New technology kills old technology. The combustion engine outpaced the carriage, electric lamps snuffed out gas lanterns, online retailers outsold brick and mortar, and the list goes on. Yet, there has always been a bit of a wrinkle in this rule. People are sentimental. We like to keep things alive past their time – and there is no better example of that tendency than the love vintage wrist watches receive.
For all intents and purposes the traditional watch should be tossed aside and forgotten. The imperfect instruments we once wore on our wrists have been far outpaced by atomic clocks and the phones in our pockets. Yet, thanks in large part new technology – the world of vintage watches has come on a kind of renaissance. Websites like Hodinkee have pulled scholarship on horology out of obscure online forums and far-flung shops and put them squarely into the mainstream. Instagram accounts have done their part, too. The once private hobby of collecting odd and obscure watches has become a totally public one garnering followers and likes in the thousands. As a result, the vintage watch market has exploded in popularity. Watches that once sold at auction in the low thousands can now pull well over ten times what they were originally bought for. Yet, how exactly does one get in to this hard to understand world? What are the safe places to buy online? We’ve compiled a list of the best places to buy vintage watches to help guide novices toward their first purchase.
We’ve written about 1stdibs before in our best furniture shops post, but the online marketplace is known for selling more than just great reading chairs. They have a vast collection of art, jewelry, and vintage watches. Take a look through their offerings and you’ll find pieces from big names like Rolex, Omega, Patek Philippe, as well as more obscure makers. Generally speaking you’ll likely not find the biggest steals here given that they’re a go-between for the purchaser and other dealers. Everyone has to get their cut.
Founder James Lamdin wanted his store to be a resource for enthusiasts, and above all else a place with a reputation for authenticity. All of the watches in Analog Shift’s shop have been beautifully photographed and feature descriptive, in-depth write-ups. While the New York City based shop has plenty of impressive picks, be sure to check out their sister brands as well.
If you’re looking for a Rolex and you’re hoping to pick it up at fair market value – you’re going to be hard pressed to find a better place to get it at than Bob’s watches. Sure, you’re not going to be picking any gems out that you can re-sell for a whole lot more money, but if you have a passion for great watches and would love to own a vintage Rolex, this’ll do the trick.
Bulang and Sons
Collectors, not merchants. That is how Bulang and Sons see themselves. They didn’t get in to the watch world to make a boatload of money – the small store and magazine was started because the founders had a passion for horology. That passion shows through in the great watches stocked in their shop. Rolex, Heuer, Universal Geneve, Omega, and more can all be found in the store, each accompanied by detailed write-ups and beautiful photography.
Above all else, Chrono24 endeavors to bring trust to the watch market. A truly global retailer, they have sales offices in New York, Hong Kong, as well as an editorial office in Berlin. And while Chrono24 doesn’t necessarily specialize in vintage watches, just by virtue of being so big they have a really impressive selection to choose from. Chronographs, dress watches, you name it and they’ll likely have a few different models.
So obviously, when thinking about buying or selling things online for cheap, eBay comes to mind. In fact, eBay is a great place to go on the hunt for great old watches at a good price. That being said, buyers need to beware. Fake watches or inaccurate descriptions are a feature of the site. The more research you do on your dress watches, GMT watches, or solid divers, the better. It is even worth visiting watch forums and asking others to verify your finds. Just whatever you do, don’t simply take a seller’s word for it – even if they have a good rating.
When it comes to the world of watches, few places are as respected as Hodinkee. The authoritative site started selling watch straps back in 2008, but they only started stocking vintage watches in their online shop in early 2016. Don’t let their short track record throw you off, though. Hodinkee is a leader in the space, and when it comes to scholarship and attention to detail, they’re practically peerless.
Man of the World
Like a lot of great magazines these days, Man of the World has their own online shop. Unlike most all publications – their shop carries rare, vintage watches. We’re talking timepieces from Patek Philippe, Rolex, Omega, and Universal Geneve. As tends to be the case with vintage watch dealers, Alan Maleh, the editor of the Man of the World, carries these watches in his store in large part because he has a deep love for vintage watches. That passion shows through in how the shop presents each timepiece – with deeply researched write-ups and crisp product photography.
Matthew Bain Inc.
Dedicated watch dealers are great places to look for quality vintage watches, and Matthew Bain Inc. is among the best out there. Bain has been in the business since he was fresh out of college in the 1980s, and is a member of three major watch organizations – a testament to his clean track record and high standing in the community. When he isn’t working out of his office in Miami, he works as a consultant for Sotheby’s and Christies on everything from wristwatches to pocket watches from the 1800s. On top of all of this professional experience, Bain’s online collection is vast. Buyer’s on his site will come across everything from vintage Rolex and Omega watches to timepieces from Longines and Vacheron Constantin.
So we’ll just own this – we’re breaking our rules here a little bit wit this pick. WatchRecon is not an online shop. They will, however, help you find awesome vintage watches. The website is essentially a search engine that checks everything from forums to bigger dealers for watches being sold. If you have a trained eye and are on the hunt for a top quality watch, this is most definitely one of the sited you should be frequenting.
The Chronograph Explained
A watch’s movement is its heart. More than just making the timepiece tick, a movement defines its character. To learn more about your chronograph – take a look at our explainer on the complications of a chronograph.