Vintage watches are a hot commodity! An increasing number of people are interested in buying a piece of watch history. It’s great to wear a watch on your wrist that has been part of some fascinating stories. But how do you decide which story fits your own? And at what point does a watch become a vintage timepiece? There are many ways to buy vintage watches, and this article will share a few tips from my own experience to get you started.
No Shortcuts With Vintage Watches
The main advice I would give to you is to go for a watch that you absolutely love. After that, check if it fits within your budget. If so, great! If you can’t afford it just yet, save up the money for it. If other options pop up in the meantime, remind yourself of the model you had set your sights on from the beginning. Often the watches that you have the greatest passion for will give you the most joy in the long run.
A second important tip is to buy a vintage watch in good condition. If the average price is above your set budget, but you come across a watch that falls within your price range, I would advise you not to make the purchase. There is a reason why the watch is cheaper than average. There is nothing more aggravating when it comes to vintage watches than having to make a lot of extra, unexpected payments to get your watch serviced. Finding that same piece in great condition will save you a lot of money and frustration after buying it.
At what point is a watch vintage?
There are no set rules for defining when a watch is vintage. In general, most people say a watch is vintage if it’s at least twenty years old. Some people say it’s a bit more. I’ll leave it up to you to define what a vintage watch is for you. But for this list, I have focused on timepieces that are at least 30 years old. So, let’s jump in and look at the five best vintage watches currently available for under $10,000.
Watch 1: Rolex Submariner ref. 16800
Let’s kick things off with the most popular brand of them all: Rolex! They are the biggest name when it comes to new, pre-owned, and vintage timepieces. Their most popular models are the Daytona and the Submariner. Now, you can forget about finding a Daytona for 10k or less. However, you can buy some Submariners for just under $10,000. Just know that if you follow my advice about buying a piece in good condition, your options will have some limits. The Rolex Submariner ref. 16800 was in production from 1977 to 1987. It was the first Rolex Submariner to feature sapphire crystal as opposed to plexiglass. Additionally, Rolex collectors love this model for its old-fashioned tritium and matte dial. You might have to spend a bit of time searching for one in good condition, but it’s definitely a great vintage Rolex that you can wear every day.
Watch 2: Omega Speedmaster Professional ref. 145.022
Next is the legendary Omega Speedmaster Professional, also known as the Moonwatch. When it comes to vintage Moonwatches, there are quite a few important references that collectors love. The first is the ref. 105.012, the reference that Buzz Aldrin wore on the Moon. The next is the ref. 145.012, which is the last reference outfitted with the iconic Lemania 321 movement. As these references generally go for more than 10k, don’t fall for those priced just under that. Usually, those are not watches in good condition. The Speedmaster Professional ref. 145.022, however, is the perfect option for a vintage Moonwatch. It was produced from 1968 to 1981, so you have plenty of options. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find a so-called “pre-Moon” version. Otherwise, you can choose from a couple of different case backs that Omega used to indicate that the watch went to the Moon.
Watch 3: Breitling Navitimer ref. 806 “Reverse Panda”
Another great brand to check out is Breitling. Hardly any companies have created a wider variety of incredible chronographs than Breitling. If you have time, I suggest you check out some of their models from the 1950s and 60s, a period during which Breitling created a stunning array of great watches. The brand’s biggest vintage icon is, without a doubt, the Breitling Navitimer. Breitling introduced the Navitimer ref. 806 with “all black” dials in 1954. These generally go for more than 10k. But the perfect pick within our price range would be the Navitimer ref. 806 “Reverse Panda.” This model debuted in 1965 and was worn by the famous race car drivers Jim Clark and Graham Hill. However, the reason I would buy it is that legendary jazz musician Miles Davis also wore one during his many performances and recording sessions. On top of that, it’s the model that looks most like the Navitimer as we know it today. It’s an icon that is still as powerful as it was 55 years ago.
Watch 4: Heuer Carrera 2447T
Another industry icon is the Heuer Carrera 2447T. This illustrious name has been part of the Heuer (later TAG Heuer) catalog since its introduction in 1963. While it may come as a surprise, you can actually buy a first-generation Heuer Carrera for under $10,000. As you might know, Heuer has a rich history in racing. When designing the Carrera in the early 1960s, Jack Heuer and his team had race car drivers in the front of their minds and, thus, focused on developing a chronograph with perfect readability. And that’s exactly what has made this watch iconic. The smooth 36-mm case and the solid white dial with white subdials look clean and crisp, even almost six decades later. And if you have one on your wrist, it’s a watch that will reveal its legendary status to you and true vintage watch fans.
Watch 5: Rolex Explorer II ref. 16570
For the last watch on the list, we’re returning to Rolex for multiple reasons. First, because the previous four vintage watches are at least 30 years old, so I wanted to pick a Rolex that is a bit younger (but still at least twenty years old) and costs less than $10,000. To show that it’s perfectly possible to buy a steel Rolex sports watch for under $10,000, I picked the Rolex Explorer II ref. 16570, which premiered in 1989 and remained in production until 2011. To find the vintage version, you’ll have to filter and search for pieces produced between 1989 and 1996 for a 25-year-old model. And you will find out that there is plenty to choose from. Rolex developed the Explorer II as a modern addition to the Explorer line. It was designed for spelunkers who can use the GMT hand as an AM/PM indicator while exploring dark caves. Since most of us spend our time exclusively above ground, this function is great for indicating the time in a second time zone, making it the perfect neo-vintage Rolex and a fantastic final entry on this list.
There you have it: five iconic vintage watches available for under $10,000. These are just the tip of the iceberg, so keep on exploring what is out there in the world of vintage timepieces. Happy hunting!