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Buying a Second Hand or Vintage Watch - Part I

February 18, 2014
Home / The Vault / Buying a Second Hand or Vintage Watch - Part I

We have been dealing in second hand watches in Sydney for over 25 years and in these articles on buying a second hand watch, we will look into what to look for when buying a second hand or vintage watch such as a 2008 model second hand Rolex Submariner or a classic vintage Omega Seamaster from 1958. 

First, let's start with the a question.
What is the difference between a second hand watch and a vintage watch?
As a rule of thumb, "vintage" applies to anything over 20 years old and "second hand" is anything that has been bought new and sold up to a 20 year period. This even includes watches that are bought for an ex-loved one and sold 6 months after buying it new, now classifying this watch as "second hand". "New" is straight from the authorised dealer of the watch such as a Rolex or Omega dealer.

In the last 20 years and especially the last 10 years, the interest in second hand and vintage watches has increased dramatically. There are a few reasons for this, the 3 most notable would be because of a renewed interest in mechanical watches i.e. manual wind or automatic (perpetual) winding watches that lost in popularity to the quartz (battery) powered watches during the "quartz revolution" of the 1980's. Another reason would be the ease that people can now look for watches thanks to the internet, and finally collecting a vintage watch can quite literally cost less than $100 making collecting or simply buying just one second hand watch very easy to suit any budget.

What should you look for in a vintage or second hand watch?
This is an easy question and a hard question at the same time. We are often asked this question, and while we will get onto mechanics of a watch shortly, I believe that there is one fundamental question that must be asked first. "Do I like this watch on my wrist?". Simple. If you love it, can afford it, buy it. There is no point buying a watch that everyone says is rare, a great investment etc etc if you simply do not like it. A watch is like a piece of jewellery so if you won't wear it, don't buy it.

Most collectors, dealers, investors (or a person that is all 3!) will nearly always go for a watch with a mechanical movement over a quartz powered one. Why? Simply for the love and admiration that you can get when you look up close at a mechanical movement. Yes, a new quartz watch will be cheaper than its mechanical counterpart, and yes it will be cheaper to maintain over a 20 year period, and even yes I'm afraid to say will more than likely be the more accurate of the 2 (and no, this author loves mechanical watches more than quartz, so let's not hang, draw and quarter myself just yet), however a mechanical movement goes back centuries and has character that a quartz watch simply does not have.

While there is definitely a niche market for quartz watch collectors such as the quartz Swatch watches that were massive in the 1980's and 90's, still the main area for collecting and buying second hand watches lies in a watch with a mechanical movement.

quartz movement 1-1lange-sohne-n235-6

Here is the inside of both a quartz and a manual wind watch. Click on the images to have them display in another window each and look them both up close. Look at the mechanical A.Lange & Sohne on the right - how stunning!

So we have seen that the area to look for in a second hand watch is one with a mechanical movement, let's look at other things to consider.


If you start to delve into watch collecting and look at watches that were made pre-1970, you can very easily find hundreds of watch brands that you have never heard of and ones that have either closed or been bought into a conglomerate of ownership.
Now there are some great looking watches from the 1930's for example by makers who are no longer around, and again, if you like it, buy it, however a good rule of thumb especially if you are looking at collecting vintage watches for an investment purpose, is that if you have not heard of the brand, chances are most other people haven't, so stick with a well known brand to start off with.
Be careful though that you don't miss out on some great vintage watches solely because you have not heard of it because a) they might be a well know watch maker but you have simply never heard of them such as Patek Philippe, Wakmann and Zenith who all make collectable and indeed very fine quality movements and b) there may be a watch out there that very few people have heard of, but remember, if you love it, can afford it, buy it. Don't let a great looking watch pass you by because you hesitated for too long.

That's it for Part I. Part II will look at other things to consider when buying a second hand or vintage watch.


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