? The watch you want will have its original finish, scratches and all, not be polished until all signs of age have been buffed out. How about the lume on the dial and the hands? Does it match? If not, one or the other has been replaced. Use the serial number to check the watch’s age, and make sure that the movement number corresponds.

If all you’re looking for is a cool old vintage watch to wrap around your wrist, mismatched parts aren’t particularly important. But if you’re a serious collector looking to make a real investment, it’s vital that you don’t mistake a frankenwatch for the real thing.

What An Expert Says

Firstly, do you research and understand the product you’re looking at. Ideally shop around, find out who the local retailers are and at least have a touch and feel of the timepiece. The internet is a good source of information if you’re familiar with the product, but you’re better off buying it from a physical store. That way you have peace of mind and warranty if need be. I find people come into my store with watches that are not actually vintage. Try to stick with the better known brands, you’re likely to get better value for money in the long run if you stick to well known brands, rather than boutique lesser known brands. – Chris La Galle, TheWatchGallery, Melbourne