We investigate the meteoric rise of the vintage watch market and ask the question: is Rolex really best?
Are old timepieces a good investment?
With Paul Newman’s iconic Rolex Daytona sold for a recordbreaking $17.8 million at auction last year, it’s clear that vintage watches are big business. It’s surprising to learn, then, that the market is a relatively young one. Vintage or mechanical watches, now regularly selling for five figures or more, were considered worthless only 40 years ago when highly accurate batterypowered models flooded the market in the 1970s. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that these discarded watches resurfaced after enthusiasts began to look at timepieces from the 1920s onwards with an eye for their design and craftsmanship, rather than simply their functionality.
In the 30 years since, prices have climbed at lightning speed, but not every watch is selling at Paul Newman prices. Prospective buyers should expect a genuine vintage watch by one of the renowned Swiss brands to set them back by at least the upper hundreds of pounds.
More sought-after brands of course come with a heftier price tag, but are nonetheless staples of any collection – the Rolex falls into this category. Probably the most desirable and recognisable brand out there, it’s synonymous with James Bond, luxury and status.
It’s funny that such a relatively modern brand should have such a stranglehold over the vintage market – other well known brands such as Omega and Zenith have been in production far longer – but, according to the experts at vintagewatches-collection.com, Rolex gained its prominence by adopting the wristwatch early.
Rolex watches began selling in earnest during the First World War, when military men serving in the trenches started wearing wristwatches in large numbers for the first time. Before the war, watches worn on the wrist had been primarily a woman’s accessory and, despite their growing popularity with male buyers, most of the major clock makers were slow on the uptake, believing they were a phase that would soon end. As the early, fully committed adopters of the wristwatch, Rolex had the advantage.
Despite the pull of the Rolex hype machine, and their undoubted excellence, the wise collector should be open minded about other manufacturers as well. There are other key brands available at a better price with no sacrifice in quality.
Vintage Longines come recommended; watches every bit as high in quality as a Rolex at a fraction of the price. With their stunning attention to detail and intricate design, Longines were high fashion watches that were actually considered by many at the time to be far superior to those by Rolex .
The Longines is the choice of the savvy collector, looking for a beautiful example of a vintage timepiece without breaking the bank. And, for those hoping to make a profit in the future, experts insist that the Longines’ day in the sun is coming.
With such a young, ever-evolving market spurred on by enthusiasts around the world, it’s an exciting time to start your own collection.
‘Despite the pull of the Rolex hype machine, the wise collector should be open minded’