Unless you’re in the field of horology or have years of experience as a collector, buying a vintage watch can be a daunting process.

Much like their construction, the market of vintage watches is incredibly complex and nuanced — perhaps even more so. Instead of simply mechanical wheels and drives and springs to deal with, you have an infinite amount of styles, models, new terminology, specifications, and historical references to wrap your head around.

This makes it difficult for the casual buyer to dip into the market and come out with a successful purchase. Particularly as online auctions and internet sites make it easy to acquire a little knowledge and pick up a so called ‘classic’ or ‘vintage’ timepiece.

So what should you do? How do you know which are the revered watch manufacturers, or which time periods hold particular significance? How do you find out what models are rare and what you should pay for them? Well, as many experts and collectors will say, with time and experience. But the good news is, you don’t need expert knowledge and a trained eye to get started.

Below is our brief guide for buyers new to the world of vintage watches. It consists of four stages or areas: 1) Understanding what classes as vintage, 2) Getting to know makes and models, 3) Provenance, and 4) Assessing condition.

What exactly is vintage?

The definition of what makes a watch vintage can vary widely, but it’s generally said to be anything 25-30 years old, or older. But age isn’t enough alone to qualify something as vintage.

To distinguish vintage from other styles like retro, antique, or just plain old, a watch should embody characteristics such as being timeless, classic, functional, and most importantly, of high-quality workmanship and build.

The importance of brand and model

Manufacturer and brand say a lot about a watch, and when the timepiece is vintage, it says even more.

It may be that the company is steeped in history or has now ceased operations. Or that a particular model is rare due to being a limited edition, one of only a few made, or the first to introduce a particular specification, style, complication, or calibre. Most often it’s a combination of both.

Provenance and ownership

The provenance of a watch (its history and origin) can play a huge part in the significance and price of a vintage watch.

For instance, a never-worn watch with a single owner will fetch a lot more than a heavily worn watch that has been through the hands of countless people. What’s more, the story of the owner themselves, as is often the case with estate watches, can greatly influence a watch’s value.

Such timepieces with a rich and regal history are most often reserved for private and estate sales, top auction houses, and established retailers. While watches with a more diverse and ordinary background are usually those found at flea markets, car boot sales, antique shops, and sites like eBay.

Assessing the condition

Assessing the state of a watch is an art that can take years to master. But it’s easy to grasp the basics and spot an obvious dud from a hidden gem.

The first thing to consider is what you can see. Is there any damage to the surface and outer casing i.e. scratches, dents, chips, or even engravings? How clear is the dial and crystal? Next, look a little closer at the back and movement. Is there any damage from rust or oxidisation?

You’ll also want to check if the watch matches the period the seller claims it does, and if the watch has been serviced and had any original parts replaced.

Parkers is a century-and-a-half old watch retailer built on loyalty, reliability, and value for money. Browse our catalogue to see our latest stock of pre-owned and vintage watches.