Collecting vintage watches is a fantastic hobby, but during the last few years, the raging hype leaves less and less for the average collector.
Many of these watches are – against the claims of some – not rare, nor are they anything special in terms of the movement and other technical features.
Let’s look at some of them.
- Rolex Daytona
- Universal Geneve Compax (all versions)
- Enicar Sherpa-Graph
- Omega Speedmaster 105.012 and 145.012 “Pre-Moon”
- Wittnauer (most of them)
- Various vintage divers or diver-style watches
- 20th-century Breguets (including the Type XX)
- 1960s Movado and Mondia
- Tudor Submariner
- Cartier Tank
1. Rolex Daytona
The hand-wound Daytona is a truly good-looking watch, in the vast majority of its versions produced since 1962 (when the name Daytona was first used) until 1988 (when the El Primero-based automatic Daytona has been introduced).
Powered by a slightly modified (free-sprung balance in the 727 version, basic Rolex 72 features a standard Bosley-style regulator) Valjoux 72 workhorse, it was a purpose-built tool watch meant for drivers.
The claims of the rarity of the watch are mostly exaggerated.
Usually, a lot of various vintage Daytonas are available through dealers and sites like Chrono24. It’s not one of those watches, which surface once a year, or which were built in small numbers.
The hype has sent the prices for even the most basic versions to well above $30K. This is impossible to justify for a mass-made tool watch.
While the free-sprung balance was a decent modification, before the introduction of the screw-down pushers, these watches didn’t even offer particularly good water resistance.
Instructions manuals for Rolex chronographs before the introduction of the aforementioned pushers included a warning not to submerge the watch in water.
They also described them as only resistant to humidity and perspiration on the wearer’s wrist.
The Daytonas, just as other hand-wound Rolexes and Tudors in Oyster cases, suffer from one more issue.
As these watches are hand-wound, the stem tube threading tends to wear off because the watch has to be wound daily.
Theoretically, the stem tubes in Oysters can be replaced, as they are screwed into the case.
However, a replacement is costly, and putting too much trust into the case of a vintage hand-wound Oyster can have pretty dire consequences. For the watch and the owner’s wallet alike.
2. Universal Geneve Compax (all versions)
The Universal Geneve chronographs are well made, but they aren’t rare.
They are excellent watches. Most of them feature column wheel movements by Martel and Valjoux. These movements were generic and featured largely no modifications.
The 1940s and 1950s models featured mostly press-in backs.
The 1960s sports models usually had waterproof (though given the fairly standard pushers, “splashproof” would be a better way to call them) cases with screw-in backs.
Some models are heavily overhyped, due to their famous owners. One example of that is the “Nina Rindt” (the wife of the F1 driver Jochen Rindt) with a “panda” dial.
Its “inverse panda” version with a red chrono seconds hand, called the “Evil Nina” is an example of hype by association because such a watch has never been worn by Nina Rindt.
The “Compax” model names are often used to hype UG-unrelated watches.
3. Enicar Sherpa-Graph
Another “victim” of the vintage chronograph hype.
This watch has certain desirable features, the emphasis on which has sent these nice tool chronographs way out of the reasonable price range.
The movement was a Valjoux 72, and mostly that’s what has contributed to overhyping and overrating the watch. Because the movement has been used in the Rolex Daytona, it’s yet another example of “hype by association.”
Some sellers went as far as describing these watches as having a “Daytona movement”.
This is not exactly true, as the movement in the Enicar was of a considerably lower grade and it featured no modifications.
The EPSA Compressor and Super-Compressor cases are also a desirable feature these days but the Sherpa-Graph doesn’t benefit much from that. As is the case with most chronographs, the pushers are its Achilles’ heel.
4. Omega Speedmaster 105.012 and 145.012 “Pre-Moon”
Another example of false rarity claims.
While the original CK 2915, CK 2998, and ST 105.002 are fairly hard to find (especially in good condition – since they were tool watches, nobody really “babied” them back then), and the ST 105.003 “Ed White” slightly easier to come by than the other three, the 105.012 and 145.012 are the most common references prior to the introduction of the cal. 861-powered ref. 145.022 “Moonwatch.”
Equipped with a Lemania CH27 C12 aka Omega 321, these column wheel chronographs were, like the previous models, marketed as a driver’s tool chrono.
Nevertheless, they were mass-made, and they’re anything but hard to find.
There were many rare Speedmasters over the entire collection’s history, but these two aren’t among them. Not in the basic versions.
The hype has also caused a substantial increase of cases of forgery of desirable features, notably faded bezels. The ones that have faded to a greyish blue are the most common.
Also, the availability of replacement dials and bezels made it all too easy to turn a common Speedmaster 145.022 into a “transitional” version with the dial of a 145.012 (applied logo, pre-1969 Omega font), or into a version with the “desirable” DON (Dot Over Ninety) bezel, by replacing the DNN (Dot Next to Ninety) with the DON insert.
Readily available telemeter and pulsometer bezels, far less common than the tachymeter scale bezel, leave even more options for the forgers, for whom it’s all too easy to turn a Speedmaster with a standard tachymeter into a “rare” pulsometer or telemeter.
Not to mention, that Omega’s policy of charging money for an extract of the archives makes the buyers unwilling to have Omega check the authenticity of the watch (often the bezel type is featured in the archive entries for Speedmasters).
Collecting vintage Speedmaster, especially the pre-1969 models, became rather dangerous. Even for seasoned collectors who did the necessary research.
5. Wittnauer (most of them)
Wittnauer, while an independent manufacturer, co-run a US-based import company with Longines (Longines-Wittnauer).
