Why Buy A Vintage Watch Instead Of A New Retail Watch

This is a guest post by Vintage Gold Watches London

Why Buy A Vintage Watch?

In recent years investing in vintage watches has seen a remarkable surge in popularity. It seems a growing number of people are tuning in to the value, workmanship, and quality of such timepieces. Not to mention the ability of a vintage watch to accurately reflect one’s lifestyle, values and individuality.

In addition to the vintage renaissance, mechanical wristwatches have grown in popularity since the quartz crisis of the 1980s. Certain brands, along with higher-value watches in general, have become coveted and aspirational.

Not only does wearing a vintage watch set you apart from the crowd, but it also reflects your astute investment acumen, as you will discover in this article. If you’re eager to join the fascinating and addictive world of vintage watch collecting, you’ll find everything you need to know here.

Omega Black Dial 9ct Gold 1945

Why Vintage Is Making a Resurgence

It seems many of us are attracted to shiny new things, and while new is certainly nice, the shine often wears off quickly when it comes to wristwatches. Online shopping has made it easier than ever to buy anything you desire. But many are questioning how sound this is, both in terms of sustainability and quality. Continuous mass production, simply to replace items with new ones, is not only costly for the pocket, it’s also very costly for the planet.

This style of production and consumption is a false economy – costing the consumer more in the long run. How many times have you heard people complaining about the quality of new products compared to a few decades ago? Not to mention the dubious strategy of inbuilt obsolescence.

After all, there’s so much life left in many of the high-quality things we’ve bought in the past. Often these are well-made and very well-loved, not to mention the individuality and the timeless story a vintage item brings. A treasured item from yesteryear, if properly cared for, can last a lifetime and often become a classic. Hence the growth in popularity of vintage products across all sectors.

Vintage Watches vs Modern Models: Financial Considerations

When it comes to buying a vintage watch, there are several factors to consider, from the style and functionality to the brand and price. One often overlooked aspect of watch buying is the potential financial return on investment.

Here are some financial considerations of vintage watches vs. modern models and why vintage timepieces can be such a smart financial decision.

Zenith El Primero 18ct Gold White Dial

Vintage Watches Were Built to Last

Although the quality of materials used in vintage watches remains broadly the same as today, the superior quality of vintage watch cases and watch movement design reached its peak during the 1950s and 1960s. This makes vintage watches quite durable and simple for watchmakers to maintain compared to modern watches.

A well-cared-for vintage watch from this period could, in theory, last forever, or virtually so, since the watch parts can be replaced or re-made very easily. This is particularly true for the popular higher-quality brands such as Omega, Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines and IWC.

For example, one can quite reasonably expect a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, Omega Constellation or Longines Flagship from this period to continue giving excellent service for another lifetime or even more.

18ct Gold Patek Philippe Ellipse Blue Gold Dial

Return On Investment

If you have all the money in the world and really want to buy a new top-quality timepiece from a famous brand, there’s no reason you shouldn’t. Provided you can get hold of the watch you want, and you don’t mind waiting. For example, the customer waiting list for a new Rolex is 2 – 4 years, depending on the model. During such time, the model you hanker after will experience one or two price increases.

We all know about the cost of buying and running a new car and how its value drops like a stone during the first years of ownership. Well, the same generally applies to watches. There are exceptions, notably the Rolex Daytona and a few other sports models from the top brands. However authorised dealers have customer waiting lists which effectively means that these models are unavailable except at large premiums.

The hot modern Rolex sports watch market, for example, is both speculative and volatile and driven mainly by fashion. So, it’s best avoided unless you have very deep pockets and like to gamble. But even if money is no object, might it not be wiser to opt for a watch that holds or appreciates in value over time? Nearly all high-quality watches drop in value during the first 10 to 20 years before slowly starting to appreciate again. Therefore, it’s much safer to invest in vintage models, which have found their base price, overcome their depreciation curve and are steadily appreciating.

If you have a budget in mind, it’s important to know that you can spend the same amount on a vintage watch as you would on a new model but receive a higher-quality product with a vintage purchase.

Reliability of Mechanical Watches

So, what about the thorny subject of reliability? It’s true that a new watch is likely to initially be more reliable and come with a better warranty than a vintage watch. But at what cost? The depreciation in value of a new watch and servicing costs will almost certainly make it much more expensive to own in the long term. This makes buying a vintage watch a clear winner in terms of investment and sustainability.

George Daniels, widely recognised as one of the world’s greatest watchmakers, famously said the problem with quartz watches is they are destined to fail every 12 to 24 months because their batteries are determined to die as soon as they are fitted. Whereas by contrast, one of his mechanical watches could easily run for 12 years without any maintenance whatsoever.

Worse than this, when a quartz movement needs a repair, which it will, there’s usually very little that can be done. In comparison, a mechanical watch is alive. It can run forever. Leaving you with a valuable keepsake that can be passed down from generation to generation.

Vintage Watches vs Modern Models: Style and Aesthetic Appeal

Now you know vintage watches make financial sense, let’s take a look at some of the other advantages of owning a vintage watch:

Heritage Watch Brands and The Story They Tell

Watch brands are some of the oldest companies on earth. Vacheron and Constantin, for example, was established in 1755. That means it’s been producing some of the finest quality watches for well over 260 years.

