Just like true style, vintage timepieces are forever. Perhaps in acknowledgement of this fact, prices of vintage watches as a whole have skyrocketed over the past 10 years, with some models, such as ’70s Rolex Daytonas and Submariners, reaching bubble territory, putting them practically out of reach.
Fortunately, there are plenty of vintage watches still to be had that won’t break the bank and most likely will even climb in value in the coming years. The sweet spot for a true vintage watch is roughly 30 years old with the ’70s being a bit of a golden era for wristwatches when some of the most iconic models were created.
Before diving into our selection, it’s worth noting that the term “vintage” often gets conflated with preowned in the realm of luxury watches, so keep this in mind when shopping for a true vintage watch online. The advantage of buying a vintage watch, apart from the beauty and old-school cool factor, vs. a preowned modern watch, is that the vintage one will hold and most likely appreciate in value while the modern watch will drop further in value before it begins to appreciate again.
There’s also been a growing trend of vintage-style reissues by many top manufacturers such as Omega, Tag Heuer and Tudor (a Rolex-owned Brand), all trying to cash in on the older classic and coveted designs. But often you can find the original for equal or less.
Read on for our selection of five relatively affordable vintage watches to finally start that timepiece collection, curated by New York’s Ashton-Blakey Vintage Watches.
Year: 1950 – 1970
Price range: $3,000 – 5,000
Breitling’s Navitimer is a long-standing professional pilot’s tool that has been the preferred watch of of pilots since the 1950s. Its large beautiful dial with three registers has a great presence and look – as good as a Rolex Chrono – but prices are far more friendly and only creeping up faster.
The 1959 Ref. 806 AOPA Reverse “Panda” (black on black dial/registers vs. white on black) version seen above is a particularly coveted version offering strong value given the rarity and price of a new model, which runs between $4,000 – $7,000, or equivalent timepiece.
Side note: Breitling’s “Top Time” is another worthy model we feel has equal value and strong investment potential.
IWC Gold Dress Watch
Year: 1940 – 1950
Price range: $1,500 – $3,000
Gold dress watches aren’t exactly sought after at the moment and that’s precisely why now is the time to buy, particularly solid gold dress models from the 1940s and 1950s. When it comes to value and upside potential, solid gold watches of this era, especially from a world-class brand like IWC, who have been making coveted watches since 1905, can be had for “bargain” prices compared with what a new equivalent would go for (well in excess of $15,000, and far more from brands like Vacheron or Patek Philippe).
Let’s face it, while everyone is clamoring for chunky and clunky models, there’s something to be said about sporting a sleek and elegant thin solid gold dress watch with a suit – every man needs to have one in their collection. The above 18K Rose Gold is a fine example and other similar models can be had in the $1,500 – $3,000 range. Watches like this are a downright steal compared to what you would have to pay for anything similar that’s new.
Price range: $400 – $1,000
Seiko has been making great watches since the early 20th century and until recently there hasn’t been a lot of love or appreciation for Japanese watch movements. But that’s starting to change. Seiko’s Japan-made movements and dependability are as good as anything made in Switzerland at a fraction of the price.
In particular, models like the Seiko Ref. 6139, the first automatic chronograph, or the “Pogue” are good examples of Seiko’s famous Japanese reliability. (Fun fact: the Pogue was famously worn by Col. William Pogue, an astronaut and former Thunderbird pilot who was a member of NASA’s 1973 Skylab 4 mission.)
The dressier early Grand Seikos are also picking up steam fast. All told, for those on a tighter budget, a vintage Seiko is a great way to go.
Omega Professional Speedmaster
Price range: $2,000 – $3,000
The early iconic Omega Speedmaster Pre-Moon/Moon watches have already moved well beyond the realm of affordability for most of us, particularly the early Pre-Moon models with the famed cal. 321 movements which can fetch up to $100,000 depending on age/model. However, there are still some incredibly cool Speedmasters from the 1970s, such as the Professional Mark III shown above, which can be had for a relative bargain. The Mark III features a very distinctive thick and heavy stainless case that makes it a standout.
Omega is reaffirming what many collectors already knew by creating and cashing in on similar reissues of this era with watches such as the Bullhead and Mark II, among others, that sell new from $6,000 up. Why spend that on a reissue when you can get an actual vintage model for less? Others from this era such as the Mark II and Speedsonic can also be had for a similar price and offer equally good value.
British Military Watches of the “Dirty Dozen”
Year: Early 1940s
Price range: $1,500 – $3,000
There is a specific group of 12 British military watches commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense and used in the Second World War. The name “Dirty Dozen” came from a 1960s fictional movie about the lives of 12 soldiers during the Second World War. Over the years, watch collectors gave this name to this group of 12 chronometer grade watches used and worn by those British soldiers.
Military watches in general must adhere to stringent rules of accuracy, reliability and durability standards, all of which is a great place to start for a quality watch. These watches were produced from the 12 manufacturers (Omega, IWC, Timor, Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, Record and Vertex) and all had a similar look since they had to meet specific military standards (stainless steel, black dial, Arabic numerals, luminous hour and minute hands/markers, a minute register, a shatterproof crystal, and specific spec. movements).
The most rare and least-produced versions came from Grana, IWC, Jaeger Lecoultre and Longines and can reach upwards of $7,000, but versions from Cyma, Record and even Omega are still well within the “affordable” range of $1,500 – $3,000. We love the simple honest and rugged utilitarian design of these watches, much like the simple beauty found in early Range Rovers. These watches will continue to climb in value and not only offer great value, but great historical significance.
- Words: David Romeo
- Main/Featured Image: @ashton_blakey_vintage_watches/Instagram