Should You Buy a Vintage Watch as a New Collector?

By Patrick Fassler •  Updated: 08/12/22 •  7 min read

Getting started with a luxury watch collection presets two primary paths that can be taken. On one side, you have the world of new watches purchased from authorized dealers. These usually will come with a more expensive price tag, but you’ll also have the benefits of a warranty, authentic parts, and a clean slate for good service history. On the other side, you have the path of vintage watches. These present significant benefits, such as a lower price point, more available brands, and a watch with a unique history. But should you buy a vintage watch as a new collector? 

1962 OMEGA Seamaster Cosmic Vintage Watch

We think most should steer clear of this route. Let’s dive into why we don’t think you should buy a vintage watch as your first piece in a collection. 

What We’ll Cover

The Benefits of Purchasing a Vintage Watch

There’s no point in denying it. Purchasing a vintage watch for your first piece is appealing. Overall, you can find a decent vintage OMEGA Seamaster for under $1,000 in most cases. A lot of vintage Rolex models are available for under $3,000. Being the two most popular watch brands buyers search for, it’s easy to see why so many would be interested in vintage models. 

Most new watch enthusiasts want the most brand value for the money, and when it comes to OMEGA and Rolex, you can’t ask for more at that price point. Add to that, you also have the benefit of owning a watch with a story and some history. While it may seem odd to some, it makes owning a watch more exciting. After all, the story of a watch is one of the primary marketing factors used to sell them today. Most people don’t need a dive watch or know how to read a Chronograph. 

The utility of watches has passed for most people. What new enthusiasts look for is brand recognition and status symbols. Frankly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But with so many new buyers and enthusiasts being uneducated about how watches work, the long-term wear of a watch, and the potential maintenance of vintage watches, I wouldn’t encourage them to purchase one. 

Why New Watch Collectors Should Avoid Vintage

The prices may seem appealing, and the availability of brands looks tempting. However, this low-hanging fruit shouldn’t be too tempting. There are some significant downsides of owning cheap vintage watches that could turn off so many more people to the world of watches. 

Vintage OMEGA Seamaster vs Seamaster Cosmic (circa 1960s)

The Downsides of Vintage Watches 

Firstly, there’s the topic of maintenance. Much like a classic car, it can leave the new owner with a mountain of headaches. Sure, the price doesn’t necessarily compare to classic cars, but sorting out service for a vintage watch can be a hassle. A service from OMEGA on my 1962 Seamaster would cost me roughly $700. The kicker is that the watch in 2021 only cost $800, effectively doubling the price to get it in tip-top shape. 

While that may not seem too bad (mainly because it isn’t), the part you must remember is time and resources. Sending off a vintage watch for service can take weeks to complete and return. Add to that, parts are much harder to come by if it needs a major service, so for the most part, you’ll end up needing to send it back to the manufacturer for service. 

That’s not to say you’ll find a dud. Most vintage watches were built to last, and they have. My 1960s OMEGA is in fantastic condition to be nearly triple my age. If I’m in that good condition at 60 years old, I’ve done well! The fact is, though, that vintage watches (just like modern watches) require service. If that service isn’t completed regularly, you will encounter issues over time. 

For a first-time buyer, it would be equivalent to purchasing a historical home that needed renovation. Sure, you can do it. It can be fun, but it doesn’t match the experience most people will expect for their first luxury watch. 

Solution: Modern Pre-Owned Watches

I would encourage most new buyers to find a modern watch that is either new in the box or pre-owned with box and papers included. This will line up more with the watch experience most people are expecting. You’ll be able to buy a vintage watch from brands like OMEGA and Tudor and more at a discounted price. Some Rolex models may be more pre-owned than new, but that’s expected with Rolex’s sales strategy. 

Early 2000s OMEGA Seamaster Schumacher Edition

For the most part, though, you’ll be able to find quality watches from the most recognizable brands for the best prices. Servicing shouldn’t be a big concern, as most will have likely just received a service or just be coming due for one. If you spend $800 to service a watch, it shouldn’t be the entire value of the watch. 

It is much better to invest in a more expensive watch in fantastic condition than for a new collector to take a risk on a vintage watch where the quality, authenticity, and servicing are unknown. Finding a modern pre-owned watch presents many benefits of a vintage watch without the significant downsides. 

Where to Find Pre-Owned and Vintage Watches Online

eBay and Chrono24 offer great resources for buyers looking for a modern pre-owned watch, with many offering authentication services. For a new buyer who isn’t as skilled in the world of watches, I would highly recommend this route if you want something pre-owned. 

Safer Options for Vintage Watches

Let’s say you’ve read through this and aren’t convinced. Let’s say you’ve only been encouraged more to purchase a vintage watch. What should you do? 

If you’re going to purchase a vintage watch, no matter what your first watch, I have a tiny bit of advice. My 1960s OMEGA was my second watch. Nic purchased a vintage watch as his second luxury watch with similar experiences. Buy one of the big three: Rolex, Tudor, or OMEGA. 

Safer options for Vintage Watches - OMEGA Seamaster

Authentication of these three brands is much easier than smaller brands. Knowing you’re buying a genuine watch with genuine parts is vital. On top of that, try finding one with service history or recent service. This will primarily save you the headache of purchasing the watch and needing to sort out servicing right away. 

If you’re looking to buy a vintage watch on eBay or Chrono24, make sure the seller has a decent reputation on the site through past sales. This is especially important for your first watch. eBay also offers an authentication service, which I highly recommend to anyone purchasing their first couple of watches. 

Overall, vintage watches can be a significant part of any collection. They’re a great piece to have if you’ve already purchased a few modern watches and are comfortable with the movements (primarily being manually wound). I could never suggest someone never purchase a vintage watch, but I think there are better options to get started for a beginner. Great starter luxury watches can be under $3,000, but even if your budget is sub $1k, fantastic brands offer iconic watches. 

Patrick Fassler

🚗 Unhealthy Car Obsession ⏱ Semi-Healthy Watch Obsession 📌 Daytona Beach, FL

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