Vintage or Modern?

Do you collect vintage watches? Or are you always drawn to modern watches? Or is it a mixture of the two?

This is the third and final contribution from our guest author,, gaining an insight into how a seasoned collector got started and what shapes their thinking.

I first got started collecting vintage like most collectors after being given a watch for a momentous occasion. Be that a wedding, graduation or anniversary most collectors started adding to their one special piece.

For me it was an IWC that my dad gave me after graduation. There is a story behind this watch (like most vintage pieces) and I think a lot of the pleasure of collecting vintage watches comes with a story or history of that watch.

A vintage piece always has an untold story behind it – an air of mystery

Why vintage rather than new?

For me personally, searching for that special vintage piece is a cerebral journey.

I do not mean to disparage buying new watches but walking into a dealer and plonking  down wads of cash or a piece of  fantastic plastic  does not hold the same joy for me.

A vintage piece, even though I am not personally associated with the watch, offers a romantic connection to days gone by. The design often harks back to an era which personally resonates with me be it Art Deco or the fabulous 50’s. Modern watches today often try to capture that feel with re-interpretations of those designs. Why buy a copy when with a little bit of mouse-work you can buy the original?

From lug style to case design, vintage carries a special aura

Put a vintage Rolex ref 5513 next to a modern Submariner. The same DNA runs through both – but I prefer the vintage .

I have been searching for very specific pieces for my collection which are often extremely difficult to find. Possibly rare but not always , the watch needs to fulfill certain criteria to be in my collection.

The case must be just right, or the dial must be original and not refinished. It should be of a certain metal and obviously it needs to be totally original. You would be amazed to know how many pieces I have rejected because the dial was not right for the piece or the case was over polished. For example, I am still looking for a perfectly original Patek Ref. 1593 in pink gold. I must have rejected 3 or 4 in the last 5 years because of dial or case issues. The attention to these details matters.

The “vintage” versus “modern” dilemma?

Same goes with my Rolex Prince collection. Finding an all-original Prince with an untouched dial or one that has not been re-cased is not as easy as you may think.

It is certainly easier to find a Paul Newman or a brand new Patek Philippe Minute Repeater (if you are willing to pay for them!).

So to summarise, vintage offers the following advantages for me;

1. The history of the watch – this can be found in both new and old.

2. The search for the perfect example – just because I can find a tiger-striped Rolex Prince does not mean it will make the grade for collection.

3   Having a large bank balance does not always guarantee finding the elusive part of the puzzle. For me, buying a new watch does not have much great attraction, albeit that I have to admit I have bought a few new watches! Most have a historical connection i.e. re-issue or tribute watches, anniversary pieces that celebrate a particular milestone. However, I have also bought a brand new watch from a salon. In this latter instance, it was  a very uncommon watch from a watch house and I was particularly attracted to it. It does not fit into any sub- category of my collection but I love it anyway. There has always got to be exceptions to the rule!

Vintage collecting is a mine-field.  Watch cases are polished, dials and movements  are switched and dials re-painted. But for me this is the side of collecting I enjoy and relish. The research, investigation and the camaraderie of like-minded collectors (WIS even) who are always willing to share information and offer an opinion.

When I started collecting, the only information I could obtain was a picture (not jpeg but Kodak) which was posted to me. A decision had to be made based on that flimsy evidence. I cannot tell you the times I drove my then girlfriend (now wife) crazy by spending time on holidays scouring forsaken places to see a “watch”. The Internet has revolutionized collecting and made access to relevant information so much easier.

Yes, I believe the vintage area of collecting has been affected by hedge fund managers and professional dealers but I reckon they will get bored after a few years and move onto the next big thing. It does hyper-inflate prices but if you buy what you like, who really cares? Does it really matter if you cannot buy a Paul Newman or vintage Patek Ref 1518 when there are plenty of other fabulous vintage watches to buy?

Servicing your vintage watch (as long as a new part does not have to be made) is often not that much more expensive than servicing a new piece from the same house. Servicing a vintage Patek  is often not that much more expensive than servicing a new piece. Sometimes it is difficult to get a watch house to service their vintage pieces though – Rolex – not good.

The journey is often the better part of the acquisition. I just don’t find the journey to a retail watch shop exciting at all!

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