Expert Advice: 5 Tips for Buying Vintage Watches


Whether you are buying from sentimentality -- say, you want to own a wristwatch out of the year of your birth -- or for investment purposes, education has become the most important factor when it comes to buying, or amassing, vintage timepieces. During my past decade-plus with FratelloWatches, I have obtained a lot of e-mails from people who have struggled with their purchase of a vintage watch; in virtually every response to these e-mails, I have offered five bullet-point guidelines, which I will now share with you.

1. Do not buy without identification
It is tempting to make an impulse purchase on a nice-looking vintage timepiece which you see at the window of an antiques dealer or see store. But, there are lots of traps you can fall into -- traps of that even the seller could be unaware. So be sure to do your homework and find out about the opinion you want to buy. You should only pull the trigger on a vintage timepiece whenever you have become something of a specialist on a new or special watch model. For some, risking $300 or so on a vintage watch isn't a worry, but if you are on the market for particular vintage Rolexes, as an example, which can readily have a price tag of $10,000 or more, you will wish to be certain that you've done your research. When you notice quite similar-looking watches offered at lower costs, you'll want to know what the gaps are. Perhaps naturally, as with every significant purchase, you're advised to go on the internet and look up the opinion you need before buying.

After you've decided which brand or watch version you're after, have a peek at a number of the watch websites which are regarded an authority on the subject. (It is, of course, easier if the opinion is from a significant brand instead of one which has long ago ceased to exist) It is also possible to locate offline. Many books have been written on collecting certain brands, diving watches, chronographs, iconic watches, and so on. Frequently, these books can be found on Amazon or sites like WatchPrint. If you can't find what you're searching for there, you can check out eBay, where many sellers provide books that have been long out of print. Additionally, compare. Try to find similar watches at watch shops (both offline and online) and note their condition and costs. After a while, you'll get a fairly good comprehension of the market prices and the conditions these watches are generally in. Look closely at the details: do each of these watches have similar hands, printing on the dial, bracelets, bezels, date disks, et cetera? In the instance of a Rolex or Patek Philippe, this can be the difference between spending $5,000 or $10,000 or more. Educate yourself to have an eagle eye!

2. Share the passion
Many fellow collectors of classic watches are online as well, and often share understanding of the watches or brands they are enthusiastic about. It is possible to go to the significant watch forums on the internet and read a number of the experiences that others have submitted. Make use of the research capabilities of a forum before asking some questions; a few of these questions are asked a million times before, and have already been answered. If you are seeking an exotic brand which doesn't have any specific forum of its own, then you can go to the larger watch platforms, where you will either find generic (or even 'public') forums or some classic section that covers a range of brands. Ensure the questions you ask are quite particular. If you previously have seen a watch you prefer, add a few images and clearly say the model name and -- if possible -- the reference amount and specific caliber that is inside. This will assist the experts to provide you with the right answers. In the long run, make certain you don't remain simply a "lurker" -- discuss your personal experience of buying a vintage watch.

Vintage watches from Jaeger-LeCoultre
3. Contact the producer
Quite a few watch manufacturers possess a rich archive of what they have made in the past. At some of the brands, you can even ask an extract of the archives (this might cost a bit of cash) with information about its production year, state of destination, number of pieces produced, caliber number, and instance and/or reference number. Additionally, some manufacturers have a point of contact for you with queries regarding their classic watches or watches. Be patient. Do not bother them every other day, asking if they've had the chance to read your e-mail. These brands get many similar e-mails from collectors. If you've had no response after two weeks, then you may want to send a favorable email to inquire again.

4. Find a watchmaker
According to my personal experience of collecting watches since the late 1990, this is possibly the best tip I can provide you, alongside educating yourself. Locate either an independent watchmaker or even a person who works for a large retailer. He'll be your best friend for years to come. Ask about for a watchmaker with plenty of references, and what's more, ask if he is able to source replacement (or fresh) parts. Some watchmakers concentrate in a specific brand or possess powerful understanding about specific movements. Also, don't be afraid to ask about costs, and about how long it generally takes to repair or service watches. A few of the repairs can take quite a while, mainly because some parts of vintage watches are extremely hard to source. Sometimes, parts are no longer accessible whatsoever and need to get re-created from scratch. Ask about all those things when you contact a watchmaker. If he can't perform the job, do not be afraid to ask if he's any coworkers who can. Again, some watchmakers have very specific skill sets and specialties. You won't offend them by inquiring.

5. Find the Right Price
Ah, price... for some individuals, the most interesting part. As stated above, prices may vary broadly on watches which look very similar. The most significant things is that you simply compare the watch you need to others like it by checking online watch-market platforms or offers at watch shops. Is overpaying for a watch the end of the planet? No, so long as it's doesn't exceed too far the typical market price, and as long as you are happy with your purchase. From time to time, people fall in love with a watch due to a particular patina on the dial or the faded color on a bezel. If that is worth a bit extra to you, do it. However, you do not wish to pay too much for a watch that's definitely not worth it. So again, compare! Ask about the warranties a vendor may provide you in case you find out -- after purchasing the watch -- which it is not as "original" because it seemed to be that it doesn't operate correctly. In the latter scenario, of course, remember that it is sometimes tough to provide a two-year guarantee on a 50-year-old watch. Be sensible, but be sure to have at least a gentlemen's agreement on returning the watch if you're not pleased. Having said that, it is crucial that you buy from someone that has a good reputation for selling vintage watches. Word of mouth is very important, and some other negative remarks on his manner of selling watches can ruin his organization. But in case there are any points of discussion after the purchase, it is ideal to stay calm and keep the communication open and friendly.

Vintage Omega Speedmaster
A bit of negotiation is expected in regards to getting a vintage watch, but also remember that excess bargaining might have effect on the vendor's willingness to help you out afterward if something is wrong with the watch. More importantly, ask your watchmaker (see #4) or the watch maker (see #3) what the price would be of a service overhaul. From my personal experience, I always compute a service into the cost when purchasing a watch. So, if the watch doesn't function properly but you don't want to return it (perhaps it's still the funniest opinion you have ever seen), you have at least maintained a bit of budget available to have it overhauled. These are my top five. Collectors, any extra tips that I've missed? Please leave them for others -- and meto read in the remarks. For those who are new to the vintage collecting game, let me know if those were useful!

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