As a watch expert, one of the questions I get asked very often these days is: “What is the best vintage watch to start my collection off with?”
In the last few years a lot of people have cottoned on to the fact that buying a fine vintage luxury timepiece is often much better value for money than buying a new one. You can find a Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantine from fifty years ago in gold without busting your budget. At the same time, you get to wear and to show off an exceptional watch and tell everyone who notices it the story of how you hunted it down and claimed it as your own. Best of all – if you buy wisely the watch might be a really good investment too.
So in this article, I would like to share some of the advice I often give to first-timers about the vintage watch market. Of course, it all depends on your personal ideas about what makes a good watch, but here are some of my favorite vintage classics that make good, safe (and affordable) choices to start your personal collection.
1. Omega Speedmaster Professional Cal.321, late 1960s
The Speedmaster was first seen around 1957 when it was introduced as a sports and racing chronograph, when Omega became the official timekeeper for the Olympic Games. The first Speedmasters are characterized by distinctive broad arrow hands.
Omega was producing Chronograph watches long before it was commonplace to have this complication in a wristwatch. Their standards of accuracy were high enough to make them the watch of choice for NASA’s space missions. It was the watch used in the famous Apollo 13 mission. By the late 1960’s their “space watch” was setting a new standard in the industry, and the Caliber 321 is now highly collectible.
Together with the Seamaster and Railmaster it forms the Omega power trinity, and they’ve made their mark over the years. The watch is manufactured to the highest standards – it’s good enough for NASA – and it’s become something of a classic, particularly the models from the late 1960’s.
Price range: $ 8,000-12,000
2. Rolex Submariner Ref. 1680, late 1970s
The first Rolex Submariner was introduced at the Basel Watch Fair in 1954. It was a watch that was destined to become a legend. In the late 1960sthe 1680 model was released. It was the first Submariner to be equipped with a date function, and itwas both a specialist tool watch, with incredible durability and water-resistance, as well as a mass market fashion accessory.
For the first few years the Submariner Ref. 1680 was manufactured with a red "Submariner" marking on the dial. These are even more rare and collectible. After this the printing switched to the white.
They were made in steel and gold, all with the cyclops date window. The movement is the automatic chronometer Caliber 1575, and the Oyster case has a water-resistance rating up to 200 meters. It features a bi-directional turning bezel for divers as well as a fliplock bracelet with an extension system to be worn over a diving suit.
Price range: $ 8,000-12,000
3. Rolex Datejust, late 1960s and 70s
Rolex is one of the best known brand names on the planet, and with good reason. The Rolex Datejust might not be the first Rolex you think of, but back when it was released in 1945 it was revolutionary. It was the first watch with an automatically changing date window.
Over the years there were many different variations of the Datejust. You can find two-tone steel and pink gold, entirely steel versions, and Datejusts featuring everything from stone dials to diamond bezels. Many have the classic “jubilee” bracelet, dating back to the jubilee event when the Datejust was first launched.
The great thing about buying a Rolex is that you know the movement is of the highest standards – it will just keep on ticking. Another huge plus is that they tend to maintain their resale value very well.
Price range: $ 4,000-5,000
4. Jaeger LeCoultreMemovox (bumper Automatic), 1960s
The Memovoxwas the first high-end automatically wound alarm wristwatch.There were alarm wristwatches before, like the Vulcain Cricket, but Jaeger LeCoultreare in a different league. Many watch connoisseurs today would regard the Jaeger LeCoultreMemovox as an essential addition to any serious collection.
The most desirable model is the caliber 825 with the so-called "bumper" automatic winding system and the hammer-based alarm. When you wear the watch on the wrist you can actually feel it moving gently, which is quite an enjoyable little bonus.
They are more difficult to find these days, but well worth the investment.
Price range: $ 4,000-6,000
5. Heuer Carrera, mid to late 1960s
Heuer was inspired to use the name “Carrera” by the legendary Carrera Panamericanacar race through Mexico. It was held only a few times on the newly-built Pan-American highway from 1950-54 and it was deadly.
Jack Heuer was a big racing enthusiast, and he wanted to design the ultimate race timekeeping watch. His idea to paint the inner tension ring and show the 1/5 second demarcations was a winner. So the Heuer Carrera was born.
A simpler and cleaner dial combined with a recessed chronograph register provided the style that was to become a watch of note, and worthy to be included in any watch-lover’s collection.
Price range: $ 5,000-8,000
Buying a second-hand watch does come with its risks. There are many fakes and Frankenwatches on e-bay, so whichever kind of watch you’re searching for, make sure you know what you’re buying.
Fortunately, there are many resources online that can help. A simple google search on the model and reference number of your watch will be a good place to start. Manufacturers list the original movement specifications on their websites. Make sure you compare all the details to the original specs, including the minutiae of the dial lettering, case markings, and the identifying marks on the movement itself.
A reputable auction house is safer than buying online, and if you’re really in the dark as to whether or not you’re buying a sweet deal or a hole in the pocket, get the opinion of an expert at a respectable watch dealership.
But despite the risks and the difficulty, finding that rare beauty at a fraction of the cost of a new watch is well worth the effort.