Vintage on the cheap
15 Affordable Vintage & Pre-Owned Watches That Experts Love
“Nice Submariner,” I said to my dentist today, as his Rolex glistened in his headlamp’s glare.
“Had it for years,” he said. “It’s crazy what people are paying for these used nowadays.”
And it’s official. When your dentist knows that vintage watch prices are going through the roof, you can be sure that the lower end of the market is well and truly screwed. But fear not, ye budding vintage watch collectors, and lovers of the old and the mechanical — we reached out to some of the top players in the vintage and pre-owned watch world to find out what unturned stones are still out there. Here are fifteen watches that the experts say are still undervalued and ripe for growth.
Seth Roberts, Owner, Hub City Vintage
“As the vintage watch market continues to see unprecedented growth, Seiko has remained an accessible option,” said Seth Roberts, the watchsmith owner of Hub City Vintage, an online source of select vintage Seiko watches. “While many of Seiko’s historic chronographs and divers reach deep into four-figure territory, there are plenty of options still available for under $1000.”
1968 Seiko 6106-8100 70m Sport Diver (sub-$500)
“Introduced in 1968, the 6106-8100 is an early Seiko great that helped the brand gain traction in the light diver market. As minimalist tool watches go, it’s one of my favorites. The dial is a rich charcoal sunburst, against which the polished hands are easily legible. The coin edge bezel is easy to maneuver, and the insert is a striking contrast of matte silver and black. The case is a contoured tonneau that comfortably hugs the wrist.”
1968 Seiko 5740-8000 Hi-Beat 36000 (sub-$550)
“The smooth sweep of a second hand gliding around the dial at 36,000 bph is irresistible,” said Roberts. Modern hi-beat movements can be costly, with few affordable vintage options, but exceptions can be found in the Lord Marvel line. “Introduced in 1959 [as] a merger of the ‘Crown’ and ‘Marvel’ subsets, its third iteration became Seiko’s first true hi-beat in 1967. The 5740C is a beautifully finished hand-wound calibre neatly packaged in a mid-century masterpiece of design.”
1972 Seiko 6139-6022 “Pulsations” Automatic Chronograph (sub-$800)
“This model was designed to appeal to those in medical settings, by including a 60 sec./30 min. timer, and a ‘Base 10 Pulsations’ inner bezel that can be rotated via the crown, used to measure a patient’s heart rate). And like the cool 70’s doctors who wore it, this chrono can be dressed up or down, as “the slimmer case architecture allows it to slide easily under a shirtsleeve cuff and gives it great versatility for regular wear.”
Eric Wind, Owner, Wind Vintage
Online dealer Wind Vintage’s owner, Eric Wind, is generous with tips on value in vintage: “With time-only, or a dive watch, you get more value than a chronograph,” said Wind. He recommends seeking out all-steel or all-gold cases rather than chrome- or gold-plated, for the sake of longevity, and forewarns anyone buying a vintage watch off of eBay to “accommodate for $200-$300 in service costs for time only watches, and more for chronographs.”
Ducado Chronograph (sub-$1k)
Wind favors finding lesser-known watches made by well-known companies as a collecting strategy: “You can find really interesting unknown-brand watches made my bigger companies,” said Wind. One prime example is this Ducado Chronograph, made by legendary dive watchmaker Squale for the Spanish market. Housed in a “Super Squale” case, they are waterproof to 200 meters and can be found in the sub $1000-range.
Certina 1900 with Valjoux 726 Movement (sub-$2k)
Wind likes Certina and Fortis sport watches, of which he said, “Both of them are unrecognized but growing in value.” The Valjoux 726 movement adds a bit of expense but also an undeniable cachet, as it is based on the Valjoux 72 movement that powers the Rolex Daytona, among other collector-favorite chronos.
Vulcain Cricket (sub-$1k)
“My favorite brand in sub-$1000 is Vulcain,” said Wind. “They have a rich history tied to US presidents. I buy any nice ones I see,” he said. Eisenhower wore one, Truman wore one, as did Lyndon Johnson, Joe Biden, and Obama. “They were gifted to every president from Truman to Obama,” said Wind, “with the exception of George W. Bush, and I’m not sure Trump’s getting one either.” Wind favors those from the late 40’s through the 60’s.
James Lamdin, Founder, Analog/Shift:
“Collecting vintage watches is an incredibly rewarding hobby that is equal parts a journey into history, an appreciation for design and mechanical engineering, treasure hunting, and emotion,” said James Lamdin, founder of vintage watch purveyor Analog Shift. Affordability in vintage watch collecting can be a relative term — which is why the following watches are a bit more expensive than previous entries in this list — but these buys are still well within the “attainable” portion of the market.
