The search for a genuine, vintage watch can be an incredibly challenging task, but it is also one of the most rewarding. If you’re new to the world of vintage watch collecting, the process can seem particularly daunting; is the watch genuine? Is it in good condition? Are you getting a good deal?  There are so many things to think about, so you need to do your research and know what you’re looking for to avoid wasting money or ending up with a piece with questionable authenticity. Take a look at these helpful tips that we’ve put together to help you throughout each stage of the buying process, so you can feel more confident that you’ll be coming away with a high quality authentic watch for a reasonable price.

Before you buy ~

Do your research

Unfortunately, in the world of buying and selling vintage watches, it can be easy to get caught out and ripped off. The only way to truly avoid this is by doing your research before going out and buying. It helps if you know exactly what you’re looking for – so try to narrow down your search as much as possible by finding a brand and particular model that you’re interested in before spending. Get to know the watch you’ve got in mind as much as possible and think of any questions that you need to ask the seller.

Where to buy

The next big thing you’ll need to decide before buying is where to actually go and buy your watch from. Many people find great deals online as most online watch retailerswill feature a selection of pre-owned watches at reasonable prices. They will have their own in-house specialist to expertly examine the watch and ensure authenticity, making the entire process incredibly simple.

Many also find that Ebay is a great choice for finding some excellent deals on vintage watches, but it can be tricky for first time buyers. Make sure you have consistent contact with the seller before putting an offer in to ensure you know everything about the watch. If you find an online pre-owned watch seller but you’re unsure about using them, then get onto a popular watch forum like Watchuseek and see if anyone else has had any experience with the same website. Chances are, they have and they will happily share any positive or negative feedback.

On the other hand, many prefer buying in person to be able to speak to the seller face to face and get a thorough look at the watch first-hand. I’d recommend going to a reputable vintage watch store or jewellers. The importance of a reputable seller cannot be emphasized enough as they can ensure you receive a genuine timepiece while saving you money on repairs and servicing. Buying online can be a tricky business as it’s difficult to gain all of the watch’s specific details and it is always recommended to get a look at the watch in person so that you’re 100% certain it’s genuine.

Before you think about spending any money ~

  • Find the exact brand and model that you want to buy
  • Research the watch – get to know its details and average price
  • Find a reputable seller to buy from – in store or online?

The watch ~

Authenticity

The main thing you’ll want to know about the watch is that it’s genuine. You don’t want to be wasting your time and money on a watch that may not be an authentic vintage. You should ask the seller if the watch’s parts are all original or if some parts have been replaced – if so, who replaced them and when? Also take the opportunity to ask the seller if they have any extras or accessories that the watch comes with, like the box, papers or service records. Though it’s incredibly rare to find a watch with all three, you may be lucky enough to come across a piece that comes with at least one of these.

This vintage Baume & Mercier watch is a prime example. Found at a local jewellery store, this stunning timepiece came with its authenticity papers which are a very lucky find. It has also been confirmed as a genuine vintage by Baume & Mercier themselves, ensuring that this watch in particular is a quality vintage watch.

Vinatge Baume & Mercier

If these still don’t answer your questions, then there are a couple of other things you could do to put your mind at rest. Take some pictures of the watch, capturing its different angles and post them to a watch forum in order to gain some expertise on the piece. There are plenty of proficient vintage watch buyers and sellers out there who will be happy to share their knowledge and help to point out features of the watch that prove its genuineness. You could also contact the manufacturer for confirmation of your timepiece – they will be more than happy to confirm it is in fact a genuine watch.

Overall condition

It’s expected for a vintage watch to be showing some subtle signs of age – after all, this is a big part of its overall charm. But don’t mistake false parts and poor quality for ageing. Be realistic about the aesthetics of the watch and if it looks dirty and worn on the outside, it’s likely to be the same on the inside. You may notice that some older watches have faded colour on their metallic surfaces; this is known as ‘patina’ and is quite desirable on a particularly old timepiece. It is mostly noticeable on the hands and hour markers, but there is a big difference between patina and water stains. If you notice any water markings on the dial, this could be an indicator that water has been in the case, meaning there is likely to be further problems in the mechanics.

This probably goes without saying but you should also step away from any timepiece with a hint of rust or water damage. Inspect the watch and look out for any signs of rust, particularly around the movement or the case, especially around the crown.

Movement condition

Though you may need to be realistic about the appearance of your vintage watch, the condition of the movement is one thing you should never compromise on and should take precedence every time – a beautiful watch is useless if it can’t keep the time. If the movement is in excellent condition, then this means the watch has been carefully looked after over the years and had regular servicing. Inspecting the condition of the watch’s movement is probably going to be the biggest challenge for a beginner but there are a few things that you can look out for yourself.

There should be nothing missing (screws, regulator springs or jewel settings) so give the watch a thorough inspection. Try winding the watch yourself – it should wind effortlessly and the hands should move smoothly around the dial. If there is uneven resistance or grinding, or if the hands jump, jerk or catch on each other, then this movement is not in the pristine condition it should be.

To gain a better idea of the condition of the movement, take your new timepiece to a watchmaker who will test the movement and thoroughly inspect it. They will know if the watch is gaining/losing time or if there are any broken or damaged components that would compromise the quality of the movement.

Looking at the watch itself ~

  • Ask the seller for anything that could confirm authenticity
  • Inspect the condition of the movement and the overall aesthetics of the watch
  • Take the opportunity to ask the seller any questions you may have about the watch

Sealing the Deal ~

The right price

The price of a vintage watch can vary quite a lot, which is another major reason for you to be doing your homework before venturing out to purchase. When you pick a specific piece, you can look around and gather a collection of prices. If you find a store selling the piece for a significant amount more or less, ask them why, especially if it’s rather expensive but you’ve noticed a few problems with it. Also remember, if it looks to good to be true, then it probably is.

With a little extra knowledge under your belt, you’re also more likely to be able to do some negotiating on the price. If the seller realises that you know what you’re talking about, then you’re bound to be walking away with a good deal. Certain brands like Rolex however, will have very little to no movement on their prices, so don’t try too hard to strike up some discount on one of their vintage pieces. Just make sure you’re paying a reasonable price for a high quality watch that you’re confident is a genuine vintage timepiece.

Consider these questions when settling on a price ~

  • Is the watch cheaper or more expensive than you expected? Why is this?
  • Will you need to spend money on any repairs or servicing after purchasing?
  • Is it a watch that you can negotiate pricing?

Contributing Author | Rebecca Meekings

Rebecca Meekings is an English literature graduate, online writer and blogger in the UK, spending her time writing professionally about men's and women's watches. Her favourite brands include Michael Kors, Burberry and Zenith. She has had a passion for watches for a few years now and has a particular interest for luxury fashion watches.