How to choose a vintage watch

vintage watch


Foreword: On the occasion of his arrival in the team of Verygoodlord contributors, Romain Marsot, founder of the website, gives us his best advice for buying a second-hand watch. You will find Romain in the watch category of the blog. Welcome to VGL, the floor is yours Romain! –Arnaud _

Giving up on understanding how ice can break into a thousand pieces so easily, you change your iPhone every year… but, on your wrist, the watch that accompanies you every day has crossed eras, presidents, countries, and it never never stopped spinning.

How not to be sincerely in awe of generations of ingenious watchmakers, talented designers, and careful admirers?

Particularly honored in recent years, the world of vintage watches has indeed something to seduce. But before displaying your latest find, here are some essential tips to avoid good deals that quickly turn into big disappointments. These tips, I give them to you as a collector but also as an expert and dealer ; I have applied them every day for many years in my profession.

First of all, a clarification: we are going to talk here about watches manufactured in Switzerland or France between the 1930s and 1990s.


In this first part, I will first tell you about the models, but also about the budget that you can devote to the purchase of a vintage watch for men, and even for women!


Whether you dream of a Rolex, you love chronographs or you absolutely need a classic watch to wear with a suit  : start by determining the type of watch you are looking for. Whether you are looking for a specific brand, a type of model or a watch suitable for a particular use, it is important to start by clarifying this point.

Then seek to learn a little more. The Internet, with its share of forums and specialized sites, is a wealth of information. Sometimes too much! If you feel like you don’t understand anything, don’t hesitate to seek the advice of a knowledgeable professional . You can ask him for advice, clarifications and he will help you see things more clearly… before, why not, resuming your personal investigations. Also, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.


To define your budget, the Internet is the best resource. Today , almost all vintage watches have a rating . To find out, go to the Chrono24 website . This platform is the international reference for professionals in the sector  : there you can get an idea of ​​the rating of a model. It is very important that you define the budget necessary for the purchase of the watch that makes you dream, or that you know what type of model allows you the budget you have.

A few caveats… Ratings can fluctuate wildly, from month to month for some models, and generally on the rise! Don’t forget either that the rating of a watch is a function of many parameters, in particular aesthetic; We will come back later. Finally, plan a reasonable margin that will allow you to give in to a crush.

jaeger lecoultre reverso vintage 1940


In the field of second-hand watches – as in all fields for that matter – you have to take the time to observe the object you are buying so as not to be mistaken and to take note of all the defects – or no – what the watch and its accessories contain.


You’ve noticed a model that you like and matches your criteria, it’s time to take a closer look. Dwell first on its aesthetic aspect: the past years have necessarily left their mark on a vintage watch. Don’t compare it to a new watch , that wouldn’t make sense. On the other hand, make sure that the wear and tear of time has given it more charm than defects!

First look at the case (the frame of the watch). If it’s steel or gold, it shouldn’t have been over-polished . Polishing has the advantage of removing scratches and traces of wear from the surface of the case, but it removes material. It must therefore have been carried out with delicacy and precision, if at all. If it has been practiced many times or carelessly, the casing risks showing deformations .

So check that the angles are very sharp , the horns thick and the whole regular and harmonious. If the case is gold-plated, it should not be too worn. A new veneer could cost you dearly.

rolex datejust 1603 no lume dial 1970

Rolex Datejust 1603 from 1970


It is often the dial that will make you fall for a vintage. A pretty patina testifies to its history and gives it charm: it is an integral part of the watch. If this appears to you as a defect that you do not appreciate, turn instead to the purchase of new or very recent second-hand watches (sometimes from destocking). If you are not looking for new, then let yourself be seduced!

Stay alert though, by observing the dial first. Is it original or has it been repainted or even replaced? The markers present on the dial can help you: until the end of the 90s, the luminescence points were tritium. Now banned, it has been replaced by a phosphorescent paste – Luminova – which shines much stronger and longer. If the watch you want is old and has luminescent points (indexes, hands or other), the tritium must have skated: it should not turn green when you put it in the dark.

If the dial is original, linger on the traces of oxidation . Ideally, they should be harmonious. A light dial can have a beautiful champagne or sand tint, a dark dial can tend towards gray or chocolate. Certain types of patina are even highly sought after today: this is the case, for example, of the so-called “spider” or “tropical” dials.

Remember to also take a look at the hands, their appearance must be consistent with that of the dial and the indexes. Finally, don’t forget that your appreciation of a patina remains very subjective: the main thing is that you like it!


After aesthetics, comes technique. Of course for a quartz watch, a battery change will suffice. But for an automatic or mechanical watch, make sure the caliber is authentic and working properly . If you are dealing with a professional in the sector with a watchmaking workshop, you can rely on the guarantee generally offered. Otherwise, the ideal would be to go to a trusted watchmaker (I allow myself to insist on the fact that he is “trusted”) for a diagnosis of the movement.

Several points are essential: the caliber must obviously correspond to the reference of the watch , all the components must be original or replaced by identical parts of the same brand, no trace of rust must be observed. Also check that no filings pollute the inside of the case (this is the metallic powder produced by the friction of the components when the movement lacks oil).

If you are dealing with an individual, make sure the watch works, which will save you a lot of disappointment. First try to wind the crown from bottom to top  : if the winding is difficult, a revision will certainly be necessary. Once wound up, if the watch works, that’s a good sign. If the watch does not restart, be vigilant; repairs could be significant. Be that as it may, plan in your budget for a complete overhaul of the watch at a watchmaker, unless your interlocutor presents you with the certificate of a very recent overhaul.

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