Buying a brand new watch versus a vintage watch is a very different experience. Those fresh to buying or collecting watches can often get stuck between when making the decision to buy a modern timepiece, or something older that may seem to have a bit more charm and personality.
In the watch collecting world, you often seen that most collectors tend to focus on either new or vintage timepieces, very few cover both extensively. In fact, very few collectors begin their appreciation of watches by buying vintage timepieces – for good reason.
Let’s begin with the upside of buying vintage timepieces (by vintage I mean a watch that isn’t merely pre-owned, but one that’s 20 years or older). First, the inherited nostalgia that older objects possess. Such watches by default have a story, buyers can also imagine why the original owner bought it, how much it cost at the time (probably very little adjusted compared to now), and what people were talking about in the watch store decades ago when the particular vintage timepiece was available for sale as a brand new watch.
Another benefit to buying vintage watches is being able to evaluate how well a design has endured or aged over time. People who buy older watches have the benefit of being immediately able to determine what older designs look good today. In contrast, the manner in which contemporary designs age is often unpredictable – there is little guidance for what’s new today that will still look good in 20 years. Thus, for those with a bit more conservative sentiment when it comes to taste, buying a vintage watch can be a safer bet from a stylistic perspective.
Perhaps the most popular reason many watch lovers seek out vintage watches is price. While the occasional rare or highly desired vintage watch can fetch huge sums thanks to desperate collectors, for the most part vintage timepieces are going to be less expensive than modern watches – or so it might seem. That being said, while most vintage watches cost less than new watches of similar style, service, repair and restoration costs can be vividly expensive and equally unpredictable.
This brings us to the biggest problem with vintage watches, and that is a large degree of unpredictability. Vintage watches – like anything older – are often going to be more fragile, prone to breaking, or simply needing more attention mechanically. In short, buyers of vintage watches might expend a lot of time and energy just keeping their watch working. While newer watches are going to be more expensive – especially when purchased brand new – they tend to be much more reliable and can in many instances cost less when taking into consideration a few years of wear.
Another unpredictable element of buying a vintage watch is the health of the movement as well as the authenticity of the parts. Many vintage watches come without original parts, or even movements that experienced poor repairs in the past. Thus, in addition to worrying about whether or not a vintage timepiece will perform dependably, owners must also worry about whether or not all the components of the watches are original factory parts.
Finally, in order to properly identify and understand the value proposition of a vintage watch, buyers are highly recommended to have a strong education on the topic. Unsophisticated buyers can easily make costly mistakes when buying a vintage watch. It can be an expensive lesson to lose money on an exotic and rare timepiece that may not actually be what it seems at first glance.
Having said all that, the visual appeal of many vintage watch designs is undeniable. In fact, some of the most famous sport swatches today such as the Rolex Submariner, Omega Speedmaster, and TAG Heuer Monaco are all based on designs hat are 40 or 50 years old. It is also true that over the last decade or so the watch industry has been extremely prolific at re-issuing attractive watch designs from the past – but in sizes and with a quality of construction expected in a modern watch. Often times these vintage reissues represent the best of both worlds, combining the aesthetic of an older timepiece along with a reliable ownership experience of a modern watch.
Vintage-style remakes have price tags as varied as one can imagine, but there are values to be hand. While a modern Rolex or Omega will typically cost you more than most vintage models (there are always some exceptions) brands such as Nomos, TAG Heuer (its reissue models charmingly have the retro “Heuer” logo on the dial), Junghans, Zenith, Tudor, Oris, and Longines all produce new watches with distinct vintage-style aesthetics.
Junghans Meister Classic
Novice watch buyers who want to maximize wearing enjoyment and minimize inconvenience are advised to stick with modern timepieces. After a new watch lover gains more experience as a collector, vintage watches might have some appeal, but many buyers still prefer the overall benefits of buying modern timepieces, explaining the multi-billion dollar size of the modern watch market. Vintage-style new watches are a healthy median between the two.
And if you are worried about a new watch lacking character and a story behind it: wear it enough in the course of a lifetime so that it can acquire a story – your story.
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Ariel Adams – United States
Ariel Adams started writing about watches in 2007, almost immediately after finishing law school. Since then he’s never looked back – combining his business skills with an enduring passion for timepieces and all things “well-made”. In addition to running the world’s highest-traffic online watch magazine, Adams also wrote a book, The World’s Most Expensive Watches, and also lends his voice to leading watch and thought publications around the world.