Vintage watches and the search for “new old stock”
Over the last twenty to thirty years I’ve seen constantly growing interest in the world of luxury watches.
Just like old cars and antiques, there now seems to be a booming demand for old things – but ironically, the pieces that are most coveted are those that are as near to “new” as they were when they werefirst made.
Today brand new watch sales are on the downturn, globally. The same cannot be said about vintage watches, though. Financial analysts believe the worldwidevintage watch collecting industry is now worth in the region of $2 billion, with $300-350 million of that overseen by the auction houses – Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips. And vintage is growing each year.
Eric Wind, vice president and senior specialist of watches for Christie’s explained to Business of Fashion: “We’re seeing unprecedented interest across the board in vintage watches. Everything from vintage Rolex to emerging brands at a level under $10,000 has gained incredible amounts of new followers and collectors in the last year.”
While there are a vast number of collectible watches that trade for a few thousand dollars, there are some that fetch in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars. High on the list of the most valuable are vintage Rolex, Patek Philippe, Longines, Universal Geneve, and most especially, those that can be truly classified as “New Old Stock.”
As a veteran in watch collecting, I often have to explain this term. People often wonder why we don’t simply call such items “mint.” So perhaps a little clarification is in order.
A “mint” vintage watch is in extremely good condition, considering its age. There are very few, or no scratches at all, no faults, or signs of damage. However – the watch, at some point in its lifetime, was taken out of the box, and worn. Perfect as it is, it’s no longer in “new” condition.
From there, as the quality and originality decreases, the road is downhill – until you end with watches that have been hacked together, and patched using non-standard parts. Buyers beware of these.
To truly be called “New Old Stock” the watch needs to be exactly as it was when it was bought new – never worn, except perhaps to display to potential buyers, and kept safely in storage for years. It is a timepiece purely as an investment – not a functional item.
It doesn’t really matter how many times the watch has changed hands, or if the watch has been serviced by a reputable dealer, so long as no parts were exchanged, that shouldn’t affect its status.
As with many collectibles, the moment the box has been opened, it loses value. In a sense it’s a shame – since the watch was made to be worn and enjoyed – but that’s just one of the many quirks of collecting.
Of course, when you’re shopping for a vintage watch as an investment, you need to stay informed – and watch experts agree on this. Along with the evolving surge in online activity, blogs, Instagram or Pinterest groups and social media followers – watch collectors are now better informed than ever before.This is a very big part of the reason that there is so much interest in collecting old watches.
With dedicated interest groups in just about every country, there is no shortage of information about the year a watch was made, which caliber it came out with, what the inscriptions on the case-back means, and which parts are standard, or not – so all it takes is a little digging. For the more technical details, it’s always good to ask a dealer who’s worth his salt.
It all adds up, and the end result is that watches with the right pedigree, and specifically pieces that can truly be called “New Old Stock” are in demand.
Then again, the vintage watch world is a curious one. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to make sense why certain watches would command the kind of respect from collectors they do, or how they manage to sell for the prices they do.
If you happen to know of an old watch that has been in storage for years, now might be the perfect time to have it evaluated – who knows, you may even be sitting on a specialist collector’s Holy Grail watch.