5 Tips For Collecting Vintage Timepieces, According to a Watch Expert
As the worldwide head of watches for Sotheby's, the world’s oldest auction house, Sam Hines has met with countless collectors and has seen the universe of watches.
These days, Hines says collectors' attitudes have shifted.
“I think collectors want to have a dialogue with the brand. It’s not just walking in and buying the watch off the shelf anymore. They want to be involved in the assembly, not just how the watch looks, because collecting watches is a very intimate, passionate thing between the collector and the brands.” As such, collecting has become increasingly popular with many new collectors popping up all over the place.
Hines shares the tips he’s picked up from over 20 years of experience in the auction market and the watch industry.
Do your research.
The most important thing for new collectors to do is to simply do research. “Don’t just buy without checking the condition first. Try to check out what has sold on the market before,” he says. To check value, there are a number of things to look at: Who made the watch? What is the brand’s DNA?
“Look at the rarity. How many watches were made? Look at the complications, what is the watch doing aside from telling the time. Is it a perpetual calendar? Is it a minute-repeater? Look at provenance; who owned the watch? Did it belong to Paul Newman? Or James Bond, or something like that,” he advises.
Don’t get too caught up.
“New collectors have a real passion to try and acquire everything straight away,” he says. This may lead to collectors buying timepieces that are not of the best quality—something Hines says even seasoned collectors may be prone to doing. He adds, “Sometimes, they may forget the price because they’re competing against other collectors and they sometimes, they will go way above what they should do to acquire a watch.”
Consider where you’re buying from.
Aside from being over passionate, Hines says new collectors have a tendency to overpay because they buy from unauthorized independent dealers. At auctions specifically, prices for vintage watches are far more controlled. Auctions houses make sure collectors are paying the fair market price for each piece. “Most auction houses give a five-year guarantee,” he says. “So, collectors have certain reassurances that the watches are original, and can take comfort in that way.”
Get others' opinions.
This is really where authorized dealers come in. “If you’re buying at auction, call the auction house specialists and talk to them about the watch, ask for additional images,” Hines says. Consulting with experts will also help you look out for replaced parts, original fittings, and such. “During watch servicing in the 1980s, 1990s, even 2000s, brands would polish a case to make it look shiny and new, but by polishing the case they were actually reducing the proportions. So such a process changed the way the watch looked,” he adds.
Buy what you like.
One of the most common misconceptions is that collectors should buy for investment only. This does hold true for a number of collectors, but Hines discourages this attitude point blank. “When collectors say to me, ‘Point out a watch you’re selling that I can make money on.’ We usually say, well it’s probably not the right investment for you because that typically doesn’t work,” Hines says.
“They feel that the value will just go up, but in our experience, if you buy what you like and you do your research and you buy the best quality that your budget can afford, then you will see a nice increase,” he says. At the end of the day, collecting is about buying what you like, not the most valuable or rarest piece.