Collector Tips

Tips for collectors and collecting

Here we like to take the time to look at wrist watches from a collectors point of view. The very first thing we would like to stress is this. Only buy a watch that you really like very much. In this case it is always money well spent. Even if later on you need to put in some extra money for maintenance or when you come to the conclusion that you paid too much. We broke this page up in 2 parts. Tips for collectors when buying a watch and tips for building a watch collection.
Probably the most frustrating aspects of collecting vintage watches is the number of frankenwatches and fakes. Frankenwatches describe the practice of swapping parts from different watches of the same calibre series. This could result in the creation of totally “new” watches. Like this is becoming an art called “modifying” or MOD-ing watches. Mostly concerning non-vintage watches. This is the one end of the scale. But mostly people are proud of this and will not sell them as genuine vintage models. The other end of the scale on frankenwatches is just swapping hands or a winding crown for instance. But most of the time two broken watches are taken and entire movements are swapped in different cases along with the hands with the original dial..etc. This is also called 'Wedding' watches. This practice is especially seen in middle and higher end vintage timepieces that are sought-after by collectors. The Omega brand is an typical example. For “real” Franken watches, Seiko is well know since almost all the parts are made for lean manufacturing to the same technical standards.

To help us minimize the risk in buying incorrect vintage watches, we put together the following information.

Where to buy a watch

Depending on what you are looking for and the amount of knowledge you have, you can find a watch for your collection almost anywhere. If you do not know much about watches and just like to “get some” a flea market, yard sale or estate sale would be the place to look. You are completely on your own, since there is now one who can give you honest information. Every deal is a gamble and may turn out to be a treasure or a complete waste of money. Just make sure you get it at a very low price!
When you are looking for watches in better condition and you have better knowledge on watches in general, you could try your luck at a live (local) auction house or at an internet auction. You can also try your luck at an online market place. But now you have to rely on pictures of the watch and the description of the seller. In local auctions houses you can only examine the watch from the outside and have a small description. On internet it would be wise to verify the fact that the seller is trustworthy (there are often grading systems) and still do not buy very expensive watches.

If you know your way around watches and know what you are looking for you can buy almost anywhere. This would be a time to go to an international auction house where the watches are expensive but professionally graded and described. On internet you would know what questions to ask and what to look for. This is exactly what will be the content of the remainder of this page!

And then of course, there are markets and websites totally dedicated to watches. This is for every type of collector a great place to ask questions, to see many watches from the outside and inside and even get some guarantee on a purchase.

What to check before you buy

The part where you pick up the watch, wind it and see if it functions is the easy part. Well at least when it runs. Half the time a watch is over wound. In that case you might as well leave it unless it starts running directly when picked up. If their is a date, forward the hand 24hours and see if the date changes. There may also be a quick-set so check if it the date moves when the hands are set back 4 hours and again to 12 o'clock. You can also check if the crown has an extra position in the middle or perhaps when pulling the crown all the way out or even by pushing it in. Make sure when bying a chronograph you watch it running for at least 3 minutes. It is worth the wait! If all function, check the following.
Look for corrosion on the dial or flakes that have come off the dial. This can indicate that a watch has spent some or all of its life in the tropics and was not serviced as regularly as it should have been. It can also indicate immersion in water. Watches that are regularly serviced will have their seals replaced at service and should show few signs of moisture having entered the case.

Examine the case back to determine whether the watch has had a hard life. Beware of excessive polishing that takes the sharpness away from the edges of the watch case, as that again indicates considerable wear and tear overall and devalues the watch.

Check if the dial is original or a good repaint if this is OK with you. When you think there is somthhing wrong with the text on the dial or the shine. Trust yourself, there probably s something wrong. When buying online, ask for super-sized pictures so you can examine the quality of the printing and also the placement of lettering. A bad re-dial will wipe as much as 30 percent off the value of the watch. Again pictures and the help of other collectors is invaluable in making sure you have an authentic watch.

Be sure to check the colour of the movement parts when you can look inside. Replacing numerous worn parts in a genuine models with genuine parts is a perfectly acceptable practice, it does indicate that at some stage in the life of the movement was neglected or damaged. Signs of colour variation on the movement might just indicate this. Make sure to ask about this.

Try to focus your collection

The big question is, exactly what to collect? Some collectors choose a very narrow area of interest. Some collectors believe that for a collection to be relevant it must be tightly focused and add to the body of horological knowledge. Others think this is an elitist approach, and prefer to collect ‘whatever makes them happy’.
One benefit both types of collector can share is that watch collecting gives the collector not only an aesthetic satisfaction from the beauty of the pieces themselves, but also provides the collector with a functional collection as well. Whereas many collections, such as art or coins, are interesting for their beauty, watches provide the added benefit that they are made to be used. Considering both of these attributes is important during collection building, and allows the owner to gather functional art. Whatever the focus, the watch collector can and should use their collection.

In deciding what to collect, the collector should begin by setting realistic budgetary guidelines. Not everyone has can afford vintage Patek Philippe watches, but thankfully interesting collections can be made for modest means. Determining up front a rough figure for the pieces in the collection can help focus the collecting interest.

Once price range is determined, a general census of watch attributes that one finds desirable is useful. Factors to consider include watch types, materials, movements, and styles.

Does one like digital (LCD/LED), quartz or mechanical watches? Or do you want your collection to incorporate all three? What complications appeal to you? Do you want chronographs, alarms, big dates, multiple complications and so on? Do you want to collect by purpose – military, dive, or dress watches?

