How do you verify the history of a watch before buying?
Daniel: Make sure you know how the seller came about the piece and what has happened to it since they took possession. Service history is also really important to be aware of. Some brands have archives of all of the watches they have produced and offer an extract service, which gives information about the watch at the time of production. While this is by no means a guarantee that the watch is original in its current state, it certainly gives valuable insight.
How do you know you can trust the seller?
Patrick: Do some research on the seller or get a personal recommendation. But there is no 100% guarantee. The only way to be 100% sure is to buy from a retailer that has been certified by the watch brands and who has a longstanding history of trust and competence in the industry.
Daniel: Many experienced and trusted antiques dealers will be recognised by the British Antique Dealers Association (BADA) or LAPADA, which is a good indicator they are trusted experts.
How do you spot a fake?
Daniel: It honestly depends on how good the fake is! Some obvious giveaways are the quality of bracelets if it’s a sports watch, or if the complications function as they should. When a chronograph pusher ends up changing the date on the watch, chances are it’s not real. That being said there are some ‘super fakes’ out there which still cost several hundred pounds and contain real mechanical Swiss movements. As technology progresses, it is becoming easier to make better fakes, which really highlights the importance of going somewhere you can trust.
Should you be looking for original packaging?
Patrick: The more original items you can get, the better – these include the original box and the watch’s papers. When buying a pre-owned watch from a certified retailer, these things are not essential for the authentication of the watch. But they are certainly nice to have.
Daniel: Yes, it’s always nice to have if you can find it, but in my opinion it shouldn’t be a deal breaker. It is more important with some watches than others: Rolex, for example, doesn’t really provide much of an authentication service, so often the easiest way to check a Rolex is original is to have the paperwork with all the corresponding numbers on it from its original sale. However, most boxes for vintage watches were nothing like giant precious wood and leather presentation boxes you get for modern pieces. They tended to be simple, small leather affairs and they were often not kept by the original owners.
What sort of money should you be spending on a good vintage piece?
Daniel: There is no magic formula which says, ‘You must spend X on a watch for it to be good.’ There are watches in every price bracket that are good watches, and a £15,000 watch may be worse than a £5,000 watch. The main objective here is to find a price that suits you and a watch that fits that number.
Ray: In my opinion, you will struggle to buy a great vintage watch for £1,000 or even £2,000. For a starter watch, I would say £10,000 and then work your way up from there. Years ago you might have been able to buy some really decent watches for much less, but supply and demand and the growing popularity of vintage watch buying has meant the market is much more competitive and prices have increased.
How long should you hold onto a vintage watch before reselling to make a profit?
Daniel: It often depends on the brand and model. The vintage Omega Speedmasters, for example, have seen a big rise in value in the last decade, thanks to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing that made the watch famous. However, buying vintage watches as investments can be very dangerous. The market for the most expensive watches is notoriously volatile and one instance in recent history showcases this perfectly: in the early 2000s the prices of Rolex Daytona chronographs were skyrocketing upwards until 2008 and the financial crisis, when the bubble burst and they tumbled off a cliff.
Ray: If you are buying from a dealer, you could sell between a year and two years later and, as long as you paid the right money, you should be able to see a return. You could be looking at anything from 10% up to even 40% if you bought the right model at the right price. As Daniel has mentioned, the vintage watch market crashed in 2008 when we went into the recession. If you bought the right watches at that time – for example, sports models like GMTs, Submariners, Sea-Dwellers, Daytonas – you would probably have ten-folded your money by now, maybe even 20-folded.