How do I go Vintage? Seeking Advice!
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  1. #1
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    How do I go Vintage? Seeking Advice!

    Hello everyone.

    This is my first post here on WUS.

    Quick background : In college I once had a Citizen Navihawk which found its way to the bottom of a lake in Minnesota by mistake. Now I have a Timex Expedition that I don't wear, and a $30 Armitron thing I use simply as an alarm when I swim laps. I know what you're thinking but don't judge yet! :D

    Now I have an 82 year old Iranian neighbor who seems to be a watch mastermind (in my opinion). He recently sold a jewelry shop he ran for 40 years, and has a whole watch room set up, and is always tinkering. Newly retired he still does a little watch repair for a jewelry shop.

    Seeing him daily with random vintage watches, I gained an interest. The more I read and see, the more excited I get! I know nothing about watches.

    So of course my neighbor is a great resource for me, but I like to keep an open mind. What I'm wondering (and I do mean to be very vague) is where do I begin in the vintage world? I'm ready to start collecting and learning, and I keep watching these lower cost vintage mechanicals come and go on eBay, and I just wonder where to begin.

    Any insight is greatly appreciated!

    I'm very happy to be here...

    ~ Josh
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  2. #2
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    In addition :

    I've been eyeing up the following brands : Bulova, Lord Ellgin, Benrus, Seiko, Fairfax, Lord Gallant, Vantage, Lucerne, Belforte, Wittnauer, Slavs, Cornavin, Blita, Gruen, Trishna and a few others.

    It seems I want to get something running, keeping ok time, jeweled, mechanical, possibly automatic, Swiss, filled, realistically priced.

    I'm starting with a pretty low budget. I'm hoping to make my first purchase under $100 USD. Beginning in the Fall I'll probably purchase one per month in the $100-200 range.

    ~ Josh

  3. #3
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    Re: How do I go Vintage? Seeking Advice!

    Hi,

    Books and photos of genuine watches will level up Your knowledge :)
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    Chaos is my focus

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  5. #4
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    Re: How do I go Vintage? Seeking Advice!

    Hey Josh, welcome to WUS. You'll find, I'm sure, a supportive and cheerfully opinionated group of wildly enthusiastic souls here, many of whom will shortly offer their take on brands. But your comment about how many watches you want to buy and at what budget inspired this post.

    I think your budget is kind of low. One of the constant refrains here is that more or less every watch you'll buy will need to be serviced. I'm assuming that you will be hunting on eBay and in my experience, almost no watches there have been serviced – even the ones that suggest they have been haven't always. Vintage watches do need to be maintained, running is one thing, but properly cleaned, re-lubed and checked through is another. One key reason is that using natural oil was more common in the past – synthetics are now more popular – and these oils dry out, pull in dirt and generally stop doing what they're supposed to do. Friction soars, wear on parts goes up and can create physical failure.

    Replacement parts can be hard to find and many watchmakers just don't have the time or inclination to hunt them down. I'm lucky, my watchmaker and I discuss every watch I buy in depth and then I go out hunting for the parts he doesn't have time to search out. Believe me, it can and is time-consuming. Traditionally, watchmakers used to make replacement parts, but this seems to be a thing of the past; economics, I think.

    All this to say that you need to assume that this hidden cost will be part of your purchase price. "Realistically priced" is a huge minefield, especially if you then have to dump a couple of hundred bucks into it, by the way. There are watchmakers online who publish their service charges and I'd suggest that you research this, too.

    "jeweled, mechanical, possibly automatic, Swiss, filled": 1. number of jewels has some bearing on the quality of a watch, but not as much as you may think. Assume that most of what you will be looking at will be around 15>17 jewels and don't get too obsessed. 2. Mechanical, yep, a good place to start 3. Automatic - don't get too stuck here. Automatics are obviously more complex machines and therefore more expensive to buy, service and maintain – in general. And there are a lot of really lovely 40s, 50s, 60s watches that are straight wind ups that you really have to look at. 4. See next para 5. filled (aka plated, for argument's sake) - most if not all gold filled watches at this price point will have some minor to significant plating wear. Case repair is expensive and to be avoided when possible. Whether gold or chrome plated, look very carefully at the integrity of the plating. Stainless steel in vintage watches is much less of a problem, so don't discount this route (in fact on some highly valued models, the steel variants are more sought after than the plated ones).

    Setting your budget higher means you can expect more. To begin with, as you're in the US, I'd suggest that you focus on US brands, such as Bulova, Hamilton and Gruen (and others, of course, but these are good places to start) and acquaint yourself with what they made. US brands were generally made in high volumes and this means that you can pick and chose the best from a wide selection of examples. Parts are relatively easy to find, cheap, and service for them easy to find, too. All three turned out some fantastic watches, some domestically manufactured, others with Swiss movements in them. And they're not usually very expensive.

    Be patient. Feel free to post about watches you're considering here and there will almost always be someone with a useful critique. To begin with, there's an awful lot to learn and there are folks here who are truly expert, and happy to share their wisdom with you.
    Last edited by Habitant; July 17th, 2015 at 15:23.

  6. #5
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    Re: How do I go Vintage? Seeking Advice!

    Optimist,

    In addition to the views of our fellow correspondents above, here are some of my thoughts.