Some collectors solve this problem by becoming Type collectors. A type collector might buy one watch that fills each of the desired niches chosen. Many collectors start this process before consciously taking up collecting, by buying a watch for the office, one for working outdoors, one for dress, and a ‘sporty’ casual wear watch. Others narrow the collection to one type up front, e.g. diving watches.

Looking at watch brands next can give direction also. There are thousands of brands to choose from. Some may be known to you allready and some brands are obscure and therefore intresting. Other brands you only seldom see becuase they did not last long on the market or are only sold by a single jeweler in your own country like ELKA in the Netherlands. You could choose to focus on one brand and in addition only buy watch that are so attractive to you, you can´t resist. Or take chose a high end and mid end brand for instance.

Once the type(s) and brand(s) of watches to collect has been given some thought, watch materials can be considered. Do you prefer plastic sports watches, steel watches, or watches made from precious metals? Others prefer stainless steel for its durability and its ease of maintenance, still others solid gold for its value.

One may not want to limit their collection to case material type, but it is a possible focus for a collection. Also, do you prefer straps or bracelets? Straps are interesting accessories for a watch, which can easily be changed for different occasions. Bracelets are solid and lasting, and may increase the value of a watch depending on the materials of construction.

A common focus for collections is the movement. Movements, or the ‘engine’ of a watch, are the technical wonders of mechanical engineering that many collectors find consuming. One specific movement, such as the mechanical ETA 2824-2, can be found in a wide variety of watch styles and case materials. A collection could easily consist of ten different watches, from different manufacturers, but with all being driven by the same model movement.

As with watch types, movements can be collected on a type basis: a collector may choose to have each watch in their collection housing a different movement. For example, a collection may have one ETA 2824-2, one Valjoux 7750, one Lemania 5100, one ETA 2836, one Poljot 3133, and one Unitas movement-equipped watch, all from different manufacturers and all in different styles.

So, take your time to make up your mind and produce a wanted or wish list. You can change your focus and according lists as many times asyou want but it does give you something to hold on to.

Collect knowledge also

If you are interested in collecting a particular brand of watch, get to know the calibre numbers of movements that power particular models. Calibre numbers are different to serial numbers and can best be described as the engine type. Some calibres of a particular brand are more collectible than others, so it pays to know what's ticking inside.
There are many sources of information available to a collector. Identification of information resources is vital for the new collector. These resources vary from knowledgeable dealers and collectors, to print and internet. Some resources involve buying information, but many are free – and invaluable.

To avoid small modification or even frankenwatches, which reduces the value of the watch highly, build up a library of pictures of watches that you know are genuine and match a prospective purchase against them. On-line forums and auctions are a great way to acquire and swap pictures.

Buy watch books and magazines, get them second hand when possible, the information is as good as when the booklet was new, but for a small portion of the price. This specially goes for magazines, when they are a few years old you get them for a fifth of the original price. Genuine era material is great for there vintage feel. They add to your items but are more costly. These also gain value in time though.

Build up and use your knowledge to better determine the value of the watches you collect.

Maintenance of your collection

A watch is a delicate mechanical instrument. If the former owners did not maintain the watch and get it oiled every couple years, then dust and grime would get into watch and do damage. After the years when the gears turn, the dust and grime could start eating away at the gears. The same thing could have happened when a watch has gotten wet (for instance an old divers watch) or get moist. If a watch was used this way for many years then it may start to have several problems. Another complicating factor is that even if an old watch has been serviced many times, one or two of the "watchmakers" may not have been too good and may have chosen some short run easy fix which can lead to problems on the long run. Therefore it is good to get to know some basics about a the watch movement and examine them if you get the change.
A watch that has obviously had a hard life indicates carelessness towards its maintenance and irregularity in servicing. Generally speaking, mechanical watches should be serviced every three to five years, and it is not difficult to detect a watch that has been neglected because the signs of neglect are obvious to the naked eye. An evenly coloured movement, retaining much of its original sheen and showing signs of regular service demands a higher price and improves its value far better than a one that `seen it all`.

Making choices is hard but worth it

After some years you will come at that point. That point where you know you should change something in your collection. When from the first 5 pieces you collected only one or two keep their splendour. Where you have a large wish list that you do not have the funds for. Then you know. You have to make some changes.
Look and think real hard about the pieces that no longer hold your interest and try to determine what the reason is. It will often be condition, especially when you found out the best looking piece is a frankenwatch. Or you start to see the gold filled layer shows much more wear through then you saw when you bough it. Or perhaps you have so many look-a-likes you can not tell the one from the other. At this point your focus changed but did you change the way looked at your collection? Or more practical, you just need to sell some to get that certain piece.

First of all, a good rule of thumb to follow for collectors of any stripe is buy the best you can afford. Like rare books or other collectables, the condition of the items in a collection adds to or subtracts from the intrinsic value of the collection. Often, saving for a nicer piece rather than buying a worn one will actually save the collector money in the long run.

It this point or even earlier during your collecting it is wise to engage in trading watches. Every time you have a piece that does not live up to the next you like to acquire, try to offer it at the seller as an exchange. This way it is easier to let them go financially as well as effort goes. When there is a larges part of your collection you like to part with, try to make a deal for a more expensive piece by trading in several items. You can then also think about offering them for sale (or trade) on the internet or put them on aution. Often the rule goes, you get sell them where you buy them!

Fun in collecting vintage watches

An interesting note on watch collecting: the assembly and use of a collection of watches can provide you with lifelong enjoyment. While non-collectors might not bat an eye at your vintage Minerva that you wear to work on Fridays, when you run across that fellow collector you may get a second look, and make a new friend with whom to share your collecting passion. Or even making a easier business deal with whom you share the passion.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License