At what point does it become vintage?

Thread: At what point does it become vintage?

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  1. #1

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    At what point does it become vintage?

    Hi guys, Paul here, mod on the Doxa forum. One of the guys posed the question "When does a watch become vintage"? 'Good question' I thought, but I had no answer. So I figured I'd ask the experts! I apologize if this has been covered before, I scrolled back a couple of pages and didn't see a thread like it.

    So is there a rule of thumb, or guideline, or specific time line (no pun intended) that changes a watch from 'old' to 'vintage'? Or is just an arbitrary designation? When does it start? Is a watch made in, say, 1989, and no longer produced, considered vintage? Does current production of the same model change anything? And is every watch made past a certain point considered vintage, or are there restrictions, i.e. condition, rarity, components used, etc.?

    Whaddya y'all think?

    And thanks for your time! (Pun intended!)

    Paul

  2. #2
    Member JohnF's Avatar
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    Re: At what point does it become vintage?

    Hi Paul -

    There are a couple of things that make anything vintage.

    One of the first questions is whether the item is being made anymore. That means, however, that items with very, very long production runs - think of the game of Monopoly - wouldn't ever have anything vintage, which is of course silly.

    But simply being "old" qualifies for vintage, but where's the limit? Is something three years old already vintage? In the world of mobile telephones, it probably is (product cycle there is less than 7 months, so a cell phone three years old is around 6 cycles behind the times!), but that's not old for a burgundy wine. Or a single malt scoth whisky.

    Add to that the fact that there are lots of things out there that don't necessarily get better with time (pun intended back at ya!), such as wine (I once had the opportunity to try a 1932 Chianti Classico: was terrrrible, completely off) or textiles (you can get great buys on 50-year old cloth, but it falls apart when you try and do something with it...).

    As an aside, the Japanese have a concept: gomi. It's roughly translateable as "worthwhile old junk" and is the stuff that antiquities stores live off of.

    I'd venture to put it this way:

    A new watch is exactly that: current production, purchased during that production run.

    A watch becomes pre-owned or used the moment it has been purchased in the retail channel (i.e. selling the watch wholesale doesn't make it used, but nowadays there's no difference in selling it in a shop or on-line. But once you take delivery, it becomes used, UNLESS you never, ever wear it and it is kept, complete with all documentation, shipping material, and even the shopping bag if you bought it retail.

    If you did that, then it is NIB or New In Box and probably has the highest collectible status of any used watch (exception: that rarest of beasts, the NOS or New Old Stock, i.e. a watch that a retailer never sold and has had sitting in the corner for the last 20 years: they exist, but of those advertised as such, I'd venture that less than 10% really are so: there is no "proof" of NOS except the condition and believing the seller).

    Then you have used watches: these are watches that are currently in production and have been worn. Even with good steels, saphire crystals and the like, the wear of any watch will result in microscratches and what I'd call "invisible wear". It's there, but no one really sees it unless you are looking for it. But it's what separates the NIB from the rest of the used watches.

    When a watch is no longer in production - and by "in production" I mean that particular model, be it the 2007 James Bond Seamaster, but not Seamasters in general - then it doesn't automatically become a vintage.

    Rather, vintage has more the suggestion of "no longer available." This means that the item is no longer easily acquireable. I often point out to people wondering why anyone would want a vintage watch that any fool can go out and buy himself a Rolex. All that takes is money. But finding a watch that is no longer available in ANY retail channel isn't trivial, and takes time and in many cases expertise in finding the good from all the bad.

    So, now that I've taken up your time with this exegisis (pun intended), let's set up a couple of simple rules. They work for eBay, so they work for me...

    Any mechanical watch older than 1970 is automagically vintage. Why 1970? Because that was in many ways the peak of mechanical watch production, after that came the quartz crisis/challenge/flood.

    I'd extend that, though: a vintage watch is any watch, no longer currently made and no longer currently available in the usual retail channels AND that has been so for no less than 10 (ten) years.

    That allows the usual left-over stock to work its way out of the retail channel (otherwise you'd get remainder stock being sold at WalMart as vintage watches!). It is also a long-enough period that people who wear the watch on a daily basis will either have gotten a new one because of wear and tear (more often than not, faced with a $200 repair bill, many will rather spend $400 on a new watch instead, since it avoids any high repair bills for the life-cycle future, all other things being equal), meaning that a vintage watch really will be out of the retail channel entirely, including - and this is important! - the average manufacturer's willingness to service anything, either under warranty or not.