    Your friendly neighbour who can be your repairer would be a good man to ask the first questions. Ask him what kind of watches - as in watch movements - he can repair with total confidence, and with ample spare parts. For instance, if he knows the FHF 96 movement like the back of his hands, and has a drawerful of parts, then it would be a silly idea not to start with watches powered by this movement. And if he is not confident in fixing a certain movement and/or with no suitable parts, then it might not be a good idea to get that to begin with.

    Brands on the watch is actually less of an issue: it has surprised many people that the vast majority of watch brands were - and still are - assemblers using off-the-shelf proprietary movements: Brand A watch and Brand B watch might appear different but they might have the same movement ticking under the hoods: I use the FHF 96 as an example due to this old thread. In fact, the use of standardized proprietary movements turns out to be a blessing then and now, as parts availability would be better, along with repairability (if that's a word), compared to in-house movements.

    In that sense your budget is not particularly low; depending on what your neighbour charges it can actually be quite generous, as long as you are not aiming to get brand names on the dials that impress others. There again you might have the last laugh with the knowledge that your "Brand X" watch has the same movement as one that goes for many times more than what you spent...
    Last edited by Seele; July 17th, 2015 at 09:57.
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  7. #6
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    Re: How do I go Vintage? Seeking Advice!

    I've been quietly buying vintage tuning fork watches - still after Omega F300 ^^
    This way I limited the selection as well as the watch Im getting is working with battery and all. And they are just fascinating history in horology too.

  8. #7
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    Re: How do I go Vintage? Seeking Advice!

    Yes, to catch a point that Seele makes, by pure coincidence, I was just looking at an eBay seller's list and saw three different watches, all good, lesser but still well known brands, each of which had the same AS (A Swiss manufacturer of good proprietary works) movement in them. A good movement, no doubt about it. Each was priced at the different prices to allow for the assumed market value of what was, essentially, the same watch. The better known of the three, highly thought of for their chronograph watch movements, might have tempted "one," but finding an ordinary AS movement under the branded dial faded my interest quickly. That and the fact that the case needed to be replated…

    Quote Originally Posted by Seele View Post
    Optimist,

    In addition to the views of our fellow correspondents above, here are some of my thoughts.

    Your friendly neighbour who can be your repairer would be a good man to ask the first questions. Ask him what kind of watches - as in watch movements - he can repair with total confidence, and with ample spare parts. For instance, if he knows the FHF 96 movement like the back of his hands, and has a drawerful of parts, then it would be a silly idea not to start with watches powered by this movement. And if he is not confident in fixing a certain movement and/or with no suitable parts, then it might not be a good idea to get that to begin with.

    Brands on the watch is actually less of an issue: it has surprised many people that the vast majority of watch brands were - and still are - assemblers using off-the-shelf proprietary movements: Brand A watch and Brand B watch might appear different but they might have the same movement ticking under the hoods: I use the FHF 96 as an example due to this old thread. In fact, the use of standardized proprietary movements turns out to be a blessing then and now, as parts availability would be better, along with repairability (if that's a word), compared to in-house movements.

    In that sense your budget is not particularly low; depending on what your neighbour charges it can actually be quite generous, as long as you are not aiming to get brand names on the dials that impress others. There again you might have the last laugh with the knowledge that your "Brand X" watch has the same movement as one that goes for many times more than what you spent...

  9. #8
    Member HOROLOGIST007's Avatar
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    Re: How do I go Vintage? Seeking Advice!

    Hi and welcome
    On reading the heading "How do I go vintage" - I thought to my self at 63 years old!
    Drink lots of wine, smoke occasional cigars and get a job with lots of stress - well it worked for me - I hit 63!

    Regards
    Apollonaught, Erik_H, Shum and 4 others like this.
    NEVER ARGUE WITH AN IDIOT. FIRST THEY WILL DRAG YOU DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL. THEN, THEY WILL BEAT YOU WITH EXPERIENCE.

    "Failure is not an option" - Gene Kranz
    "Owning a vintage watch is great, understanding where it sits in Horology is magnificent"
    and
    "By Teaching Others, We Teach Ourselves"
    Adam

  10. #9
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    Re: How do I go Vintage? Seeking Advice!

    That sounds like a good starting budget for your first time out.

    A few tips if buying from online auctions. If you're just starting, don't buy anything that doesn't include a picture of the movements (preferably with the balance wheel visibly moving). If you see rust anywhere in the photo, run. If you see any splotches on the dial, run.

    Don't underestimate the ugly bracelet discount. Something with a dingy old expansion band on it can be quickly swapped out for a nice lizard strap and it's a whole new watch.

    Patience and research. Try to find out if the dial, movement, and case all actually were sold together at one point.

    Go for "lesser" brands, or designs that are slightly out of fashion to limit the probability of getting scammed. I've seen very few examples of somebody faking a hand-wind Bulova outside of painting the dial some crazy shade of red or blue.

    My first foray into vintage was a 1949 Bulova President on a damaged band that I repaired myself. It was a little grimy, but I got it for a very good price and it showed me how much I like both vintage watches and gold watches.

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    Good luck!

  11. #10
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    Wow! Great response! Thanks for all the good info! Even got a good laugh at, "drink wine and smoke cigars to go Vintage".

    At this point I think I'm going to continue my research above all. I ordered a few basic "intro to watches" kind of books. Planning to chat more about watches with my neighbor, and of course continue picking all your brains.

    Thanks again!

    ~ Josh

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