Why should I collect vintage watches over new?
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Some people always want the latest thing, whether it’s the latest gadget, the latest fashion, or the latest hit song in their headphones. But in the high-end watch world, there are many reasons to buy vintage over new. For starters, vintage is a better investment. But there’s a deeper, more fulfilling aspect of vintage watch collecting as well, which connects us to something bigger — to community, to learning, and to the satisfaction that comes from owning a piece of history. It’s the story, not the bling.
The investment perspective can’t be overstated: Going into a store and buying a brand new watch simply does not make for a strong investment value. Just like driving a car off the lot, in most cases you are going to take a big hit on the value up front. On the other hand, with pre-owned watches like we have at Christie’s Watch Shop — whether it’s a Longines, Cartier, Rolex, or Patek Philippe — the day after you buy it, the resale value is 90 to 100 percent or more of what you paid. It already took its initial hit from retail years ago.
This 14K Daytona, with Tiffany signed dial is rare and in exceptional condition. Made for the US market in 1971, this is a very scarce reference 6264, for the true Rolex Daytona collector. Sold for $143,000 in the Important Watches sale in New York on 17 June 2015.
That’s true among less expensive watches like entry-level
Omegas (it’s smarter to spend your $3,000 on something vintage than on something new that could drop to $1,500 as soon as you own it), and it’s true for more expensive boutique brands like A. Lange & Sohne. Lange is a great, historic German brand that ceased production during World War II when its factories were bombed, but was resurrected by a Lange family heir in 1989. They only make 4,000 pieces a year. But even Lange watches take a hit from retail to resale. In that context, vintage is just a smart buy. You’re getting all that value in your watch and not leaving it at the store.
But what about those more ineffable qualities watch collectors get really excited about?
One thing collectors love is the fact that so many vintage watches were made for specific purposes. For instance, watchmakers like Patek Philippe, Rolex,
Omega, and Longines made chronographs with what we call ‘pulsations dials’ for a time, particularly in 1950s and ‘60s; these chronographs were made to help doctors more easily take a person’s pulse. Before there was an app for pretty much everything, watches like these had their own distinct purposes and places in history. They may have been designed for use by a professional salvage diver, or for exploring caves, or timing race cars.
You’re acquiring a little piece of history.
Left: Spectacular early no crown guard Rolex Submariner, the true “James Bond” as worn in Dr. No, with four liner dial. Right: Another Tiffany signed dial, this time on the iconic Patek Philippe reference 130 chronograph in 18K gold, made in 1939. Gorgeous condition. Sold for $100,000.
But the real fun in vintage watch collecting lies in the details. By the time someone buys a vintage watch, many times that collector has been studying
and searching for some exact model and dial configuration for a long time — particularly with Rolex. Maybe they want a Bakelite bezel GMT Master 6542: Those bezels would often crack and were replaced with aluminum inserts. When that collector finds an original one, it’s very exciting. From there, it’s all about examining it: Are the fonts on the bezel correct? Are there cracks in it? Has it been painted?
The same goes for the marks on dials. When we refer to a Rolex with an ‘underline dial’, for example, we’re talking about certain watches from about a one-to-two year period in the early 1960s when Rolex put a little underline mark under the texts on its dials to alert customs officials that deadly, radioactive radium was no longer was being used for the luminous in the dial (watchmakers were switching to the much safer tritium). So many of those
nuances add to the value and romance of a piece, driving that treasure hunt collectors love so much. And that’s where we come in, helping them examine
those treasures to determine what’s original.
Left: Rare and fine truly describe this beautiful Patek Philippe reference 3424, designed by Gilbert Albert, circa 1965. Very rare in white gold, and in fantastic condition. Sold for $100,000. Right: Collectors love colour change when it comes to Rolex. The registers have faded to a warm burgundy on this Zenith Daytona, making it very desirable for the Rolex collector. Coupled with the fact that this 1991 Rolex comes with its original box and certificate make this one a slam dunk for the Rolex obsessed. Sold for $25,000.
Collectors love the thrill of the chase. And once you find what you’re looking for, you get to bask in the romance of strapping on an incredible machine with its own history and its own patina; this object has really paid its dues. We watch lovers look down at this machine that we’re powering ourselves — whether through the motion of our arms or by manually winding the watch — and we see a companion that’s with us through whatever the day, week, or the month might bring, just as it once was for some previous owner.
It’s a very human connection to have with an object. Each vintage watch has its own story, and that’s something you just can’t buy from the factory.
Lead Image: An Omega Seamaster 300, ref. 166.024, from circa 1966; photo by Raymond Patrick
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