Interest in vintage watch collecting continues to grow at a blinding pace. Literally every brand that at one point made watches now seems to have a growing group of collectors. At first, these were only the diehard fans, but due to their influence, the fever quickly spread to other watch enthusiasts. Today, even rookie collectors are looking for nice vintage pieces. There are now buyers eager to find the next curvex from 1930s art deco American watch brands, while others are into late 70s jump hour watches.
One of the more intriguing groups is made up of the watch enthusiasts who collect vintage chronographs. They generally focus on classical, dress-watch-style timepieces from the 40s–60s rather than big, funky 70s bling. There is something special about these early watches. The elegant style they represent, the simple design: they are pieces produced purely for everyday use rather than as fashion statements. I think it all started with Universal Genève a couple of years ago. Later, pieces from Excelsior Park, Record, Minerva, Enicar, and Leonidas slowly surfaced as well. Of course, these brands have always been around in some respect, but they are now hotter than ever.
A complication always draws attention. Whether it’s a triple date, a moon phase, a chronograph, or maybe even a mixture of all three, chances are that watch guys will go crazy for it: especially if the piece is vintage. Why? Many feel that a vintage watch holds value better than a new one. Of course, there are exceptions to this with certain new watches, but I believe the theory is generally true. In my opinion, if a watch that is 50 years old currently costs as much as a new one from the same brand, then it is more likely to hold its value, especially in the short/medium term. Plus, these vintage pieces can be enjoyed today.
If you are considering buying a new piece as an investment, it will likely need to go unworn. It is thus no surprise that collecting vintage chronographs is a trend now. Don’t let this fool you, though—next year it might be vintage divers from bygone brands, and then maybe 33 mm dress watches (even though the chance of this happening is pretty slim). However, brands like Universal Genève or Eberhardt have gained so much publicity that they are the next best thing. They have become must-haves, which pushes up their value. Those who cannot afford those watches go for the next available options. There are so many brands that flew under the radar for such a long time that you are virtually certain for find something you like. From Wakmann (or Gigandet) Triple Calendars to the legendary Angelus 215s or Gallet, Clebar even some amazing Doxa pieces, there are literary hundreds of vintage models from cool watch companies waiting to be explored (or shall I say, re-explored).
Make sure you do your research, though. There are brands (even though they were mostly active in the 70s) that offer watches that may be aesthetically interesting but that house low-value pin-lever movements from R. Lapanouse. Naturally, you are free to buy whatever you like and can afford, but generally speaking, the watch world has no or very low respect for these pieces. On the other hand, you cannot go wrong with a watch housing a Valjoux, Lemania or Venus movement—or with a watch with an in-house movement.
Pay attention to the condition of the dial; verify that it is not a redial or one that is very badly damaged. Water could easily get into these early chronographs, causing the movement to rust and damaging the dial. Compare photos of similar models on the Internet, check sold listings to get a feel for the relative value, and always make sure you are comfortable with the size of the case. If you have a larger wrist, ask for the case diameter and make sure the timepiece would look good on you. These watches are works of art that usually measure between 33–36 mm, though on rare occasions they may reach 37–39 mm. What looks good on the seller’s wrist might be too small on yours, so never judge a piece based only on the photos. But the most important thing of all is to enjoy the hunt, learn from your research, and be proud of your latest acquisition when you finally buy it.