In fact, each of the watch brands we all know and love has a fantastic heritage. Even Rolex, relatively “new” to the field at just over 100 years old, has an amazing story to tell. Understanding this and wearing one of its older watches, such as a 50-year-old Rolex Oyster Perpetual or a 70-year-old Omega Constellation, shows an appreciation of its workmanship and the tremendous effort and success of the company. The story behind a vintage watch forms part of the unique ownership journey and experience.

Vintage Watch Functionality

Vintage watches often come with a surprising number of additional features. Referred to by watchmakers as ‘complications’, these include not only simple time-only watches but watches with date functions which can remain correctly synced for 250 years, including leap years. Or chronograph watches with tachymeters, telemeters, and pulsation dials.

Other examples of greater functionality might include time zone watches, alarm watches, dive watches, or simple but elegant moon-phase watches. There’s something for everyone in the vintage watch market, often available for much less than you’d pay for their new or modern equivalent.

IWC Carré 1952 18ct Gold

Supporting Watchmakers

Watchmaking, servicing and restoration have seen a resurgence since the 1980s when the industry was hit by turmoil due to the sudden rise in popularity of cheap quartz watches. The crisis saw a great many watch manufacturers close their doors and watchmakers lose their jobs. Thankfully, this is now well behind us, but we still need to support the skills and craftsmanship which go into the servicing, repair and restoration of watches.

Many of our current watchmakers are from the older generation or have only quite recently finished apprenticeships. There’s a gap as a result of a lost generation. The older generation is teaching the new, and meanwhile, the industry needs all the support it can get. By wearing and using a vintage watch, you’re helping this centuries old industry and its craftsmanship to continue thriving.

Vintage Watches Never Go Out of Style

Classic lines never lose their appeal. There’s no better example than the iconic grille of the Rolls-Royce inspired by the Greek Pantheon in Rome. Its design can be traced directly back to the Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref 96 wristwatch of 1932, which became the blueprint of all modern time-only watch designs we see today.

Watch movements have remained under continuous development for 500 years. It reached a peak during the 1950s when more research and development went into wristwatch movement and case design than ever before. This was when many of the iconic models we know and love today were first released; the Omega Seamaster, Constellation, Speedmaster, the Rolex Explorer, Submariner, and GMT, to name but a few.

The 1950s and 60s saw watch manufacturers release models that have become cornerstones of their modern collections. These have been revised and subtly improved upon, giving us the enormous range we have today. So the choice of vintage watches across all budgets is greater, more interesting and more compelling than their modern equivalents. This is before considering the lack of availability and the high price of many new watches from the top brands.

Why Vintage Watches are the Smart Choice

So, whether you’re in the market for a dress watch, a sports watch or something in between, you’ll likely find a much greater range within the vintage market to suit your style and budget preferences.

Now you know why vintage watches have become so valued and coveted and the great benefits of owning such a classic beauty. Buying a vintage watch is truly an investment in terms of quality, workmanship, individuality and durability.

What to Look For When Buying a Vintage Watch

1. Inform Yourself: There’s a great deal said online about what to look out for when buying a vintage watch. However, an expert dealer that you can talk to and who will take time to explore the options with you is worth their weight in gold. Seek out a reputable vintage watch dealer and become familiar with what you like. 

2. Start simple and gather examples of what you like: The best advice is perhaps to start simple. This could be a slim dress watch or a more rugged sports watch. Begin your journey by saving images of watches you like. It’s amazing how some watch dials have more appeal than others and how your taste can quickly develop. 

3. Consider sizing and functionality: Remember to consider carefully the size of the watch you need for your build and wrist size. Typically, watches were smaller 50 years ago because these were considered technically more accomplished. If you have a smaller wrist, you’ll have more choices. If you do need a larger size, particularly in the case of a dress watch, then you’ll need to pay more for this. Think about this carefully because it’s only in the past 10-15 years that the market has moved towards much larger watches. 

4. Degrees of originality: Many prefer their watch to look as attractive and presentable as possible, while others prefer a degree of originality. The degree of originality is up to you because one person’s patina (a type of metal oxidation) is another person’s case or dial damage. We might think we prefer a watch which has been kept in a safe all its life, but in reality, much like a vintage car with zero miles, these rarely exist. Where they do, you’d probably be afraid to use it. So, there’s nothing wrong with a watch that has been fully restored or one that has some imperfections from regular use and servicing. You should, however, keep in mind that original watches in good condition are usually worth more than restored ones.

5. Enjoy the journey: Ultimately, you should buy what you like because you’ll wear it and use it lovingly. You’ll probably be surprised to find others with similar tastes who will comment and compliment you on your watch. So wherever your vintage watch-buying journey leads you, take your time, enjoy the journey, and welcome to the wonderful world of vintage watches.


Alan Wood is a trusted vintage watch dealer with over 35 years of private collecting experience. After founding Vintage Gold Watches in 2011, his deep knowledge and infectious passion for mechanical timepieces earned him a highly respected reputation in the industry.

Vintage Gold Watches has become a renowned dealer thanks to Alan’s expertise and skilled team of restorers. Alan’s love for vintage watches started as a young Mechanical Entrepreneur and grew into an obsession. He believes the finest watches were made in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, and he’s thrilled to share them with you.

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