Welcome to Point/Counterpoint, a new buyWatchesTop column where two of our resident horological aficionados duke it out over a point of contention. Today, we’ve got Ariel Adams and James Stacey who will spar over the value of buying a vintage replica watch. Ariel says forget it when it comes to vintage, while James sees merit in the adage “old is gold.”
James Stacey: While, perhaps daunting to someone new to the mechanical watch hobby, the vintage watch market remains some of the strongest value available to today’s collectors. Thanks to the trend towards “vintage-inspired” new swiss Omega replica watches combined with the relatively slow pace of the Swiss watch industry, vintage pieces can look as modern (or as dated) as you prefer. Much like the styling, most of the underlying technology is not only similar and just as effective as today’s movements, but can often be found for a fraction of the cost.
No, you won’t get a carbon-cased tribute to advanced materials and lab-like production, but if steel or gold is good enough for your wrist, the vintage market is hard to overlook.
If you’re new to watch collecting, do some research and always buy the seller. Your patience is an investment in developing your taste, identifying “too good to be true” scenarios, and refining the available candidates at a given budget. This entire hobby is based on marketing and the charm of a well-made watch, minimize the former and you have more resources for the latter.
Ariel Adams: In my personal opinion, watch buyers today are, for the most part, better off buying new Tudor Heritage replica watches if they plan on wearing them regularly. The best analogy for me are cars. Sure, there is a nostalgic charm in buying an old American muscle car, but what are they like to drive? How reliable are they? In addition to lacking a lot of modern conveniences, it can be impossible to determine their mechanical condition. Watches are the same way: there can be a lot of emotional connection to a vintage replica watch, but how practical are they for daily wear and as reliable tools?
If you just see a timepiece as a fashion accessory, then get a vintage timepiece and don’t bother winding it. If you are in it for the utilitarian aspect or if you want maximum durability, a modern timepiece will serve you much better. Sure, you can pay less for a vintage timepiece but what is the actual wearing experience going to be over a five year period? I bet that most watch lovers still have a few modern timepieces laying around as well that they inevitably continue to wear.
James: While I would agree that the allure of a vintage car may be similar to that of a vintage replica watch, the difference in experience between a vintage car versus a new car is not equal to the difference between a vintage replica watch and a new watch.
Cars are vastly complicated objects, and while I would applaud anyone who attempts to daily drive a vintage car, daily wear of a vintage replica watch is not an especially tough task. Any watch will require service at some point, and most fake watches will not cost a fortune to service, especially when it’s a cost you’ll likely only incur every five to ten years. Any competent watchmaker will be able to service the wide majority of simple vintage movements, and if you’ve invested in something a bit more special, specialized care is to be expected (and that should be a known quality if you did your research before buying).
Yes, the watch may lack some modern conveniences, like a quick set date or sapphire crystal, but the very idea of tool watches was solidified in the ’60s with replica watches like the Rolex Submariner and Omega Speedmaster. While I don’t doubt that modern technologies can produce a tougher watch, how tough does your watch really need to be? If it was good enough for SEALAB and NASA, it’s not going to break a sweat with the demands of my day-to-day.
If you do your research and rely on a professional for service, the vintage experience is similar to that of buying new, but you get the added charm and nostalgia of a vintage piece as well as the thrill of the hunt.
Ariel: Wouldn’t you agree, however, that the appeal of vintage for many people is in the presumption that they cost a lot less? Dedicated collectors might be willing to put up with some of the complexities of buying and restoring/repairing old replica watches, but I think too many lay consumers are attracted by the romance of vintage only to be disappointed with the actual experience when it comes to cost versus reward. In my opinion, most consumers who don’t want to buy brand new would be just as well served with a pre-owned modern watch where they get a better price along with a newer product.
The enthusiast community will often take the most difficult approach in order to get something rare and special, but isn’t it wise to inform novices that a lot of skill and patience is required when it comes to buying vintage replica watches? I just think that the term “vintage” is sexy right now, and when it comes down to it, most people want a modern watch that is less than 10 years old. At least the original brands will be willing to service them and the movements should still be good. Do you think most consumers are even aware that brands often have policies where they utterly refuse to service watches which are 25-30 years old?
James: I would agree, in part, that it comes down to the watch and the collector. While the pre-owned market offers a considerable value on modern replica watches, I don’t think it detracts from the value proposition or specialized appeal of a vintage replica watch.
The main concerns when servicing a movement do not vary wildly by the age of the movement being serviced. Provided parts are available and that the watch in question is an everyday sort of piece, you likely don’t have to rely on the original manufacturer for service and general upkeep.
