A Watch Nerd's Shortlist
The Best Vintage Watches to Collect (According to Experts)
In the past year, the vintage watch market has seen “unprecedented interest,” with newbies flocking to vintage shops and online auctions in an attempt to grow their burgeoning collections. And the market is vast — there are thousands of different references out there from different eras and companies, many of whom may not even exist anymore. It’s great in terms of choice, but it’s also intimidating. That’s why I reached out to three different vintage watch specialists — Eric Wind of Christie’s, Nick Pardo of Analog/Shift and Hamilton Powell of Crown & Caliber — and asked them for their opinions on the watches to be collecting now.
Late-’60s Rolex Submariners and GMTs
Wind believes early, matte dial references of the Submariner — like the 5512 and 5513 — and the GMT — specifically the 1675 — are essentials for people who want to be serious collectors. “These are sort of like the Porsche 911 of the 1970s, where they’ve become this iconic thing and prices have sort of skyrocketed,” he said. Wind admitted that they’ve become increasingly difficult to find in good condition, as most were beat up in their lifetimes, but a good-condition watch has the potential to appreciate a lot in value.
Late ’80s to Early ’90s Rolex Submariners and GMTs
See more of the 16750 GMT above at Bulang and Sons
For a similar watch at a lower entry point, Pardo recommends Submariner and GMT references like the 16750, 16800 and 16660 that are a great combination of modern and vintage. “They combine modern conveniences like sapphire crystals and quickset dates with tritium that will age, and early glossy dials that often spider and wear nicely,” he noted. “And while they’re larger than older vintage models, they’re still slimmer than contemporary references.”
The Omega Speedmasters
Wind, Pardo and Powell all recommend Speedmasters. Pardo and Powell both recommend later Speedmasters with the 861 movement as a great bang-for-the-buck option; Pardo specifically suggests Speedies from the ’80s and ’90s that still have tritium lume. Wind, though, recommends pre-moon references using the earlier 321 movement. “So many people want them, and I think they’re going to continue to increase in value. The 2915s are six figures now, but the late 2998s can still be found for under thirty grand in good condition, and I think they should be worth more,” he said.
’60s and ’70s Seiko Sport Watches
See more of the Seiko 62MAS above at Analog/Shift
These are some of the most affordable ways to get into old-school tool watches and complications, and as Pardo notes, there are tons of colorful and unique references to choose from, like the “Pogue,” “Bullhead” and “UFO” to name a few. “You get bulletproof movements at an amazing price point,” said Pardo. “But make sure you do your homework, as they’re often cobbled together. Buying from a reputable source or enthusiasts, rather than eBay, is strongly recommended.”
Powell and Wind both recommend vintage Carreras, with Wind specifically recommending references from the ’60s. “Those in good condition have been undervalued in comparison to the Autavias that have gone crazy,” Wind said. Powell notes that Carreras are appreciating “like crazy,” as well. “Many think the peak in pricing will occur near the end of this year. As a result, a lot of collectors are stocking up.”
’50s and ’60s Three-Hand Omegas
See more of the Omega Seamaster above at Analog/Shift
“Watches like the Constellation, Seamaster and Geneve offer handsome, timeless designs, high-grade in-house movements and a recognizable name at an affordable price point,” said Pardo, and he’s right — you can find them all the time for around the $1,000 mark. Similar to the lower-end Seikos, due to their ubiquity and lower price point, they’re often cobbled together, so due dilligence is requried when buying one.
’40s Gallet Chrongoraphs
See more of the Gallet MultiChron Regulator Chronograph above at Analog/Shift
“These are amazing watches that are undervalued but have been getting a lot more attention,” said Wind. “A lot saw service in World War Two with pilots, and you can still get great ones for like $4,000. To me they should be over $10,000.” Wind specifically recommends looking for versions with “clamshell” cases with four screws on the backside. “Even though they aren’t the biggest watches — they’re about thirty-four and a half millimeters — they wear really well.”
See more of the (very special, platinum) Patek 2526 above at Phillips Watches
“Everyone loves vintage sport watches, but I think it is essential to have a well-rounded collection and embrace something Patek,” said Powell, and he believes the 2526 — the brand’s first automatic watch — is ideal. Prices start around $15,000 to $20,000, which is a significant amount of money — but Powell believes, “for its significance, it’s totally undervalued.”