I must’ve really run out of things to write about if I have come up with a topic as generic as deciding whether to buy a vintage or modern watch. However, at The Young Horologist we always find a way to deliver. Pandemic or not the show must go on and critical questions have to be answered. This article isn’t really to argue any point of view but rather to lay out my thoughts on the different aspects of both modern and vintage watch ownership. Hopefully, reading this will help you make your own judgement during your next acquisition.
Firstly, to define modern watch ownership I will primarily discuss the idea of purchasing new and used watches that are less than 10 years old. Buying a brand new watch comes with a set of benefits primarily being a manufacturer warranty for a period of usually up to 5 years. This means if anything goes wrong with the mechanics of your watch they will service it and attend to it free of charge. It is an ideal service for both new timers or the conservative buyer who does not want to risk dealing with a used watch out of warranty. The general condition of the watch will likely always be better than any vintage or used watch you will come across (unless you find rare NOS – new old stock). There is also a lot of value people place in the being the first owner of a watch. There is usually a deep connection that can be formed between the buyer and his watch as it can become a part of the buyers identity. A new watch can be a form of a person expressing their support for a particular brand directly and building a relationship with an authorised dealer or manufacturer as a potential repeat customer. This has several benefits as it will likely give you access to several discount offers for timepieces and place you on waitlists for very high demand watches.
However, when you walk into a Rolex boutique you will usually encounter a lot of watches you may not want as it is no longer 2006. Some of the of the disadvantages of buying a new watch will be that usually for watches that are high in demand there will be long waiting lists to acquire the likes of a steel sports Rolex, Audemars Piguet or Patek Phillippe. For some people this may be worth the wait as it can also be an investment piece in comparison to paying a premium on the grey market for new stock.
Owning a modern used watch is also great for one specific value proposition: the price. The price of a used modern watch will almost 95% of the time be significantly cheaper and you can save some money and still enjoy the same watch you could’ve bought new. Sometimes it is worth looking at the used market for a watch you are interested in as it will give you clear indication on the price deprecation. Not everyone watch is purchased as an investment, however, looking at this data can offer perspective that may affect your value judgement in buying new or used. The risks are obvious with buying used and that is general aesthetic condition, potential tampering with the watch and expensive servicing.
Vintage watches on the other hand are a beast of its own. The vintage watch world will only continue to get bigger and more vital to the collector. Vintage watches do not necessarily mean rare in-demand Rolex and Pateks at auction houses. They can be as simple as an interesting Omega or Tudor find on eBay that will cost you 200-400 USD, which may offer you a great piece of history and a bang for buck type of deal. If you are a new collector and want to own a piece of history from a well known manufacturer at a low price point a vintage watch may be for you. If you are a veteran collector and have been focusing most of your efforts on more new and modern watches - vintage watches may offer you entry into a new dimension of watch collecting. When you consider a higher price point for vintage watch collecting like a military Submariner or a 1970s Speedmaster you will find you'll be owning a piece of world history. The first person to have worn the watch may be from a countries navy during a critical time in world history or someone working as part of NASA missions. The obvious downfalls of owning a watch this old is the reliability of the movement and waterproofing, however, with the right servicing this can be managed.
This question is actually very subjective to every collector. Everyone has a different mindset or set of expectations of what it is to own a new watch. Some believe the process of owning a watch must involve a clean new box, 5 year warranty and some lukewarm lemon water in an boutique. The other may believe scouting around Burlington arcade in London or finding a deal on Chrono24 for a 30 year old Speedmaster, which holds some intrinsic value is an unmatchable experience.
Co-Founder & Editor
The Young Horologist