With the ever climbing prices of vintage Speedmasters, Carreras, Autavias and Monacos and the astronomical prices of Paul Newman Daytonas with Valjoux movements, its safe to say that the general consensus is that vintage steel sports watches are the shit. However, its not a secret that in the 70s you could buy a Paul Newman Daytona 6239 for £250 (About £1,500 in todays money). Now, you can't buy the original Oyster Rivet bracelet for that! Those of you who understand economics will point out that vintage watch prices, in an open market, are influenced by the perfect inelasticity of their supply. Ie there is only a finite number of them so the pressure on price is much greater when demand increases than if they were still being produced. However, the price only rises to Paul Newman level if there is an excessive demand. So why is there such an excessive demand for watches that were once considered absolute beaters?
We are an impatient generation so here's three reasons:
(Before I start I want to say in this category I have included the like of the Rolex GMTs but not more tradition Pilot watches such as the Breitling Navitimer or IWC Pilots. This is because the thorough bread pilot watches are a separate category from the more general sports-watch Rolex GMTs. There'll be a Pilots watch article don't worry.......)
1) We all still want to be "That guy"
I think this is particularly prevalent with men but in no means is it exclusively for men. You want to be "that guy" who drives F1 cars and flies to the moon or flies planes. You want to be James Hunt or Paul Newman. You want to be daring, tough, rugged but also smooth and sophisticated. In my humble opinion, that is exactly what a vintage Daytona, Pepsi GMT, Autavia, Carerra or Monaco represent. These pieces were genuinely, for the most part, worn by gentleman who raced cars or flew planes whilst hoards of women adored them and other admired them. You can tell this because in their time the chronograph functions were genuinely used for timing laps. The GMT function allowed you to quickly know the time in two different time-zones which is useful when you fly Pan-Am planes and you have a girlfriend in London and a girlfriend in New York, who both require a phone call. People who don't know their watches won't necessarily appreciate this when they see your panda dial Heuer Auctavia but that's kind of the point: it was just a tool for "that guy" in "those days".
The famous photo of Steve Mcqueen and his Mocaco on the set of Le Mans
Chuck Yaeger wearing a GMT pepsi. In 1947 he was the first pilot to break the speed of sound barrier.
2) The story
A smooth transition from the previous paragraph, often this kind of watch has a great story. In honesty, the beauty of vintage watches is they all have a great story. However, vintage sports watches usually have the coolest. Often vintage dive watches were genuinely used for diving regularly, GMTs were used by Pilots and chronographs used any sport that requires recording time. Now I don't know the story of my Omega Chronostop but I like to look at the little scratches or dents and think "Yeah that was probably from knocking it on whilst jumping into a convertible Porsche Speedster 356 without opening the door......" Most likely fantasy but you see my point. Because in this period watches like these were genuinely tools, and considered such, their stories are more often than not fairly adventurous. In the 60s, you would only really buy a dress watch in the same way we buy all mechanical watches today. This was mainly due to the price difference but also because of the lack of cheap Chinese quartz sports watches which one would use now a days to time their run etc. A prime example of this is how Sir Edmund Hilary wore a Rolex Explorer, of which todays models cost around £4k, to traverse mount Everest. I personally love watches with a story because it adds to the experience of wearing it everyday. How much cooler do you feel when wearing your vintage Heuer Monaco in the office knowing that this watch started life out on the wrist of an amateur Race Car Driver? Actually, maybe that's more depressing. I don't know depends on your attitude to your professional life.....But you see my point.
Jack Swigert wearing his Roex GMT on Apollo 14. Doesn't get any cooler.
3) They actually wear better than modern sports watches
This is a controversial point. However, I am fairly confident that it is actually an opinion held by the majority of proper watch nerds. Usually with a diameter of around 36mm-40mm, and usually around 10mm thick, in my opinion the vintage sports watches are much more wearable than their modern counterparts. Don't get me wrong I still love the modern Speedmasters and actually own a Modern Seamaster Ceramic, but a vintage Carerra Chronograph at 38mm feels perfect on the wrist, whether on the weekend or in the week with a suit. Now I know modern Rolex and Omega do try to keeo their case diameters in the 40-42mm sweet spot, the cases are substantially more bulky and usually much thicker. They are much more robust and far more technically advanced, but have a very different and bulkier wrist presence then their vintage counter parts. Different people have different preferences but I regularly challenge people to try on a vintage Heuer carerra chronograph and then a modern 1886 model and more often than not the vintage wins. Yes there are exceptions, like the Tag Heuer reissues that do a great job and the modern Daytona have kept the cases as thin and wearable as possible, but for the most part I believe the vintage models wear much better and slide under a cuff effortlessly.
Rolex Daytona 6239 with a rivet bracelet and a 38mm case size, it is the perfect size for any occasion. But for the price you'll pay you wont wear it to the gym.
Yes I know there isn't a photo or a mention of the Omega Speedmaster on Buzz Aldrin's wrist. Here at The Young Horologist we go fro original and unique content.........