Vintage Watches (Pt.2): Three Mistakes You Should Avoid

Anna Wu-Chauvineau
Le 11 October 2017

The world of vintage and collectors’ watches is full of all kinds of hazards and traps: repainted dials, reassembly, or other “Frankenwatches” are everywhere. We’ve all done it, are doing it, and will make future mistakes. When collecting, as with other fields, errors constitute a necessary stage of learning. Indeed, whether it be a novice (not necessarily young) or a wise collector (not necessarily old), both will continue to learn and feed on their experiences day after day. It’s always with the greatest of interest that we listen to the advice and stories of our elders, friends, collectors and other experienced dealers.

Patek Philippe Calatrava reference 96 (1965)

After our first article presenting the steps to take when buying a vintage watch, Clément, our watch “hunter”, talks about the three major mistakes to avoid.

Error #1: Favouring Aesthetics Over Origin of the Piece

Knowing the original configuration of the watch is a priority! In order to do this, it’s necessary to do prior research on the product (via specialised literature, forums, or archives), or contact specialised dealers.

Why is this so important you ask? Even if speculation is not involved, one should never forget that only pieces considered as “authentic”, a.k.a. original, will have actual value and high popularity ratings. Take for example the “Speed ​​321” that I know very well. These “Pre-moon” models, prior to 1969, were equipped with special bezels, often damaged unfortunately. For the novice eye these are very similar to later models, but for the wiser collector, they’re very different. The presence of an original bezel is, in my opinion, of the utmost importance, especially when the price of replacement parts is skyrocketing. (For example, a simple bezel can easily approach the $1500 mark depending on its condition).

Error #2: Confusing “Patina” with “Defects”

Ah, these famous “defects”! When choosing a vintage watch, the more a timepiece is old and original, the more it will be marked by time. The opposite would be a negative sign… or the equivalent of the watch Holy Grail. Something that comes along every blue moon…

Rolex Oyster Precision 6424

Jérôme wrote a great article on Wabi-Sabi some time ago, a Japanese aesthetic philosophy valuing ​​the “imperfections” of an object as beauty. Recently, an article by Christie’s also picked up on this trend from collectors at important auctions. Clearly, the notion of perfection is changing and a “Patina Trend” is indeed on the rise today.

Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver Chronograph

To illustrate this point, “tropical” or “chocolate” dials, or those with a special and homogeneous patina are extremely sought after today, taking precedence over repainted dials or other reassembly methods. Why? Simply because the result, often unique, is the fruit of Time (quite rational in watchmaking). Thus a “Tropical” dial can be seen as a type of vintage in wine, especially since not all pieces are subject to this type of alteration. On the contrary, a heavily damaged dial or one with unsightly patina will cause a drop in value.

Error #3: Saving a Few Bucks at the Cost of Quality

However, the Wabi-Sabi concept doesn’t mean that all defects should be accepted! Some collectors tend to buy a product at low prices, sacrificing quality. Big mistake. A beautiful patina can be an added value, provided however that it is homogeneous and that it participates in the overall aesthetics of a piece.

IWC Portugaise Vintage

The so-called “lacquered” dials, which are very fragile, have an unfortunate tendency to crack with time. It’s necessary to differentiate between cracked “Spider” dials (which ressembles a spider web) and ones sought after by some collectors for their aesthetics.

Another example, the so-called “Watchco” at Omega, much more affordable than old pieces and in better general condition: there are different Seamaster models made with original “NOS” parts in perfect condition. My take is to opt for original models. True and authentic vintage timepieces with a history to tell are much more sought after.

Omega Seamaster 200 SHOM

As another example, the Omega SHOM. This particular model was used by the Naval Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service and very limited in number. Yet it is very (too?) present on the web. Many have been reassembled. We can tell the difference between “real” vintage pieces from the “Watchco” ones thanks to the absence of beading on the acrylic bezel. A slightly altered historical watch having travelled in ocean waters is clearly more interesting than one reassembled with lambda parts…

In general, the patina of a piece should be, above all, aesthetically pleasing. It will bring added value to the piece on the sole condition that it adds an interesting feature.

When then can allow ourselves to be guided by our hearts for the final choice. Always prefer the originality of the product instead of having to retrace a long path due to a defect which in reality may not be one…

Happy hunting!