Because of that, they often sell these watches as Longines, which they are not.
Only a few Wittnauer watches have ever had Longines movements; most had in-house ones, or ebauches supplied by ETA and AS.
In a vast majority of cases, Wittnauer watches have little or nothing to do with Longines.
6. Various vintage divers or diver-style watches
Not everything with an external rotating bezel, highly legible dial and a screw-in back is a diver.
As a matter of fact, many aren’t.
For one, it’s hard to believe, that a pin-lever “wonder” with 0 jewels or 17 (or even 21) useless capstones, in a very pedestrian (and not quite durable) chrome plated brass case, not even featuring a screw-down crown, is a diver.
Wearing these watches for diving would have been largely impossible because the cases were not designed to withstand much of a submersion.
Nevertheless, such watches are being sold as “divers”, which is inconsistent with their lack of capabilities to withstand the conditions of an actual dive.
Regarding proper diver watches, a lot of hype goes to the divers with E. Piquerez SA (EPSA) Super-Compressor cases.
They feature a bayonet back sealing the watch as the pressure around the case increases, proper screw-down crowns and an internal diving bezel operated via the top crown.
They were rugged and reliable pieces.
But again, EPSA supplied a lot – a lot – of companies with their cases, and watches in Super-Compressor cases aren’t hard to find.
An example of overhyped EPSA-cased watches are the Enicar Sherpa sports models.
The movements in these, just as in most of the EPSA-cased divers, were rather pedestrian, the dial finishing didn’t really go above the average and certainly not beyond what could be found in the watches by Enicar’s direct competitors, like Tissot.
There are less common ones out there alright, but mostly they were made in large quantities.
7. 20th-century Breguets (including the Type XX)
Until the Second World War, Breguet still made some extraordinary pieces.
Their post-war history, however, until the company was bought and revived as a high-end manufacture by the Swatch Group, is mostly a history of fairly average watches.
They didn’t really offer outstanding quality or particularly interesting movements.
The Type XX, the “Big Eye” versions of which fetch wild prices at the auction houses (which restlessly hype them), wasn’t even made by Breguet themselves.
Mathey-Tissot made these watches for Breguet.
Due to the flyback version of the Valjoux 22, later replaced by the Valjoux 230, the technical side of them is interesting.
However, there’s very little actually Breguet about these watches.
Military-issued versions are very collectible, but the hype has sent the prices of the far more common civilian versions into the stratosphere.
8. 1960s Movado and Mondia
Movado watches offered really decent movements, in high-quality cases.
The problem is the “hype by association” practice of turning them into Zenith, which they were not.
Movado has only been cooperating with Zenith during the short-lived period of existence of the Movado-Zenith-Mondia holding.
Only a few Movados and Mondias used the El Primero, and some Movados made circa 1969-1972 featured Zenith time-only automatics with a Movado-customised rotor.
If you ever encounter a non-Zenith Movado being sold as a Zenith, well…two words: run away.
The same goes for Mondia.
Most of them, as entry level offerings of the Movado-Zenith-Mondia holding, were actually far below what even Movado had to offer, let alone Zenith.
9. Tudor Submariner
Hans Wilsdorf has intended Tudor to be the more affordable alternative to Rolex.
The current prices on the vintage watch market, unfortunately, don’t reflect that.
While the Oyster case as such is excellent, the movements were dirt-common ebauches, mostly by ETA.
The only exception is the modified (hand-wound converted to rotor automatic) FEF 380 aka Tudor 390, made by FEF for Tudor only.
You can find 1970s-1980s pieces for close to the MSRP of a new Black Bay, but the 1960s specimens are too close in prices to the Rolex Submariner.
That isn’t really fair for something far more common, with an average ETA inside.
The prices for 1950s models are beyond insane.
The recent case of one being sold for a dollar short of $100K on eBay, only to resurface in the hands of a dealer offering it for three times that, leaves a very narrow choice of appropriate words to describe that state of things.
10. Cartier Tank
The Cartier Tank, one of the most avant-garde designs of its time, and an iconic dress watch is a nice example of how a minority of high-end versions can contribute to overrating the entire model line.
Sure, some Cartier Tanks had truly outstanding movements, including ones by Audemars Piguet. But the Tank has another side to it.
The vast majority of Tanks made in the 1960s and 1970s had cheap, plated cases and very, very pedestrian movements.
These are also heavily overpriced, as the brand tag is being used to justify the price of watches.
They had generic movements with an industrial (Lanco sort of industrial) finishing, and not even a stainless steel – let alone solid gold – case.
The case and dial finishing of these entry-level versions are nothing top-notch either.
Don’t mindlessly copy what others are after
Buyers often tend to pay more attention to the façade, than to the technical aspects of a watch.
The most popular misconception is, as always, that by buying a watch similar to a more desirable piece, you’re effectively getting that “better one” for less.
This just isn’t true.
There is no such thing as, for example, a Doxa Dato-Compax.
When you’re buying a triple date Doxa chrono, you’re not buying a Universal Geneve.
It was always a Doxa, and will remain a Doxa. No matter how many “nicknames” posing as model names you call the watch. Not that there’s anything wrong with Doxa – there isn’t. It’s just a case study.
The issue of labels has been addressed in this article.
Unfortunately, many tend to overrate certain watches by believing in inexistent connections between the watch they want to buy and the watch that they can’t buy (because of the price, resulting from the hype or an actual shortage of a particular watch on the market).
There is only one way to avoid that. Do your research, get all the facts, and dive as deep into all aspects of the watch as you can.
If you don’t, no one else will.
Would you like to add other brands or models to this list? You can add them in the comments below.