If you hear the words “affordable vintage watch” and immediately laugh, imagining that there’s no way that there are any bargains left out there — well, we can’t exactly blame you. To paraphrase Lt. Aldo Raine: “We in the vintage watch business. And business is a-boomin.'”
Or something like that. In any case, it’s true that many vintage watches that were once relatively affordable — the venerable Rolex Datejust, anyone? The Universal Geneve Polerouter — are now firmly in “How-badly-do-I-need-to-pay-my-rent-this-month?”-territory.
But there are still bargains to be had — you simply have to know where to look. Certain sellers, such as Watches to Buy and Cool Vintage Watches, routinely stock affordable models, and traditional watch sales forums such as the Wallet Friendly Watch Forum (formerly the “Poor Man’s Watch Forum”) and aggregators such as Watch Recon can help you find the goods for under X number of dollars. eBay, while a positive minefield, is always a great resource, especially for research.
As long as you keep a few things in mind, you should be able to land a bargain now and again:
Service: Fixing up a mechanical watch is expensive and time-consuming, so don’t expect these affordable watches to have necessarily been to the spa recently. (Sometimes you get lucky, and a watch was recently serviced, however, or service history is known.) Thus, you’re always taking somewhat of a risk that a watch isn’t running up to spec, but an honest seller will disclose the details to you, and then you can make an informed decision.
Barn Finds: The likelihood that you’re going to find a $35,000 vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm for $5 at Goodwill is unlikely — but you never know. Keep your eyes peeled, especially with respect listings on eBay and other, smaller auction sites with crappy pictures. It’s anyone’s guess what might turn up and ultimately be overlooked by the crowd.
Esoterica: In, say, the sub-$1k vintage watch category, you’re likely going to turn up some wacky shit — for the most part, these aren’t going to be watches you’re necessarily familiar with. But that’s ok. Hell, that’s the fun part! The ’60s and ’70s in particular were full of interesting mechanical watches with such cool use of color and such interesting designs, that you’d have to be a cold-hearted sonofayouknowwhat not to find something you like, eventually. Be open.
Water Resistance: When buying vintage dive watches, don’t expect them to be water-resistant anymore — especially at this price. Gaskets wear out and often need changing, and many of the less expensive watches didn’t feature all that much water resistance to begin with. Unless you’re ready to drop money on new gaskets and pressure testing, it’s best to enjoy these old divers topside.
Wittnauer Sport Automatic Day-Date
Hailing from the 1970s, this chunky diver features a multicolor minute/hour scale with an integrated steel bracelet. It’s a little gunky and the ~37mm case could definitely use a cleaning (and maybe a new crystal), but you’d be surprised how much of this you can do yourself. The watch seems to be in working order, and even features a cool day-date complication with the day in red. Even if it costs you a few hundred bucks to service this puppy at some point, you’ve still got a killer, working dive watch from the 1970s for just a few hundred bucks.
1960s Dorset Diver with Day-Date
This one’s all about the dial, and what a dial it is. Check out that cool, checker-pattern outer scale: Perhaps it’s not the most utilitarian, legible pattern for a dive watch dial, but damn, is it funky. This diver from Dorset features a 17-jewel automatic movement and a day-date complication, and even ships on a 1960s Tropic-style rubber strap. A 37.5mm case makes for a perfectly sized watch for the modern wrist, and at this price, there’s not a lot more you could ask for.
Waltham Dive Watch
Now that’s a clean dial. This restrained diver from Waltham features a recently cleaned automatic movement, (what is presumably) a bi-directional dive bezel and, once again, a day-date display. This one’s got a cool, chunky case with shrouded lugs, however, making for an interesting look when pairing it with a fabric or rubber strap.
Vantage Skin Diver
This skin diver (read: dive watch “light”) from Vantage, Hamilton’s sub-label, features an awesome, heavily patinated dial and bezel that’s turned a funky maroon. With globs of tritium, the classic skin diver case and an awesome ’60s rubber dive strap, the watch looks the vintage part. Its manually winding movement may not be the most sophisticated, but it was recently cleaned, and makes for a relatively thin case.
Technos Sky Diver
Here we go: something properly covetable, though still relatively unknown. I would say the lume application on this dial isn’t the most even in the world (and indeed, it may have been redone at some point), but what a killer looking watch from Swiss brand Technos: you’ve got a classic skin diver case again and a movement serviced relatively recently (2017), plus a nicely patinated bezel. You can also be reasonably sure you won’t be one of 1,000 guys at work sporting this watch.
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