It is hard to justify spending a whole lot of money on a brand new hobby. Usually, before you go big on something, you try and build in a bit of lead-up time. First you get a kind of entry level piece, then something a bit nicer, and maybe a bit further down the line you go for that ‘holy grail’ item you’ve had your eye on since you started. This rough trajectory applies to just about all pastimes – whether it be for cycling, camping gear, or collecting vintage watches.
When it comes to that last category, however, it can be really hard to know what exactly ‘entry level’ means. Not only do prices constantly change (with the trend increasingly heading up and to the right), but each individual’s idea of what constitutes affordability is subjective. We figured we’d put our cut-off for entry level vintage watches at right around $500. In the watch collecting world, half a thousand dollars is a pittance – but we’ve found that it can actually get you some a watch with a lot of character and history to them. Just take a scroll through our list of best vintage watches under $500 and try to tell us otherwise.
Bulova A17A Mil-Spec
If military watches appeal to you, then the timepiece you may want to keep an eye out for is the Bulova A17A Mil-Spec. This watch from the New York City-based maker was produced mainly for the Air Force during the Korean war era. Generally speaking, these watches are pretty sought after – usually landing in the mid-to-high hundreds of dollars. That being said, buyers should beware of mislabeled versions of this watch. The similarly styled Bulova 3818A is often mistaken (or disguised) as the more coveted A17A. One way to tell the difference is by checking the back of the watch. It should be stamped with the correct information.
Once upon a time, Longines was a real competitor of Rolex. The Swiss watch maker’s timepieces were hand-finished, boasted an in-house movement, and had a kind of refined style to them. Now, the brand isn’t known as well as its once competitors Rolex and Omega. For those searching for a great vintage watch – this is to your benefit. Choice references of the Flagship can be picked up by patient buyer’s for just under $500.
Founded back in 1917, Rado has faithfully turned out impressive, technically driven watches for the past hundred years. The brand is often overlooked by collectors, but to be totally honest, we’re not sure why. Rado’s watches are really fun and unique – making them ideal to add to any collection. This particular wristwatch, the Starliner, hails from the early to mid 1970s, boasts an anchor logo that swivels freely in the case, and indices along the metallic (and sometimes two-toned) face are raised like on the lugs of a hiking boot. It’s aggresive, refined, and unmistakably a 1970s piece.
This Swiss brand has been around the block. A few times. Founded in 1853 Tissot has never been quite firmly a ‘luxury’ watch maker – but its watches are generally respected enough by horologists. Their Seastar (which is still being made today) from the late 1960s and early ‘70s can easily range between around $100 and $1,000. For those on the lookout for a vintage automatic dive watch that looks a bit different then the large-bezeled beasts of today — this could very well be the ticket.
Girard Perregaux Gyromatic
A simple, clean dress watch from a storied and incredibly well regarded Swiss maker. The Gyromatic, a name derided from the then updated winding unit and rotor, was introduced in the late 1950s. The dress watch was produced in a number of different references, some with a day date, some with just a date window, and others with nothing but a clean, minimalist face. Despite all the clout and clean styling, these watches are surprisingly easy to come by for under $500.
If you are looking for something a bit more unique than a normal sized watch, but that still has all the fun historicity of a vintage pick – the Hamilton Brock could be for you. This wristwatch was made by Hamilton between the years of 1939 and 1952 and generally hovers around the $500 mark. There are a handful of different variations on this watch but many of the ones you’ll come across now are ones made with a 14K gold case.
Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel 666
No. You’re not dreaming. There actually are great, affordable vintage sports watches out there. One of the best grabs is without a doubt the Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel 666. Hailing from the 1970s, the wristwatch boasts a c-case, thick hour and minute hands with painted lume, and a thick bezel. What really makes the watch, however, are the unique hour indices. Rather than just painting them on, the company placed luminous, semi-see through plastic tubes on each hour. As a result, the watch catches the eye in a way that few of its contemporaries, or even watches produced now, can.
Grand Seiko Hi Beat
Made in the 1960s and 1970s, this dress watch from Japanese watch maker Grand Seiko remains both affordable and attractive. While not quite as popular as watches from Omega, Rolex, or even Longines, this timepiece still manages to stand out from there crowd. And that is no mistake. Designer Taro Tanaka was given the specific task of developing a watch that would sparkle and catch the eye while being worn on the wrist. He did this by using a flat crystal, a metallic face, and highly polished surfaces on the case.
For those who grow up coveting Omega watches, it may come as a bit of a pleasant surprise that you can actually own one from the Seamaster line for under $500. There are a handful of different references of the watch available from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. They come in steel, gold fill, and solid gold. To top it off, they all of them feature the same in house Omega 550 movement.
Jaeger Lecoultre Memovox
One of the cooler things about hunting for more affordable vintage watches is that you can stumble across pieces from luxury brands like Jaeger Lecoultre. Except, instead of coming with a $2.5 million asking price, they fall somewhere in the mid-to-high hundreds. The Memovox is one of those timepieces. It, like others on this list, features a paired-down, minimalist design that puts it squarely in the category of dress watch. These can be picked up for just about $500 provided the buyer is patient enough.
10 Best Places To Buy Vintage Watches Online
Okay. So now you have an idea of what kind of watch you want. Now, where do you look? To help you out, we rounded up 10 of what we think are the best places to buy vintage watches online.