W.W.W.”Dirty Dozen” ($2500-$4500)
“Fortunately there are still some affordable entry points into military watch collecting,” said Lamdin. “My personal favorite are the rough and ready ‘Dirty Dozen’ watches made under contract for the MoD during the late years of the Second World War. From brands such as CYMA, Vertex, Record, and Omega, you can get yourself into a superlative military field watch starting at only a couple thousand dollars.”
Universal Geneve Polerouters ($2500-$5000)
While prices of vintage chronographs from Universal Geneve have skyrocketed in recent years, “their simplest time/time and date only models have remained firmly within the land of obtanium,” said Lamdin. The Polerouter was a collaboration between Universal and Scandinavian Air Services in commemoration of the SAS’s over-the-pole air routes in the 1950’s, and were designed by Gerald Genta, “who went on to design iconic sport luxury watches for brands such as Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe.”
Wittnauer Chronographs ($2500-$6500)
“Chronographs are one of the coolest and most usable complications you can put on a wristwatch, and also one of the hottest categories in vintage watch collecting,” said Lamdin. “Wittnauer produced some extremely cool and high-quality manual-winding models in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s that are generally overlooked by most collectors. With styling cues reminiscent of Omega and Heuer, this oft-forgotten brand offers tremendous style and excellent movements for the money.”
Hamilton Powell, Owner, Crown & Caliber
Pre-owned vendor Crown & Caliber’s owner Hamilton Powell has two recommendations for maximizing value: story and strap. “Get a watch that has a great story. Meaning, that the model has a provenance, was intended for some cool purpose, or has some great story to tell,” said Powell, and as for the strap, “Most people don’t realize that when they buy a watch with a stainless steel band they are paying a premium. If you are really after the watch itself, ditch the band [and] save some money.”
Rolex Oyster Perpetual on Leather Band (sub-$2k)
“It just doesn’t get any more classic than a Rolex Oyster Perpetual,” said Powell. “Rolex invented the Oyster case in 1926 and it was the first water- and dust-proof case. The Oyster Perpetual debuted a few years later, once Rolex invented an automatic winding mechanism for that case.” Before you go thinking the smaller case isn’t manly enough, remember that Johnny Cash wore one.
Omega Speedmaster Automatic (sub-$2k)
“The Speedmaster has a rich history, and has been in the news lately with some insane auction results,” said Powell. The original watch worn on the moon, the Speedy has been worn by NASA astronauts including Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and the Apollo 13 crew. Sub-$2k Speedmasters are of the automatic and automatic date variety, rather than the classic manual-wind version, but still offer a piece of history and good value for the money.
Breitling Superocean (sub-$2k)
“In the 70’s, the Superocean was one of the coolest watches made,” said Powell. “Collectors have since priced it out of the market (original versions are now 10k+), but the modern counterparts can be had for sub $2k.”
David Lee, GM Watches, StockX
David Lee, the GM of Watches at StockX, is excited about the current state of collecting: “The vintage and pre-owned markets have evolved and matured so much in recent years, and for most, the journey (researching, finding, exploring) is just as fun and exciting as the actual watch,” he says. He also has some practical advice to offer: “A watch is a watch, regardless of brand or price. From an Apple Watch to a Casio calculator to a Rolex Submariner to a Patek Philippe Annual Calendar; enjoy it for what it is and how it speaks to you.”
Seiko SARX049 (sub-$1k)
Like Seth Roberts, Lee is a true Seiko proponent: “Making enamel dials is a difficult, expense process. So much so that most brands don’t even bother making them at all. And how many will put them on sub-$1000 watches? My current favorite Seiko is the Presage SARX049, with a gorgeous white enamel dial.”
Tudor GMT (sub-$4k)
“One of the hottest watches to come out of Basel 2018 was the Tudor Pepsi. While it did not garner quite the demand as its bigger brother the Rolex Pepsi, nonetheless, Tudor hit it out of the ballpark with this watch. Well-designed with nods to vintage pieces of old, like the rivet bracelet and matte dial, there has been strong demand for this timepiece since its release.”
IWC Pilot’s Chronograph (Sub-$5k)
“One of my favorite watches of all time is the IWC Pilot’s Chronograph. Displaying the hallmark design features of classic pilot watches like it’s clean, Flieger-style dial design, it epitomizes the aesthetics coming out of Schaffhausen. And considering the multiple complications (chronograph, day and date), it’s one of the best deals on the market.”