Owning a great watch, and ideally a collection of great watches is something that all gentlemen should aspire to at some stage. However prices of new watches from Patek, Vacheron or A. Lange & Söhne are often prohibitively expensive for even the most basic of watches. A basic time only Patek will cost north of $20,000/$30,000, adding something as seemingly simple as a chronograph can drastically increase the price to the region of $90,000+ and if you want a calendar function on top of that then Patek will charge you a cool $190,000 for the pleasure of a perpetual calendar chronograph (check out the Patek Ref. 5270G).
If the idea of paying the equivalent of a brand new BMW 3 Series seems a bit steep, then vintage watches might be the solution. Vintage watches provide a great way to start a watch collection with the added benefit of character and history that a new watch just doesn’t have. Below are four vintage dress watches to kick start a watch collection.
1) Under $5,000 – Jaeger LeCoultre Memovox
Jaeger LeCoultre make some pretty damn good watches, made entirely in-house and even provide movements to other manufacturers like Patek and Audemars Piguet (for the original Nautilus and Royal Oak). These days a brand new Jaeger Memovox costs a bit over $12,000, however a vintage Memovox from the 1960s will set you back anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 depending on the condition. Besides from telling the time, the Memovox also has an alarm complication, albeit it probably won’t be as functional as the alarm on a cheap smartphone. However there is something about the two crowns on the Memovox which just gives it a unique and cool retro look. While vintage Memovoxes aren’t highly collectible, ie they won’t appreciate in value, they do provide a great entry point into watch collecting and are quintessentially vintage. Best part is that nobody else in the room will have a watch that looks similar.
2) $5,000 to $10,000 – Vintage Vacheron Constantin dress watches
As mentioned before, a brand new time only watch from a great manufacturer like Vacheron these days would mean parting with at least $20,000. However a vintage Vacheron will cost must less and most can be purchased for under $10,000 and that means getting a solid 18kt gold dress watch. A number of interesting vintage Vacheron dress watches have come up at auction over the past year in a number of metals including yellow, white, pink gold and steel. The watches will tend to be time only, some with a date window, but simplicity is best when it comes to a formal dress watch. Behind the simplicity lies a well-proportioned case and a hand finished movement with all the usual high end finishes expected of a watch that will have the Geneva Seal. The best part with Vacheron is that they’ve been somewhat underrated compared to Patek and Rolex which means that the equivalent Patek will cost more than the equivalent Vacheron, but that just means great value.
Or Rolex Submariner
If a dress watch doesn’t catch your fancy and you want something slightly sportier, then consider a vintage Submariner. While new Rolex Submariners can look gaudy, especially the two tone submariners, a vintage Submariner with a nice patina can look very smart even when worn with a suit. The Ref 5513 and 1680 are great references to look for and an example in good condition should cost less than $10,000. These watches are tough as nails which means you can wear them while doing just about anything and they should keep on ticking. The British Military issued a lot of Rolexes (Ref 5513/5517) to their personnel back in the days and these Rolex MilSubs will often fetch prices over $50,000 at auction. If it’s good enough for the military, then it’s probably good enough for your desk job and weekend boating.
3) $10,000 to $20,000 – Patek Ref. 570
Many view Patek as the best watch manufacturer in the world (A. Lange & Söhne is probably on par) which means they manufacture some of the most complicated (expensive) watches on the market. But you don’t need to take out a mortgage to buy a simple time only Patek from 50/60 years ago. Patek’s Ref 570 is a great vintage watch and thanks to its relatively large 36mm size, it wears very well on the wrist. The yellow gold Ref 570s will tend to be the cheapest while the white gold versions will cost more (some over $30,00) all the way up to an extremely rare pink gold/steel cased Ref 570 which sold for over $550,000. Back to the yellow gold and white gold options, these are typically found at auction with estimates between $10,000 and $20,000 and definitely provide great value. The Ref 570 comes with either a sweeping seconds hand or subsidiary seconds, however the sweeping seconds tend to cost more while the subsidiary seconds do have a slightly older looks.
All images sourced via Antiquorum Catalogues
Feature image sourced via Watchuseek