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- Pros and Cons
Pros and Cons
We think that it is very important to explain to potential purchasers of vintage wristwatches that there are both significant benefits and disadvantages to the ownership of an elderly timepiece. We have never seen these issues discussed on any dealer’s website but feel very strongly that they must be brought out into the open in order for buyers to be able to make an informed judgement about whether an old, collectible watch will satisfy their needs.
It must be appreciated from the outset that vintage and modern wristwatches are not interchangeable and are related, but completely different, animals. Over the years, we have often used the analogy of a classic motor car to explain this to buyers and it seems to be one that people can relate to. A current model car will be very reliable, economical, comfortable and require very little input on the part of its owner. In contrast, a classic car, perhaps from the 1930s or 40s, even in the very best condition, will be unreliable, often require expensive specialist servicing, use an awful lot of fuel, be generally lacking in performance and have a woefully inadequate heater.
Vintage watches are rather like classic cars. No vintage wristwatch will have a degree of reliability even remotely approaching that of a brand new model. By modern standards, timekeeping is poor and even the very best examples from the 1960s and ‘70s by Rolex and the rest won’t hold a candle to the accuracy achieved by the mass produced battery powered watches available on the high street today for less than twenty pounds.
Very few vintage watch dealers like to admit it, but the fact is that owning a period watch is a lot more demanding of its purchaser than buying a current model. Just as a vintage car will need regular adjustment by a good mechanic, so a vintage watch will inevitably need the services of an experienced watch maker. In almost every case, the attention required is very minimal and not at all expensive, often taking literally a few minutes only, but being frequently without a watch for a few days while such work is carried out can be irritating and very inconvenient.
Another point worth making is that the luxury watches of yesteryear didn’t come with the technical features that we would now expect as standard. Before the 1950s, there was very little attempt to provide movements with any form of protection against shock. Similarly, early waterproof cases were very inadequate and it must be understood that no vintage wristwatch should ever be taken anywhere near water, or even damp, today. There was often some attempt at protection against magnetic field, but this was still in its infancy and not even remotely as advanced as it is in the modern era.
In short, anyone buying a vintage wristwatch with a view to using it as a working, functional timekeeper on a day in, day out basis will always be disappointed. The interests of such a buyer will be much better served by the purchase of a brand new model that will be trouble free and entirely dependable at all times.
The negative side to new watch ownership is the fact that current and recent models are extremely lacking in charisma. If we walk around any large supermarket in the UK, we will see at least twenty gentlemen wearing current model Rolex watches. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these watches, just the opposite in fact, but they have a bland uniformity and dullness that is a world away from the rarity and charm of the vintage models. Some of the vintage watches for sale on this site are so unusual that they may well be the only surviving examples of their type. In almost every case, their identical twins won’t be seen on a regular basis and it would be easily possible to go through one’s life without meeting anyone wearing the exact same model. To return to our comparison with the world of classic cars, the fact is that for many people, and we count ourselves firmly among them, it would be far more appealing to drive down the Kings Road in a 1950s Mercedes gullwing or riding on a Vincent Black Shadow that it would be to make the same journey in a current BMW 5 series or Honda model.
Vintage wristwatches, just like their automotive equivalents, ooze character, personality and the spirit of the age in which they were made. They are wonderful talking points and always attract complimentary remarks at the dinner table, just as the old timer car will when parked up in public. Nothing quite compares with the feeling of wearing an early watch, knowing that its first owner wore it in the corpse strewn trenches of the Somme or Passchendaele, or a luxury 1930s model that once adored the wrist of some wealthy gentleman in the years running up to World War II. But always be aware that you’re buying an antique object that, just like the veteran cars on the London to Brighton run, will never compete on equal, clinical terms with the latest current models in the jewellers’ windows. If you’re the sort of person who delights in the minutiae of finely patinated antique furniture, slightly faded first edition books, old British motorcycles and period Louis Vuitton travelling trunks from the inter-war years, you’ll love vintage wristwatches. But if these types of objects are alien to you and you prefer your possessions to be clinical, minimalist and perfectly functional, then we would almost guarantee that you would regret buying a classic timepiece.
In reality, most collectors get around this issue by owning a variety of watches. The classic car enthusiast will have his cherished collection, but these will come out on historic track days and perhaps an annual visit to Goodwood or Pebble Beach. For the rest of the time, he’ll drive a modern, and entirely practical, car. We wouldn’t recommend a vintage wristwatch to anyone who was intent upon owning only a single timepiece, but for many people, who already own one or more modern watches, collecting these vintage models can be a deeply satisfying, and very addictive, pursuit.