Some people only want the latest thing, whether it’s a gadget, fashion item, or hit song in their headphones. But in the high-end watch world, there are many reasons to buy vintage over new. It is a better investment, for starters. But there’s a deeper, more fulfilling aspect of vintage watch collecting as well, which is that it connects us to something bigger — to community, to learning, and to the satisfaction that comes from owning a piece of history.
Let’s look at the ineffable qualities to get really excited about. Before the appearance of apps for every conceivable use, watches had their own distinct purpose and place in history. Particularly in 1950s and 1960s, for example, watchmakers such as Patek Philippe, Rolex, Omega, and Longines made chronographs with what we call ‘pulsation dials’ – chronographs made to help doctors take a person’s pulse. Equally, a watch may have been designed for use by a professional salvage diver, for exploring caves, or timing race cars. As a collector, you’re buying into that.
But the real fun in collecting vintage watches lies in the details. By the time someone buys a vintage watch, he or she will have been studying that watch and searching for some exact model and dial configuration for a long time — particularly if it’s a Rolex. Maybe they want a Bakelite bezel GMT Master 6542. Those bezels would often crack and were replaced with aluminium inserts. So when a collector finds an original, it’s very exciting. From there, it’s all about examining it: are the fonts on the bezel correct? Are there cracks in it? Has it been painted?
Collectors love the thrill of the chase. And once you find what you’re looking for, you get to bask in the romance of strapping on an incredible machine with its own history and its own patina; an object that has really paid its dues.
We look down at this machine that we’re powering ourselves — whether through the motion of our arms or by manually winding the watch — and we see a companion that’s with us through whatever the day, week, or the month might bring, just as it once was for some previous owner.
It’s a very human connection to have with an object. Each vintage watch has its own story, and that’s something you can’t buy from the factory.
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