Not Just Watches: the Joys of Collecting Horological Ephemera

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Collecting vintage watches is fantastic in and of itself, with all manner of brands, models, eras, and styles to choose from and to focus on. There is quite literally something for everyone. But once you start down this rabbit hole, there is no escape. Pretty soon you’ll have a nice watch collection, but it won’t be enough. You’ll. Need. More! Thankfully, there is a whole other side to this horological madness, and it’s collecting all the extra goodies and ephemera associated with watches. What types of goodies, you might ask? How about boxes, papers (manuals, receipts, hang tags, etc.), bracelets, straps and buckles, advertisements, dealer signs and display stands, tools, and even spare parts. That should keep you busy!

Collecting  vintage accessories and ephemera can be a lot of fun, and in some cases it can even increase the value of your watches. Furthermore, there aren’t nearly as many pitfalls here as there are with collecting vintage watches. With watches you have to look out for polishing, aftermarket parts, refinished dials, and potential movement problems. With the exception of perhaps some rare high-end collectibles (vintage Rolex advertising or the like), it is highly unlikely that you’ll stumble across too much fake ephemera out in the wild—it just wouldn’t be worth the effort for counterfeiters. (With that said, I do know that there are some fake watch straps, buckles, and even bracelets on eBay, but generally most other items like boxes, stands, and signs are, in my experience, legitimate.) What you do want to look out for is the price and condition, and naturally you should expect to pay more for something in better shape.

Bracelets, Buckles, and Straps

Let’s start with bracelets. Adding an original bracelet to a watch not only adds to it aesthetically, bit it will also add to its desirability and naturally increase its monetary value. In some instances, vintage bracelets can meet or even exceed the value of their respective watches—vintage Universal Genève bracelets immediately come to mind!

Then there’s Seiko. Seiko sold many of its past watches on bracelets, but many vintage Seiko watches today come on aftermarket bands, so finding a bracelet, especially one in good condition, is a big win. I am always on the hunt for a complete set of any Seiko watch that happens to catch my eye.

“What you do want to look out for is the price and condition, and naturally you should expect to pay more for something in better shape.”

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Beads-of-rice bracelet from Omega.

Bracelets can be tough to source. End-links are especially rare. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found a bracelet I’d been looking for only to learn that the end-links were MIA. Sometimes you can find a generic replacement (for example, beads-of-rice style end-links aren’t uncommon), but more often than not you really need the correct ones. It’s worth noting that bracelets don’t always come cheap, so be prepared to shell out the cash if you’re after something especially rare.

I’ve also found that vintage buckles can sometimes be a rarity. I suppose this is due to original owners simply tossing out old, worn out strap with the buckle still attached, which is shame, but that just makes it all the more satisfying when the correct buckle presents itself.

“A watch with a ‘full kit’ of boxes, papers, tags, receipts, etc. can sometimes double the value of a watch, as not many vintage watches come with their original box and papers.”

An assortment of vintage buckles.

In contrast, vintage straps are out there in huge numbers. Brands like Gay Frères, JB Champion, and Spiedel made innumerable “generic” replacement straps (and bracelets), as well as branded examples, too. I have a few 1930 – 40s Art Deco watches paired with some period-correct new-old-stock (NOS) pigskin straps, and together they look great. Of course, there are also (highly desirable) vintage rubber straps, like Tropics, Isofranes, and OEM Seiko. You do have to be careful here—old rubber can get brittle, and you don’t wan’t to get stuck with a dry, cracking strap.

Box and Papers


Papers that have the watch’s serial number or even just the model number on them are highly desired by collectors. A watch with a “full kit” of boxes, papers, tags, receipts, etc. can sometimes double the value of a watch, as not many vintage watches come with their original box and papers. A Google search and some digging can help you figure what style of box came with your vintage watch, so if you don’t have the exact box your watch came in, then you can still source one separately that should at least match the era.

Seiko box and papers for a 6138 chronograph.
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Boxes often came in pairs, with a cardboard outer box and a plastic (or another material) inner box. More often than not, the outer box will either be well worn or long gone, so finding one in good condition is rare, but also certainly worth the effort if you’re a completist at heart.

Let It Show

Branded watch stands.

I really love collecting vintage watch stands, and sourcing cool ones is always a treat. If you’re anything like me and you like to display your vintage pieces, then a vintage watch stand is actually really useful, too. Add a vintage watchmaker’s knife and dealer sign into the mix, and now you have something really neat to look at.

“Vintage watch parts are plentiful, but with all the interest vintage watches have gotten these days, it’s getting harder (and sometimes it’s even impossible) to source some parts. So when a spare part for a watch/movement that I own shows up for a good price, I’ll snag it.”

Signs can range from small to quite large (some are even wall-mounted), and they’re made from a wide array of materials. I personally like the smaller signs that would’ve gone inside a display case next to the watches, but these can be very difficult to find so you have to be vigilant. The larger counter or wall-mounted pieces are great as well, but can be limiting because of they space they take up.

Display signs.

Framed magazine ads are another great display item. You can even get lucky and find an ad exactly matching a model in your collection. But beyond just magazine ads, there are all manner of other advertising items to be found, and sourcing the oddball collectible—matchbooks, patches, clothing, pens, clocks, and ashtrays, just to name some—can be a lot of fun.

Just in Case

Spare parts are a definite must-have if you’re going to collect vintage watches long-term. Eventually you’ll need something replaced (like a crystal), and if you already have the part in hand, then it’s that much easier.

Crystals for days.

Vintage watch parts are plentiful, but with all the interest vintage watches have gotten these days, it’s getting harder (and sometimes it’s even impossible) to source some parts. You shouldn’t necessarily rely on your watchmaker to have something readily available, either, so when a spare part for a watch/movement that I own shows up for a good price, I’ll snag it.

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“I currently have a growing assortment of vintage Seiko tools, and I find that I really do use them whenever I’m working on my Seiko collection.”

NOS cases for the win!

Some OEM parts come in attractive branded packaging, and are actually quite nice in their own right. I recently picked up a vintage Universal Genève balance wheel just because it came in a wicked metal box with the brand’s “U” logo on the lid. Will I need that part some time in the future? Maybe. But do I need that killer little box right now? Absolutely!

Building Out the Toolkit

Some watches—like vintage Universal Genève Polerouters, the Longines Conquest, and most Super Compressors—have case backs designed to fit specific case back wrenches. These can be a chore to locate, but when you do, it’s wonderful to have a tool that fits like a glove to remove that back! (Of course, for most jobs a generic tool should do the trick, but it’s just not as satisfying as using the proper branded tool.) Not to mention the fact that many modern tools simply are not made as well as the older ones sre. I currently have a growing assortment of vintage Seiko tools, and I find that I really do use them whenever I’m working on my Seiko collection.

Case back tools.

Vintage watches are fun to collect, and the beauty of this hobby is that there is so much more to watches than just the watches themselves. Collecting all the peripheral extras and ephemera can be just as exciting and rewarding. You can add items to your collection that enhance functionality, aesthetics, or value, or you can simply get them because you think they’re neat. And with such a wide range of things to choose from, the price range is naturally just as varied, from just a few dollars on the low end up to thousands on the high. So start looking and see what you can find!

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Christoph (Instagram’s @vintagediver) is a long time collector and lover of all things vintage, starting with comic books when he was a kid (he still collects them). His passion for watches began in 1997 when he was gifted a family heirloom vintage Omega Genève by his step-father. That started him on the watch collecting path—buying and selling vintage watches of all sorts, with a special appreciation for vintage dive watches and Seiko.
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