Vintage Watches – The Hidden Danger

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Vintage watches - OMEGA

Buying vintage watches is fraught with peril. If nothing else, it’s entirely possible to buy a vintage watch that doesn’t work, either immediately after purchase or soon thereafter. At that point, you’ve got to find someone with access to proper parts who can service your antique timekeeper and . . . wait. There’s also the problem of “frankenwatches” – watches hiding non-original parts. And then there’s . . .

Money. A desirable vintage watch may not cost as much as its box fresh descendant or a new name brand timepiece, but it ain’t cheap. Which isn’t a problem if A) you want it badly enough B) you’re flush with cash or C) you don’t care about reselling your vintage watches.

If you care about your vintage watch’s market value and/or its status amongst the horological cognoscenti, here be dragonsThe hidden danger: the brand that made your vintage watch lo those many years ago suddenly remakes it, only “better.”

Audemars Piguet [Re]Mastre One

This isn’t “a” thing. It’s the thing. In case you hadn’t noticed, watch brands up to and including Audemars Piguet are raiding their archives with gay abandon.

The redo usually appears in a more commercially desirable larger size; equipped with a modern movement, guaranteed authenticity and a full warranty.

Longines Heritage - vintage watches

I know: the vast majority of vintage watch collectors value “the real thing” surtout. They’d no sooner buy a “new” vintage Longines than wear an Apple Watch to a redbar meeting.

But there’s no getting around it: a vintage reissue dings the value of its inspiration amongst the gen pop. Why buy an old DOXA when you can buy a new one?

OMEGA Seamaster 1948

If you don’t care about value or props, the trend can work in your favor.

If you buy a vintage piece after a new version comes out, once renewed interest in the real McCoy simmers down, the vintage watch may cost you less than if you’d bought it before the redo.

Then again, the future value of your actual vintage watch will be limited by the existence of the “new” vintage watch.

Which vintage watch should you buy to avoid all this modern remake mishegoss, given that beautiful vintage pieces are catnip to manufacturers’ marketing departments?

Universal Polerouter

You could buy your vintage watches from a defunct manufacturer, like Universal. But then you face the service and parts problem. You could buy an ugly watch. But then you’d have an ugly watch.

The answer is, seemingly as always, Rolex.

Rolex doesn’t do re-do’s. As Devo counselled, they go forward. While the vintage Rolex market is highly prone to fakes and frankenwatches, an older Rolex from a reputable source is safe from SRDS (Sudden Remake Depreciation Syndrome).

Future vintage watches - Rolex OP39

Case in point: the recently discontinued Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39. When its price sinks below retail, when it becomes vintage, I reckon it’ll be a bulletproof buy.

That said, the recently shelved Rolex Hulk has appreciated since Rolex pulled the plug, so it might be quite a while before it becomes a bargain. If ever. Meanwhile, there’s a world of vintage Rollies ready to suck copious amounts of cash from your bank account.

Bottom line: if you don’t fancy buying a vintage watch from a defunct brand, an ugly watch or a vintage Rolex, SRDS is out there, waiting. Fingerspitzengefühl says the danger ain’t going away anytime soon. You’ve been warned.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I know: the vast majority of vintage watch collectors value “the real thing” surtout. They’d no sooner buy a “new” vintage Longines than wear an Apple Watch to a redbar meeting.

    But there’s no getting around it: a vintage reissue dings the value of its inspiration amongst the gen pop. Why buy an old DOXA when you can buy a new one?

    Seeing this recently in the gun world, with the reincarnated Colt Python revolver. The new one is more reliable, stronger / more robust, and just as pretty (excepting the absence of a Royal Blue model). A new Colt Python (with a warranty) is about $1400. An “original” Python has been selling for upwards of $5000. Though, I haven’t checked to see if that price has begun its descent, yet.

    Not surprisingly, the Python-cognoscenti (a nice way of saying fanboi) quickly protested the “validity” of the new Python. “It’s not really a Python,” they derisively snorted.

    I suspect that vintage Python values will go down just as you have posited regarding vintage watches do when re-issues hit the market.

    • Supply and demand baby. Supply and demand.

      The problem with diehard vintage watch collectors: they don’t appreciate non-fan bois’ influence on the market. Unless it increases the value of their vintage watch, of course.

        • As someone who has a couple of vintage pieces – and finds his collection moving in that direction – I don’t think it’s safe to say all or even most vintage watch collectors are predominantly concerned with market value – per se. But rarity is a BIG factor. And that’s reflected in price.

          (Yes I just contradicted myself, foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds.$

          • That’s why I said “for some.” 🙂 I’m sure most collectors own vintage pieces because they simply like them… enjoy owning them. It seems that some (some!) may feel “threatened” by declining values when the new reincarnated version is released to market.

  2. I like vintage pieces (of a variety of collectibles), but I’m too lazy to actually pursue ownership. Ya gotta know what you’re doing… to avoid getting burned.

  3. The thing about vintage watches is that other than radium and unenclosed tritium there is nothing about any watch ever made throughout history that cannot be replicated in a new watch.

    That makes watches much different than cars, which need to meet current emissions and safety standards when sold as new, making certain features and designs only available on the vintage market.

    I have a vintage watch, but only because it was a good deal compared to anything I could get new. I’m all for reusing things and don’t like the idea of waste, but I’m sure as hell not going to pay a premium for a used watch.

  4. Despite the fact that they run smaller, buying vintage used to be a nice way to get luxury looks and a heirloom feel at a fraction of the price if I purchased a mid-tier brand like Hamilton or Zodiac. Unfortunately, I’ve been priced out of that market. That $50 Zodiac I picked up eight years ago that looks like something Don Draper might have worn is selling for $200 now, and I’d rather buy something new, or something that isn’t a watch for that kind of money.

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