How to Buy a Vintage Watch Without Getting Swindled

That Perfect Vintage Watch

You may have had your eye on a fantastic vintage timepiece that has caught your eye online. But how do you buy a vintage timepiece, which are typically priced in the thousands of dollars, without getting fleeced?

Watch collecting used to be a hand-to-hand, in-person, private affair, but with the internet, tens of thousands of collectors are showing off their watches online, which has made vintage timepieces a fashionable aesthetic to young people and those who never previously had interest in collecting watches.

Vintage watches are extremely hot these days, appreciated by aficionados and novices alike. Many collectors treat their collections more like a 401(k) account: great to invest in for their future. However, the prices of these vintage timepieces are spiking due to the level of demand — this is when the risk of buying also shoots up, too.

If one is not careful, even an expert collector can get stuck with bad or even fake merchandise, if they aren’t careful. The VP and Senior Watch Specialist at Christie’s New York, Eric Wind, discussed the new rules of buying vintage timepieces safely.


Check out our comprehensive reviews of the very best luxury timepieces here!

What the Vintage Demand is Doing to the Market

With millions of people now exposed to the vintage watch market through the internet, from social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and others, the appeal of owning a vintage or luxury timepiece has surged to a huge population of people.

The sub-$10,000 price category of vintage watches are being chased by more people than ever before, and some models have seen jumps in prices consistently through the last few years. For example, two 1960s Universal Geneve “Nina Rindt” Compax chronographs sold on eBay for $2,310 and $2,550 in 2011. In December, Christie’s New York auction sold one in similar condition for $47,500.

This begs the question: Is it crazy to purchase a vintage watch on eBay and other person-to-person selling platforms?

If you are new to the scene of watches and the selling platform (such as eBay), it could end up being the Wild West for you. There are many mistakes a newbie can make that can really destroy your wallet, investment, and confidence:

A common mistake is that many people mistakenly believe that a 100% feedback rating means that a seller is legitimate.

For many egregious sellers out there hustling fake vintage timepieces often have had a history of 100% feedback positivity after hundreds of transactions. Some people buying their watches may have been in your potential position and may never realized they bought a fake. Still, once you have a better grasp on eBay and other seller platforms, it can be a great source for buying vintage timepieces, especially those in the lower price range.

This is because people who have genuine vintage watches are taking advantage of the sellers market and selling their vintage watches they bought or inherited, and making some good money off of them. eBay is naturally the easiest way for them to do this without having to pay a middleman to sell it for them.

The Odds of Getting a Fake

The vintage watches scene is a minefield sometimes. There have been cases where even well respected and prominent dealers and auction houses have gotten it wrong and have been sued for selling timepieces that were fake, restored but undisclosed, and Frankenwatches–watches with mismatched parts.

Restoration is not necessarily a bad thing — ironically, in watch collecting, those who have had owners from the past that took care of their timepiece over time, ended up having it serviced, which can make it less desirable or valuable today. This is the watch-collecting paradox.


Premium Prices for New, Never Worn, and Original Watches

This means that similar to coin collectors, the dream for watch collectors is to find a vintage timepiece that is: brand-new (or “new old stock” in car parlance), never-worn condition, in the original box with original paperwork, or is in great and original condition and shows its age well.

Most of these, like having the original paperwork and box, are pretty unlikely. Otherwise, collectors tend to value an honest and original patina. In fact, this is part of the huge appeal of vintage watches — having that slight patina of age on a beautiful watch from the past. This gives a timepiece real character for many collectors, which is what many are seeking.

Who to Trust

It is very important that when seeking out a vintage watch to buy, that you do not rely on a single person or outlet.

Try to get some advice from a number of experts, especially if you are going to put down thousands (even tens of thousands) of dollars. For example, if you are checking out a listing for a watch you desire, save the photos onto your computer, as well as the details of the watch that are offered and post the information to one of the following online forums below:

  • OnTheDash
  • Vintage Rolex Forum

Being able to post photos and watch specifications to a forum of collectors is great for getting honest feedback from a huge number of different sources, including experts. They can tell you if the photos do not match up to the details provided, and can confirm or call BS on the year of the timepiece, if it is genuine, tips on what to look for, as well as offering advice on trusted sellers.


Should I Go For It?

If there is a beautiful vintage watch you have your eye on, absolutely go for it.

The internet can be a brilliant place to purchase timepieces that you would never have been able to purchase, must less see, in your lifetime. With genuine sellers and outlets out there, if you do some research, check out the watch on different outlets, research a seller, and ask questions on respected forums, fellow collectors can aid you in making the right choice and offering you a much better chance of receiving a great deal on a genuine vintage timepiece.

So, get out there and get that watch of your dreams!

Check out our comprehensive reviews of the very best luxury timepieces below:

Luxury Watches: The Best Models Fresh on the 2016 Market

Omega Men’s Seamaster Analog Display Automatic Self-Wind Silver-Tone Watch: Review

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Black Dial Stainless Steel Men’s Watch: Review