- Luxury Vintage Watches From Three Decades
Clockwise from top left: 1940 Patek Philippe 18K rose gold tank watch; 1990 Panerai Luminor; 1960 Patek Philippe 18K yellow gold chronograph.
- Steel and Gold Men's Vintage Watches
From left: 1990 Rolex stainless steel Turnograph; 1985 Patek Philippe 18K white gold chronograph; 1990 Panerai limited-edition 18K white gold "independent" model watch
While pocket watches and antique clocks have been collected for centuries, during much of the 20th century, the wristwatch seemed too “modern” to qualify as a collectible. That has changed.
“In 1970 there was no place to buy a vintage wristwatch,” remembers dealer George Aloi of Tempvs Fvgit in New York City.
Then watch technology changed. In the 1970s, inexpensive quartz and electronic movements all but wiped out mechanical production. Collectors started looking back to the golden age of the mechanical watch, and the vintage market was born.
The value of a vintage watch can start at just a few hundred dollars. Yet prices have topped $1 million, and in 2002, a platinum Patek Philippe “World Time” wristwatch from 1946 sold at an Antiquorum auction in Geneva for a record $4,026,524.
The Seven Factors for Watch Value
Unlike other antiques, older isn’t necessarily better with watches. Rather, the value of a vintage watch depends on seven key factors: maker or brand, rarity, material, bells and whistles (known as “complications”), condition, accessories and provenance.
Maker is the No. 1 determinant of value. While some watches by Cartier, Breguet, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet are highly collectible, “80 percent of collectors want a Patek Philippe or a Rolex,” says Julien Schaerer of Antiquorum, an international auction house specializing in vintage timepieces.
When it comes to materials, think white. “Generally, platinum trumps gold,” says Edward Faber of Aaron Faber Gallery, a New York vintage watch dealer. “In contemporary watches, white gold trumps pink gold, which trumps yellow gold, and, in vintage watches, because of its rarity, steel trumps them all.”
For example, a rare steel Patek Philippe “split chronograph” (a stopwatch that times two events), reference number 130, from the 1930s and 1940s originally sold for approximately $800. “Prices for watches of this caliiber are obtaining very strong results at auction,” says Aloi. “The sky is the limit it seems.”
With women’s vintage watches, style is everything, according to Faber; platinum and diamonds are the materials to seek.
Any complication, like a chronograph or moon phase calendar, adds value to a vintage watch.
One version of the Rolex “Daytona” watch, made in the 1970s to commemorate Rolex’s sponsorship of the Daytona races, has an optional snappy extra colored ring on the black and white dial and is known as the “Paul Newman.” Aloi of Tempvs Fvgit would place this watch in the $65,000 to $100,000 range in 2012, depending on the specific model (there are several different reference numbers) and if it includes the original papers. “This estimate range of course assumes that the watch is in excellent condition and that the dial can be verified as original,” he adds.
Aloi also notes you can look on the new watch market for potential rare gems. If you buy an “Edsel,” a modern watch no one else is buying, he says, it may increase in value. Fewer of them will be made, and one day they will be rare.
Condition can subtract from a watch’s value. Even small damage or repair can be a deal breaker.
“A watch with a restored or refreshed dial can lose up to 50 percent of its value,” says Schaerer. “The movement should be clean and in working order, and the case shouldn’t look worn and tired from over-polishing. But,” he cautions, “the watch should reflect its age. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. There are a lot of fakes out there.”
Original instructions, the box, a bill of sale and the like can add as much as 30 percent to a watch’s value.
Remember, counsels Andrew Block of Tourneau, to keep your original box and papers when you buy a new luxury watch. Today’s purchase may be tomorrow’s vintage star.
A gold Patek Philippe watch from 1965 that sold at Christie’s in April of 2006 for a whopping $240,000 boasted a long list of complications, including a perpetual calendar, chronograph and phases of the moon, but it was its former owner that really made bidders go Looney Tunes: Mel Blanc, better known as the voice of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig.