It seems almost impossible, but ten years ago, when Worn & Wound was just getting off the ground, entering the watch world through vintage watches was relatively common, easy, and even recommended by many. The fact that this idea seems laughable now, as vintage has reached peak minefield status and the boom has just kept booming, tells us all we need to know about how much has changed in vintage watches over the last decade. This is partly because of the great expansion and democratization of the industry – there are simply more good options for new watches at entry level prices (whatever that means to you) than we ever could have imagined ten years ago. But it’s also fundamentally due to the vintage market itself, which has transformed multiple times over in a relatively short time frame.
As Worn & Wound celebrates our ten year anniversary, we’re in a reflective mood, and can’t help but examine how the industry and hobby have changed since we first came online. Vintage watches are a huge part of not only Worn & Wound’s history, but played a key role in how many on staff came to watches in the first place. I recently spoke with Eric Wind, who runs Wind Vintage, has appeared on the Worn & Wound podcast, and recently provided an assist to Seiko and Rowing Blazers on one of the year’s most well received collaborations, about how the way we approach vintage watches has evolved over the last ten years.
According to Wind, the vintage watch market has grown up considerably in Worn & Wound’s first decade. “The vintage watch market has been maturing over the last 10 years,” he told me. “There is more knowledge now about condition and provenance, as well as their effect on a watch’s value, than there was 10 years ago.” This uptick in scholarship has a multipronged effect. Buyers become more savvy, demand better watches, and, as they say, they aren’t making any more of these things, so the prices rise dramatically for the best examples of hard to find references.
And of course, if there are “good” vintage watches, that means that there are also vintage watches that are less desirable on the flip side of that coin, and these are often the ones that trip up those with less experience. According to Wind, not knowing what you’re getting into can easily lead to disappointment. “As I have told people interested in buying their first vintage watch, you can’t just hop on an online platform and buy something that looks nice from some unknown seller,” he says. “It will usually lead to buying a bad watch that is too expensive.”
Gone are the days when a new enthusiast could log onto eBay and expect to get a fair shake (if they ever could in the first place is probably up for some debate). Now that the knowledge and scholarship have matured, though, there are fewer excuses for getting burned, but even more opportunities. In 2021, there isn’t an easy way to break into vintage watches – it requires a great deal of caution and study, and purchasing from a trusted source is strongly advised. According to Wind, a refinished dial or incorrect replacement parts are just some of the pitfalls waiting for the untested as they approach vintage watches in today’s market. It takes years of exposure to these watches to be able to properly identify an example that isn’t correct, and small things (like a handset replaced at service decades ago) might have an enormous impact on a watch’s value.
If eBay was the primary entry point and trading platform for vintage watches ten years ago, it has been almost completely usurped by an unlikely rival, at least among enthusiasts. “Instagram is now the primary platform watch collectors use to communicate with each other and that dealers use to communicate their inventories,” Wind explains, which represents a significant shift not only in how business is done for dealers, but in how watches seep into the culture, gain traction among collectors, and dominate discussion in communities on and off the app. It’s truly difficult to imagine a watch collecting environment that doesn’t involve connecting with other enthusiasts through social media, but this was only beginning to become the norm ten years ago.
As far as the watches themselves, interests and trends change quickly. But Wind sees a clear shift in the market toward a very particular segment. “Genta-designed watches such as the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak dominate the market now, whereas they were not nearly as popular a decade ago,” he says. Everyone, it seems, is craving stainless steel sports watches with integrated bracelets, and even a casual perusing of vintage watch related hashtags on Instagram and the inventories (and asking prices) of notable dealers reveals that watches in this vein continue to climb in popularity. Of course, this impacts the popularity of contemporary watches as well, and we’ve seen all kinds of variations on the integrated bracelet theme in a range of price points recently, as brands naturally want to get on the bandwagon.
While the tone and tenor of the vintage watch landscape has changed a great deal in the last decade, Wind points out that there are still logical places to start a collection, and the watches he recommends to new collectors in 2021 have at least some overlap with the watches he would have picked in 2011. “I still think Vulcain Crickets, Certina Argonauts, and Benrus Type IIs are affordable entry points,” he told me. While these watches have increased in value over the last ten years, they are still relatively undiscovered by the masses, and have avoided the hype that drives values into the stratosphere. While nobody can predict the future, it seems unlikely that a relatively humble Vulcain or Benrus branded watch could ever dominate the market in the same way a watch from a blue chip brand can, so as long as well heeled collectors chase Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Genta designed and inspired watches, there will be opportunities to pick up great watches from lesser known brands at (comparatively) low prices.
It would be easy to sum up ten years of vintage by simply admitting that prices have exploded, but as Wind points out, there’s more to it than that, and that explosion in value has coincided with many in the space learning more about the watches that are traded on various markets, dealers and collectors alike. Ten years is a long time in the internet age, and watch lovers who are constantly engaged with the hobby have been pummelled by knowledge in that relatively short time, making experts out of many, both legitimate, like Eric Wind, and, well, less so, like the anonymous hawkers of badly polished redials on Reddit and elsewhere. But a decade is a short span in the long history of watches themselves, and there’s still a great deal for everyone to learn. The scholarship continues, and with it it seems likely that interest in vintage watches will continue to grow as values rise. It’s tough to say with any certainty where vintage watches will be ten years from now (few would have predicted the current state of the market in 2011), but it’s safe to say that the common pitfalls will remain, and vintage watches will continue to be a point of fascination for many enthusiasts and collectors.
Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.