In recent years the reasons for wearing a wristwatch have changed. The constant presence of a smartphone in our pocket alongside the development and increasing availability of smartwatches has meant that a watch is no longer necessary for us to keep track of the time while out and about. The practical need for such an item simply no longer exists for many of us.
Other reasons for wearing a watch remain; certain brands or styles enjoy popularity for a while, we continue to wear a favourite piece that someone special gifted to us, or it makes us feel good to show that we are able to purchase a prestigious maker or rare model. For some of us it is simply habit, or a reluctance to abandon ‘obsolete’ technology too quickly! Whatever the reason, watches remain a popular gift or special self-purchase, and vintage models in particular continue to be sought after, but where do you start with a vintage watch?
Firstly, the major brands are always the most sought after amongst the general public and the easiest to buy and sell. Rolex is the most famous watch brand in the world, synonymous with quality and status even amongst those with little or no horological interest. Their core models have been around for decades and have changed little in that time; subtle design developments and technical improvements aside, models such as the Datejust and Submariner are recognisable from the middle of the last century right up to today with few major modifications. The left-hand image showcases a Submariner from the 1980s, while the right-hand image is of a 2020 model. While some of the technical specifications and materials have changed, the model remains essentially the same. The older model is sought after for the attractive fading and discolouration to the dial, especially the luminous filling to the hour markers and hands.
The Datejust in particular has barely altered and is a truly classic design; for a vintage dress watch it is hard to beat and its relative availability and affordability compared to other models means it is also more accessible. There are plenty of options to tailor your Datejust to your style too, with an array of different materials and dial colours to choose from. Steel, bi-metal or gold case and with dials easily available in white, champagne, black or blue on vintage models. There is so much choice and each one maintains the model’s classic look. On the left below, a bi-metal model from 1989 with Jubilee bracelet and dial, 36mm. On the right, a recent steel Datejust on an Oyster bracelet in the popular, larger 41mm size.
Good examples of vintage sports or tool model Rolex watches are typically much harder to come by and much more valuable. Certain early Submariners, even in relatively poor condition, can be worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds, usually due to rarity since their production runs were extremely limited and their practical uses meant they could often become badly damaged or destroyed. In other models, certain features can be highly sought after, such as a prettily faded pink from the red on the bezel of a vintage GMT-Master ‘Pepsi’ model. Collectors will pay (sometimes significantly) more for unusual features that add to their timepiece’s rarity. Pictured are two examples of the popular 'Root Beer' Rolex GMT, with brown/yellow bezel detail. The older model on a bi-metal steel/yellow bracelet and the current model with its distinctive steel/rose combination and darker hues.
Rolex themselves have traditionally lacked enthusiasm for the idea of second hand collectability and resale of their watches, but recently made a spectacular U-turn, engaging directly with resale by launching their Rolex Certified Pre-owned service. Collectors can now purchase second hand models directly from Rolex stockists, authenticated and serviced by Rolex. They typically ask higher prices when compared to buying through more traditional channels (independent second hand dealers and retailers like PA Jewellery for example) but the fact that Rolex have become involved in this arena at all is hugely significant; testifying to the increasing importance of second hand and vintage as part of the overall premium watch marketplace.
The other major brand for non-specialist collectors is Omega. There are certain models within the Omega collection that have also hardly changed over the years. Famously, the Speedmaster, more specifically the Speedmaster Moonwatch which has barely altered in appearance since it travelled onboard NASA’s Apollo missions in the 1960s. There have been technical innovations over the years, but the current model retains the principal design features. Swatch (Omega’s parent company) have recently had huge success with a Swatch-branded version, the Moonswatch, echoing the design of the Omega classic at a fraction of the cost, in Swatch-typical materials; bioceramic case, fabric Velcro strap and quartz movement. The initial edition of the model sold out almost overnight and stocks still cannot keep up with demand. It is a striking example of the excitement around vintage styles. Pictured below are two late 1960s Omega Moonwatches, firstly on a contrasting brown leather strap and secondly the original steel bracelet.
Away from the Speedmaster and other classic models, Omega have a more richly varied design history than Rolex, their styles more consciously reflecting trends and fashions over the years. For those who want their vintage choice to reflect its age, the Chronostop is a great example, combining fabulous functionality with eye-catching late 1960s styling. This model reflects the curving oval and cushion shapes and bright colours of the period in its case and dial detail. It was available with a variety of different functions, including the ‘Driver’ models with their dials rotated by ninety degrees to make them easier for racing drivers to view (worn on the inside of the wrist) while driving. Check out how unusual this makes the dial look!
The bezel choices included tachymeter, telemeter, pulsometer and countdown options so you can pick the one you will find most useful (or most attractive!) One of the most beautiful features of the Chronostop is the sunburst-style matte finishing on the case, an incredibly difficult finish to achieve, but well worth the time and expense of finding a specialist to do so. Additionally, Chronostop models were produced for only a few years and with so many different dial and function options, each is necessarily fairly limited, so choosing and tracking down your perfect one is part of the experience. If you want something more unusual, it is a great choice! Below, two fantastic Chronostop options, on the left with the original steel bracelet and a tachymetre surround (measuring speed over a known distance), on the right with a telemetre (measuring the distance of an object from the observer).
There are lots of premium watch brands and many of them have fantastic histories with beautiful vintage models available to the collector. Cartier, like Rolex, have a core selection that have changed little over the decades, small tweaks to improve or update not altering the overall look of classics like the Tank. They have also experimented brilliantly in line with fashion and produced some outstanding and unusual designs. The Ballon Bleu pictured below is another classic design.
For a great blend of innovation and long-term design, Jaeger le Coultre have a fantastic history. Their famous Reverso model was originally developed in 1931 with a reversible case so the glass could be hidden safely away while the wearer played polo. Over almost a century, the design has been developed and innovated with various options, (including having two dials if you’re more likely to change outfits than play polo!) all while maintaining the original Art Deco shape and style. Unfortunately, our most recent example has now sold, but its beauty is still well worth a look, pictured below with a view of each of its two dials.
At PA Jewellery, we currently have a larger range of vintage watches (primarily Rolex and Omega) than we have ever had before. You can browse these on our website or visit our showroom to handle the pieces for yourself and discuss your choice.