As the market of vintage watches is so hot right now, the line between what’s good and what’s not so good is getting blurrier every day.
But when you strip away dishonest traders trying to make a quick sale on market newbies, the markers and standards used to assess the quality of vintage watches are still the same as ever.
Don’t be taken for a ride by charlatan traders. Learn these five quality markers for assessing and buying a vintage watch and make sure you get a genuine and stunning piece of watchmaking history.
1. The Crystal
As a lot of vintage watches have mineral or acrylic crystals that are easily marked, it can often be difficult to determine the extent of a watch’s damage if the crystal is heavily scratched.
The key is to always have an expert on hand, but you can also make a basic assessment of the watch yourself.
By examining the watch under different lighting, you can figure out if marks are actually on the dial or not — you can notice this if they stay in the same place no matter angle you look at them. If they move, it’s probably an issue with the crystal — a much better outcome, especially if the original crystal is easy to find.
2. Originality or Wear
When you’re buying a vintage watch, you’re doing so because it already has a lot of history and time behind it. It’s a given — no, it’s one of the main draws of vintage watches. And so, when it comes to deciding on buying a worn watch over one with less history or originality, the former is always going to win.
Watches that have a refinished or replaced dial can always be found. Vintage watches that have been untouched and unpolished, but well looked after, are thus highly valuable — even when they have some wear. If the dial is original and readable, and the movement clean and ticking, then the watch is likely a safe bet.
3. Case Backs
There are a few different types of case backs you need to know about when buying a vintage watch. The main ones are case backs that are secured by screws, those that press into the watch, and those that screw down and twist off.
Vintage watches with screwed case backs are typically weatherproof or water-resistant to a degree, and thus tend to keep their movements and dials in better condition over time. Watches with press down case backs are more susceptible to dust and moisture, and so, although many can stay in great condition, they should be checked more thoroughly.
4. The Movement
Of course, to assess the movement of a vintage watch correctly you want it to be in the hands of an expert. But there are some warning signs that it pays for everyone to be aware of.
For instance, if the movement is discoloured or rusty, or if it is missing essential pieces like a hairspring, you may want to avoid the watch. But if the watch looks good on the surface, the case back is screwed and not a push one, and you’re buying a from an authorised watch dealer, then all the signs point to a good movement.
5. The Strap
As we’ve seen, quality of a vintage watch is not all about condition but about history and originality. And this is especially true when talking about the strap.
When you see a watch on its original vintage expandable bracelet, then, you’re on the right track. Too often do traders update pieces to newer, more comfortable straps and in doing so loose some of the watch’s heritage and charm. Look out for original straps and also original buckles; depending on the brand and model, buckles themselves can go for hundreds of pounds a piece.