Buying a vintage watch is a lot like buying a classic car; it’s an experience predicated on nostalgia and one that’s not without its fair share of idiosyncrasies. For starters, you run the risk of dropping your hard-earned dough on a lemon — a predicament that even seasoned collectors find themselves faced with from time to time. What’s more, chances are good that you’ll be purchasing a piece with its fair share of “character,” be it in the form of crystal scratches, bezel dings, or faded dial markers. And when it comes time to finally service the thing, you’ll often find that even the most well-preserved examples are lacking in accuracy when compared to modern quartz offerings.
So why vintage? In short: collectibility and investment opportunity. As watches rise in their reputation, so too comes an effect on their value. In practice, this means that although an original Rolex GMT Master may have cost you a couple-thousand dollars (and adjusted for inflation, at that), these days they’re good for five to six times that. And besides, when you consider the wait times required for landing one of the new models, an older piece starts looking a hell of a lot more attractive. In any case, vintage watches are experiencing something of a renaissance right now, and enthusiasts are snapping them up left and right. Here to help you get started on your collecting endeavors, we’ve put together a guide to our favorite watches currently on eBay.
eBay's Authenticity Guarantee Service
Buy With Confidence
Between the ever-growing number of fakes and the possibility that your piece might not even arrive at your door, buying a vintage watch can prove to be quite a stressful experience. However, thanks to eBay’s Authenticity Guarantee service, you can buy with confidence knowing that you won’t get burned. That’s because all watches over $2,000 will first be sent to an independent third-party authenticator for verification — free of charge. Assuming it passes its comprehensive multi-point inspection, it’ll then be safely repackaged with a report card and expedited straight to your door.
Omega Constellation “Pie Pan”
Before the Seamaster and the Speedmaster became Omega’s horological haute pieces, the Constellation served as the Swiss outfit’s flagship model. The product of watch designer René Bannwart, it first appeared in 1952 boasting a characteristic “Pie Pan” dial with 12 angular indices and a brilliant mirrored finish. Because it’s so easily wearable, it comes highly sought after by collectors. Buyer beware though — as Omega’s first mass-produced chronometer-grade wristwatch, there’s ample opportunity to stumble upon an imitation.
Universal Genève Polerouter
While most of Gerald Genta’s work easily fetches five- and even six-figure sums (à la the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Phillipe Nautilus), the Polerouter is decidedly more approachable. That being said, don’t discount this one as some obscure budget buy. On the contrary, Universal Genève was an incredibly lauded Swiss brand and you’d be hard-pressed to find another option with a micro-rotor movement at this price point.
Omega Seamaster Professional 300M Ref. 2531.80
When Pierce Brosnan first took up the Bond mantle with GoldenEye, he rocked a quartz version of the Seamaster you see before you. However, throughout the next three films, Omega upgraded his timepiece to an automatic 2531.80, instantly giving it some on-screen presence. If you’re after a watch that’s as handsome as it is hard-wearing, look no further than this 90s Seamaster. Don’t sleep on it though — it’s very quickly rising in value.
Heuer Autavia Ref. 1163
Few other eras in watchmaking were as impactful for the chronograph as the 1960s-1970s, giving rise to such iconic models as the panda-dialed Rolex Daytona and the Heuer Autavia ref. 1163 we’ve featured here. After appearing on the wrist of renowned Swiss Formula 1 driver Jo Siffert, the reference was quickly catapulted into the spotlight for its world-first automatic chronograph movement and trademark tool watch functionality. As such, these days, it’s widely regarded as the definitive Heuer chronograph.
Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806
To this day, the Breitling Navitimer remains one of the world’s most well-known pilot’s chronographs — a tradition that started all the way back in 1954 with the reference 806. But where other watches will often garner a reputation based on their aesthetic merit, this one made a name for itself because of its in-built functionality. With its Slide-Rule bezel, pilots were able to calculate everything from fuel consumption to airspeed and distance covered.
Longines Chronograph Caliber 30CH
Longines introduced the 30CH to its chronographs in 1947 as an update to the veritable caliber 13ZN. Designed to offer a sportier alternative to its ultra-luxe predecessor, it came in a variety of case styles and finishes, with water-proofing and button-pushers being common features across the board. For those who are after a vintage watch with a solid value proposition, the caliber 30CH should do just the ticket — you easily can snag an in-house flyback movement housed in a solid gold case for under $10,000.
Rolex Submariner Ref. 14060
As one of the most highly sought-after watches on the market today, the Rolex Submariner is a timepiece that’s often little more than an aspirational impossibility for collectors. That is, unless you spring for the 14060, a reference originally introduced in 1990 and one that’s often thought of as the last classic diver the Swiss horological giant ever produced. Even despite its desirable “no date” layout and aluminum bezel insert, it’s still one of the more affordable Submariners you can find today.
Rolex GMT Master Ref. 16750
While collectors typically consider the 16750 to be a transitional model (it was produced for less than a decade and it was the last of the GMT Masters before the GMT Master II), that’s not to say that it’s any less of a mechanical masterpiece. Rather, with its quickset date function, convenient hacking feature, and impressive 100m water-resistance, it makes for a noticeable improvement over earlier Rolex pilot’s watches. It may be a vintage timepiece, but it’s chock full of modern utility.
How To Find A Good Watch Repair Shop
Even assuming your vintage watch is in working order, eventually you’ll have to give it a good servicing. If you’re looking for the right places to do so, be sure to check out our guide on how to find a good watch repair shop.