You can tell a lot about a man by his watch. Tech guy. Style savant. Rugged sportsman. Whichever niche you fit into, your pick tends to make a certain lifestyle statement. But if the insane lines to buy Apple watches have taught us anything, it’s that sometimes buying new gets really old. The fix: going vintage.
Something about the thought of buying a watch from bygone eras has a unique, romantic kind of vibe. These are the watches that carried the James Bonds, Steve McQueens, and everyday (but plenty stylish) guys through the 20th century with an unfailing cool factor.
Even if you’re not much of a romantic, buying a vintage piece has some serious practical perks, from price to patina. Here’s what you’re really getting when you snag yourself one.
Original Cool-Guy Style
Buying a vintage watch is like buying a classic car: It may not have all the bells and whistles offered by modern tech, but damn will that thing have style.
As anyone schooled in design will tell you, our idea of what's cool, especially when it comes to sartorial matters, tends to be cyclical. That means most of the stuff we buy today is based off designs from the past century – like now-ubiquitous raw selvedge jeans, which were inspired by denim from the '50s and '60s. What’s old is new again.
This is where a vintage wristwatch garners some major style points. Rather than dropping your cash on a shadow of the original style, buying vintage gets you that much closer to the original creation, designed and crafted during a different era.
This is less of a concern if you're interested in a piece that's had a pretty steady design history, with only minor tweaks along the way. But even then, those subtle design differences can be a cool nod to history – something like slightly different dial markings will set you apart from the pack of guys wearing the latest models.
Authentic, Time-Tested Wear
As a general rule, we like distressed. Denim, leather, metal – it all tends to look better once it's seen a few trips around the block. But why should you shell out your hard-earned money for something that’s already seen a few decades of wear and tear?
Well, like a classic Cadillac, vintage watches have that authentic one-of-a-kind vibe – you’re a lot less likely to encounter another gent with the same watch if you’re wearing a 1950s Rolex Submariner. But even if you do come across someone sporting the same make as you, the scratches, minor dial discolorations and unique patina of yours will be totally unique.
Some guys who prefer fresh-out-of-the-box watches might disagree, but if you ask us, those kinds of worn-in, well-loved details make a watch all the more beautiful. It makes your style less prim, proper, and polished and more rough-and-tumble, with a "I’ve seen the world" kind of attitude.
Before there was an app for everything, guys had to rely on their watches for multi-functionality. As a result, vintage timepieces can have some pretty cool features, designed with a specific purpose in mind.
Patek Philippe, Rolex, Omega and Longines all made chronographs with built in “pulsation dials” for a stint in the 50s and 60s. They helped doctors take easy and accurate pulse reads on the job, before hospitals had more accurate modern tech at their disposal. Other designs feature pilot navigation tools or racetrack stopwatches.
Even if you don’t need the throwback function built into the form, they still make great talking points and dinner party stories.
Even if you were to drop all the romanticized notions about buying a watch with a unique story, vintage is a seriously practical opportunity to save yourself some coin. If you do your research, you may even pick up a model that actually appreciates in value the longer you own it.
When you buy a new high-end watch, it immediately loses about half of its value – no small number, even when you're looking at entry-level options. Vintage watches, on the other hand, don’t carry the same curse.
According to the expert appraisers at Christie’s Auction House, most pre-owned watches hold steady at about 90 to 100 (and up) percent resale value after you buy it. Since they already experienced that initial post purchase drop in retail value years ago, what you pay now is pretty much exactly what the timepiece is worth.
Combine all that, and you get a watch that's handsome, historic, and comes with a damn good bottom line. And that's a worthy investment, no matter what direction your sense of style leans towards.