The Four Biggest Mistakes When Buying Vintage Watches
Written by Anthony Tyme on September 12, 2019
Without further ado, I’d like to dive into what I consider are the biggest mistakes you can make when buying a vintage watch.
1) Not doing Sufficient Research
Picture the scene. You’re scouting for a vintage timepiece without professional guidance. You are after something in precious metal, around 34mm-36mm, nothing fancy – a simple three-hander will do just fine. You happen onto a beautiful Omega. There are hallmarks on the lugs, the dial is in pristine condition, the movement is signed Omega. A picture of the inside of the caseback is missing in the listing – but surely that’s unimportant, especially when you consider that the watch is being offered at a slight discount to comparable watches online. You think you’ve stumbled across a fantastic bargain so you pounce on it. A week later, you receive the small parcel you had been desperately waiting for and you unpack it. Finally, it’s here! But upon opening the watch, you notice the caseback is not signed by Omega and seems to be a replacement case. In short, the watch turned out to be Frankenwatch cobbled together from parts. The seller was a private individual and has stopped reacting to your emails or calls. After three weeks and plenty of emails, you receive a short reply from the private seller: “Sorry, the watch was sold as is. I have already spent the money and can’t take it back.”
Naturally, the above story has been exaggerated a bit, and our hapless watch enthusiast made every possible mistake in the process of buying a vintage watch. I would still like to use the story to highlight an important point: the vintage watch market is a minefield. Especially now, with the growing community and interest in vintage timepieces – not to mention the price appreciation many models have witnessed – unscrupulous sellers are more than willing to try to capitalize on informational asymmetries or on misleading descriptions. And this brings me to mistake number 1: Not doing sufficient research from whom you buy and what kind of assistance or assurances the seller provides in case something goes wrong (which inevitably will if you buy a lot of old watches).
That being said, I cannot stress the importance of buying vintage pieces from reputable dealers. Remember that dealers’ business lives and dies with their reputation and they simply cannot afford to knowingly sell you a watch that is falsely advertised. All non-factory-original parts that have been replaced in service should be clearly disclosed in the description of each timepiece and the buyer should have a return right against a full refund if something turns out to be wrong with the watch.
For instance, at Vintage Portfolio, all of our models are examined by our team of vintage watchmakers and we highlight every replacement part in detail in the condition report of each model, to the best of our knowledge and up-to-date literature. We back this up with a lifetime money-back warranty on authenticity.
2) Buying a watch that does not fit your style / lifestyle
This second mistake is one I have made myself. Some time back, I got into my head to collect birth year watches commemorating my closest family members. Here, a side note. Birth year watches are truly, truly difficult to pinpoint, and I would advise you to be wary if you are interested in pursuing this endeavor. Companies like Omega often ran production runs of movements in batches, so let’s say the specific caliber in your watch was manufactured in 1959. Post manufacture, the caliber may have lain around because current orders were being fulfilled with existing inventory. In 1960, the caliber was mounted into a case that was manufactured in 1958, and in 1961, the watch was sold. It might seem a far-fetched scenario, but this is not far from the truth of how the manufacturing process and parts-bin approach of the past worked. I leave it up to you to decide what year to consider as relevant for making the decision about the birth year watch.
In any case, back to my story. I decided on a late-1950s Omega Seamaster. The watch was in terrific condition, 34mm in solid gold, a true beauty. As much as I loved looking at the watch, as much as I valued its history, I never wore it. It was too small, too “dressy”, and I found myself fussing about it far too much – after all, this is a watch close to 60 years old. I babied it, hardly wore it, and then after coming to the realization that I could not justify owning a watch I never wore, I sold it. The moral of the story is that you should know your style. I am referring to both your lifestyle and your sense of fashion. If you are a jeans-wearing gentleman or lady, someone who regularly wears casual, thick-knit sweaters or polo shirts, buying a 30ties delicate monopusher chronograph in 18k white gold might not be the best pick. Before you make the purchase, ask yourself when you see yourself wearing this watch. Is this a daily wear or reserved only for special occasions? Are you someone who takes care of their belongings or someone who has a history of clumsiness? If you fall in the latter category, a stainless steel three hander Omega Seamaster Automatic from the 1960ties might have been the better choice. Factor all of these considerations into your decision-making process and buy something you will actually wear and be able to enjoy.
3) Buying without warranty
This is a big one. Looking through the prices of vintage pieces online, you might be surprised to see how much more accessibly they are priced than that same brand’s existing models (assuming, of course, that the company still exists). As an example, you can find a stainless-steel Omega Seamaster from the 60s in the €600-€1000 range, depending on condition. The Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M is probably the closest modern watch in Omega’s lineup. In steel, on a rubber strap, this modern watch retails for €5200. Obviously, one of the major advantages of vintage watches is their relative affordability versus a new model (I am not talking about any incredibly collectible or rare references, of course). This equation can quickly change, however, if you buy from a private seller who cannot back the sale with a warranty on the functioning of the watch or even on the authenticity of the timepiece.
You can be sure that, if you were to need to service a watch that you bought from a private collector, you would end up paying multiples of what a dealer would at his local watchmaker partners. “Why is that?” you’ll ask? Well, dealers have developed a network of watchmakers over the years with who they collaborate – due to the large number of watches (we are talking hundreds) sent in for repairs or service, dealers can negotiate volume discounts on service costs. What this means to the end customer, is that a dealer can pass these savings on to him! At Vintage Portfolio, you can be sure that every watch we list on our website has undergone a checkup, which we back with a six-month warranty on the watch’s proper functioning. As stated above, we guarantee the authenticity of our entire inventory (backed by the promise of a full refund), not just for six months or one year, but for life!
In short, buying with warranty allows you to truly unlock the value proposition of the vintage watch market while insuring you against any unpleasant surprises.
4) Following the trendsetters
This is a contentious point, but with so much watch content being churned out (especially on YouTube) by so many self-proclaimed experts, it is easy to be swayed into purchasing a certain vintage timepiece because it is a “great value proposition” or has “great investment potential” as proclaimed by some online personality. I am not railing against the wealth of content online. I think it is fantastic that watches are slowing becoming more and more mainstream, and that there is a greater wealth of information available to assist you in your decision than ever before.
Yet, I strongly feel that watches are such an individualistic and personal item, you have to follow what you desire, even if it isn’t the option with “the best value retention”. Buy the piece that speaks to you, the one that makes you smile every time you look at it. Don’t buy watches as investments – none of us knows how long the current hot phase of the market will last. Buy them to enjoy them, and if, at the end of the day, you are forced to sell them out of necessity and you happen to make a profit, well, that’s the cherry on the cake!
So those are my picks for the biggest mistakes you can make when buying a vintage watch. Let us know if you agree or disagree!
exclusively for Vintage Portfolio