Editor’s Note: For all the shiny new watches we come across every week, nothing gets our hearts racing like a great vintage timepiece. These are watches with stories, some known, some lost to history. Watches from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s come from an era when a man’s timepiece was his everyday carry, a tool for the job that wasn’t put away when things got down and dirty. Many vintage watches bear the marks of use that we endearingly call “patina”, and remain that much more lovely in spite of (or because of) it.
The other appealing aspect of vintage watches is their rarity. Even the most common old timepieces are becoming harder to find in good shape. So while you can walk into a retailer and buy a brand new watch anytime, finding a good vintage piece requires patience, persistence, research and legwork. This leads us to the sixth installment of our ongoing series, Timekeeping Selects, a partnership with Analog/Shift, the New York-based purveyor of vintage watches. We’ve done the legwork for you, handpicking the coolest, most unique old watches, all of which have impeccable authenticity and are serviced and ready to wear.
Not that we’re recommending it, but if you are planning to only own one watch, this is the one to get. The Rolex Datejust is, bar none, the most versatile timepiece a man can own. Its 36-millimeter size looks good on anyone, its styling easily goes from business to beach and its rugged chronometer-certified movement and build quality are legendary. It’s been worn by Presidents and dilettantes, revolutionaries and rock stars, from Ike to Che, and can even (again, not recommended) be used as currency in a pinch.
The Datejust has been in the Rolex lineup since the 1950s and was the first watch to feature an automatic-changing date function. Its timeless design has scarcely changed since its earliest days; the iconic “Cyclops” date magnifier is there and so is the fluted bezel, which harkens back to the days when a crystals were held on by spin-off bezels. The Datejust exudes an instantly recognizable, dressy elegance. The stick hands and baton markers are more subtle than the Mercedes handset found on the Rolex sports watches. But the patented Oyster case with Twinlock screw-down crown means it’s more water resistant than many dive watches.
While most Datejusts you see have a sober black or silver dial, chosen for its conservative safety, there’s something special about the dark blue on today’s selected piece (
$3,400 SOLD). It isn’t bright enough to be mere weekend fodder but has enough color to show that its owner isn’t all business. Pick up a rattly old jubilee bracelet to go with it or be a little different and wear it on one of the leather or NATO straps we’re selling it with.
This example is from 1974 and is in fantastic condition. It’s got the right amount of patina where you want it (the lume pips have yellowed a bit) but not where you don’t (the case is crisp, the crystal unmarred). If you, or someone you know, is turning the big 4-0 this year, you’re in luck; this makes the perfect birth year watch to commemorate. Get the case back engraved and wear it for the next 40.