The current story surrounding vintage replica watches tends to focus on the extreme examples, steel Pateks, crispy Newmans, and Evil Ninas, and while those are impressive, drool-worthy icons of the hobby, they are a microcosm of perceived value within a niche marketplace. They’re trophies, not examples of what the average enthusiast would wear day to day.
Considering the forum-favorite concept of “bang for your buck,” a clean vintage watch is going to be very hard to beat. Vintage replica watches can be found at nearly any price point, and (in most cases) they have bottomed out in terms of depreciation.
Thanks to a combination of eBay, buying and selling forums, and vintage re-sellers, it’s entirely possible to find a great watch (likely from a recognizable and successful brand) in ready-to-wear condition for under $1,000. If you’re concerned about service and upkeep, speak with a watchmaker before buying, and try to buy something that was recently serviced so you can wear it for a few years before it needs any TLC.
Ariel: The main message I think people can take away from what you just advocated is that it is possible to have a positive experience with vintage replica watches, but you need to do your homework and search a lot. I agree; for vintage to be a good experience, you need to become a mini-expert in a lot of little things ranging from where to buy replica watches and what they should cost to determining condition and quality. What you are describing is an enthusiast’s sport and not something I can easily recommend to the lay person who just wants a few nice and reliable watches to wear on a daily basis. Just because you can have a good experience with vintage, that is certainly no indication that you will. It’s a pleasurable hobby for those looking to spend the time, but that doesn’t represent everyone.
Along those lines, I feel that vintage watch buying and collecting should really be its own category alongside buying new replica watches. It shouldn’t be a “new or vintage” conversation, but rather a conversation of how people can incorporate vintage replica watches into an otherwise healthy passion for timepieces. For instance, are there one or two models that anyone can blanket recommend and if purchased as a vintage watch will lead to a positive experience? No, because condition and mileage may vary.
With that said, there are isolated examples here and there which are nicely restored, good-condition vintage timepieces that make for solid and relatively reliably daily wears – but those items come and go and aren’t the type of thing I feel exist in enough quantity that watch lovers should be tirelessly waiting to find one versus buying something newer that, in most instances, requires less homework and risk.
James: I don’t think that getting into vintage replica watches needs to be seen as some sort of part time job, or even an all consuming facet of the hobby. If you’re too busy to learn about something you find interesting, even on a casual level, there’s no possible way you’re still reading this. The cash vs. time conundrum can be applied to the vintage market too, just take your stacks of cash to Christie’s or Antiquorum. The point isn’t just that a vintage replica watch might be cheap (which is not an accurate generalization), it’s that they offer value proposition different from that of a new watch – a distinct appeal.
The truth is, if you’re calculating the value of your time over simply enjoying an almost entirely unnecessary fascination with tiny outdated mechanical objects, then I can’t possibly persuade you to see the light. Just bookmark this page and check back after you retire.
While I would agree that the uninitiated should stick to new watches if they want the best chance at a fuss-free experience, I think that most people who would call themselves a watch enthusiast will flirt with the idea of a picking up a vintage replica watch. It’s like a rite of passage among watch nerds. If you’re a layman, I encourage you to find the deep end and just jump in. This isn’t a cheap hobby, but Google has made it much, much more approachable, and the learning is largely free.
No, there aren’t any two models that anyone can recommend, but if you stick with serviced examples from well respected sources, your chances of a positive experience are very high, if not partially guaranteed (by sellers offering a review period with the possibility of return). Despite being vastly similar, new watches and vintage replica watches have a different appeal, and I think the romantic notion of “the hunt” is stronger with vintage pieces.
New watches may require you to save funds, place an order, and then wait while the watch makes its way to the retailer. Finding that perfect vintage piece may start with a photo that leads to untold hours on forums or, if you’re lucky, reading books. Eventually, once you know enough to separate the wheat from the chaff, it’s time to get serious. You start to call or write re-sellers, ping owners on instagram, and setup notifications on your phone for specific keywords. Then, one day, the stars align, and whether you win the auction or are simply the first to respond to a sales post, your grail has arrived. I’ve only had this experience with a couple of fake watches, but it made their addition to my collection a very personal and rewarding experience.
Finally, I would agree that vintage replica watches shouldn’t come at the exclusion of modern watches, both have their merits. However, turning your back on the vintage market, especially as a watch enthusiast, will only serve to deprive you of one of the great experiences this hobby has to offer. So go buy some books and do a few hundred Google searches. Even if it takes years to pull the trigger, I’d wager that from start to finish, you had fun.
So, there you have it. The time, money, and potential disappointment of searching for a reputable vintage replica watch for the intangible reward of the collector’s satisfaction. Worth it?