Buying A Vintage Watch? Here’s What To Look For

How to make sure you’re getting a good deal and not getting ripped off

If you’re looking for a great watch at a fraction of the price, a vintage timepiece is the way to go. You can find resplendent watches from the world’s most renowned brands like Rolex, Omega, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Phillipe, Vacheron Constantin or even Hamilton at a fraction of the retail cost. However, you can also end up with a dud, a fake or one that seemed like a good idea at the time.

If you’re looking for a vintage watch, you may be inclined to shop on eBay, Amazon or at a local antique store or estate sale. It’s no secret that these are the best places to find the greatest deals. However, it’s also the riskiest way to watch shop if you’re not well versed on what to look for.

Today, there are more counterfeit luxury watches being sold online than there are real ones. Con artists use the web to take advantage of unsuspecting buyers by selling realistic looking timepieces that even some jewelers can’t tell are fake until they open them up. Even if you’re lucky enough to get the real thing, you may end up with a watch that breaks down, isn’t accurate and no longer has a warranty behind it.

So what do you need to look for when it comes to buying vintage watches?

how to by vintage watch

| IN THE SHOP | A 1960s Universal Geneve Polerouter with gold plate and black dial

1. The Seller.

The seller is arguably the most important part of buying a vintage timepiece. A reputable purveyor will stand behind their product, so that you can ensure it’s authentic and that if it breaks down, you have some recourse. Although you may not get as good a deal, if you’re new to the vintage watch market, you should avoid websites like eBay and Craigslist like the plague. Unless you have a friend or know someone who is an expert on the watch you’re looking at, you run the risk of investing in something that may just end up as a really nice looking paperweight.

This doesn’t mean you won’t find a good deal. It just means that you might have to invest a little bit more. Consider the following online and brick and mortar retailers I personally recommend:

JamesEdition
Bob’s Watches
Crown & Caliber
Analog Shift
10:25 Vintage
Hodinkee
Tourneau
Gemnation

2. The Details.

Once you’ve settled on the watch you want, it’s time to act like a detective. Except, in this case, everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Begin to read articles about the particular watch. (You won’t find abetter resource than our friends at Hodinkee.) Ensure that all of its hallmarks are clearly visible on the timepiece you’re considering. Most luxury watches have specific features that can be used to verify authenticity. However, these sometimes change based on the model and even the year. So, examine a real one next to the one you think – or hope – is real.

| BUYING ONLINE | Brian’s 1977 Rolex GMT Master Ref. 1675 was purchased from Analog Shift

Be sure to ask lots of questions. If the seller is shady or refuses to provide info, take it as a red flag and move on. Verify that the serial number is authentic and the watch hasn’t been reported stolen or missing by calling the watch company. Email watch experts to ask their opinion. In fact, most of us are happy to help. If you can’t get a hold of a watch writer, go to a reputable jeweler you can trust. Show them pictures and ask for their advice.

3. Look at the Mechanism.

Sure, a watch may look amazing, but if it doesn’t run properly you’re going to be gravely disappointed. Ask to see the movement of the watch. Confirm that it runs, that’s it is cleaned and has been well maintained. Look at the hands and other moving parts. Are they bent, dirty or moving oddly? Ask for a guarantee that the watch will run and request the ability to return it, no questions asked pending an inspection.

how to buy vintage watch

4. Examine the Materials.

A timepiece that’s gold plated won’t look as shiny after a few decades. Patina will set it, and the plating can chip or turn green. If you can’t afford real gold, consider stainless steel instead. This way you can ensure that your new vintage watch can be an heirloom treasured for years. Look at the strap as well. Is it in good condition? Will you need something after-market? What’s the case, crown, and dial look like? Are there any precious stones missing? Is the glass cracked? Is the crown loose? Some of these things may not seem important if you find a great deal, but a vintage dive watch with a loose crown or cracked crystal won’t hold up in the shower, let alone the Marianas Trench.

how to buy vintage watch

5. The Price.

If there are ten similar watches going for twice the price, and you found a deal that looks too good to be true, chances are it is. On the other hand, some swindlers have realized that charging more makes it easier to trick unsuspecting buyers, and also earns them a larger profit. They will often price the watch under the fair market value, but it won’t be so low that it seems suspicious. Make sure you pay a fair price for the watch. If you can’t afford it, look at something a little less expensive or save your money.

Chime in: Share your vintage watch buying experiences in the comments!

Thanks for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

J.A. Shapira
He Spoke Style

Rolex 1675 movement image via Chrono24

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