    Once any product has left the manufacturer's realm in the broadest sense then it becomes vintage. There will be no more spare parts manufactured, there are fewer and fewer places to get it repaired, the repair manuals may not even be available any more.

    This is not true for all brands, obviously: Omega is a major exception, and they will make parts for one of their older watches. But this is an exception, and doesn't break the general rule...

    Having a vintage watch worked on becomes a question of watchmaker skill and ability to find parts, instead of a question of simply getting a new module/assembly and swapping it out. If parts aren't available, a good watchmaker will be able to make them (which costs a lot...).

    Hence I'd see a progression from New to Used to Vintage to Old. An Old watch, or an Old Vintage Watch, would be a watch made before the advent of mass watch making, i.e. the period where inexpensive pin lever movements (usually with maybe 1 or even no jewels) made it possible for anyone with a week's wages saved up able to afford a watch (aka "dollar watch"). This would place the date at or around the 1930s.

    Obviously, collectability is a complete different thing. The most collectible watches would be ones worn by important folks when they were doing important things. These are the kind of things that could legitimately be in museums. Imagine what a collector would pay for, say, a Hamilton that could be documented to have belonged to Roosevelt and worn by him when he was in Malta discussing the post-war world with Stalin and Churchill (I have no idea if he even wore a watch then, let alone a Hamilton...). But imagine the price for, say, the Omega personally worn by Schumacher during his final season for Ferrari and used by him to time laps while training (or whatever).

    Next would be NOS with documentation that it had been purchased by a dealer at a certain point in time.

    Next would be NIB with full receipts, guarantee card and packing materials.

    Next would be "like new," rarely worn, with full receipts, filled-out guarantee card and packing materials.

    You lose points (and money) for lacking receipts, guarantee cards, packing materials and the like: any NOS without the full set is probably not NOS, and "like new" without the rest of the stuff will command less from collectors.

    Then you can have whatever sort of ranking system for how used the watch is, from AAA to E- or 10-1 or whatever.

    Now, there are things that can seriously degrade the value of a vintage watch: redialing, for instance. I recently saw a Gruen PanAm, 14k gold case, movement in great shape, but someone redialed it and didn't have a clue as how to do the hours. That made the watch worthless for any serious collector, unless you were going to buy it for parts.

    Vintage watches have usually gone through a lot of wear and tear and show it. All other things being equal, a good patina adds significantly to the value of a vintage watch, especially since you can't manufacture a patina. It has to develop over time, and you can't "make it" look that way. A dirty face, on the other hand, detracts, as it shows that the watch has been neglected.

    So, enough. There are a lot of criteria I haven't even touched upon...

    JohnF
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  3. #3
    Moderator soviet's Avatar
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    Re: At what point does it become vintage?

    Hi, JohnF,

    Many thanks. I think I have learned a lot from you about vintage watches. The patina and redial section is particularly interesting. I don't think there is an exact word for patina in Chinese. There is a word for the old look of antigues, but not watch dials. The dealers usually describe such dials as "naturally old". I find watches with this "naturally old" look very charming.

    Here is such a watch, a vintage Marvin I found recently. The design of hands and hour markers are not found on today's watches. My other Marvin made perhaps in 1970's has a very plain dial, and a 620A movement.

    Cheers,

    Zhang
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  5. #4
    Member Ray MacDonald's Avatar
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    Re: At what point does it become vintage?

    I think JohnF has pretty well documented our position with impeccable logic and clarity. We don't really get snooty in here as far as the definition of vintage goes. If you think it's vintage, and it seems like a common sense conclusion we'll go with it. A 1980s quartz model can certainly be considered vintage as far as I'm concerned.
    My own general rules of thumb for classification (on mechanicals anyway) is this:

    Museum pieces - anything prior to 1860 or so, especially if it's not a jeweled lever movement.

    Early antiques - prior to 1920, mostly pocket watches with enamel dials.

    Antiques - anything from 1920 to World War II - that includes pocket and wrist watches, metal dials, Swiss and American mostly.

    Classic Vintage - from the 1940s to 1970. I agree with JohnF that that is the golden age of watchmaking.

    Post 1970 Vintage - I'd personally go up to about 1980 for mechanicals, (maybe 1990 for quartz) but the exception is the rule here.

    There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson. ~ Victor Hugo

  6. #5

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    Re: At what point does it become vintage?

    Gentlemen, thank you so much for the detailed analyses! I will post a link in the Doxa forum to this thread. To paraphrase from 'My Cousin Vinny', "...that is a lucid, intelligent, well thought out argument..."

    Merci beaucoup!!!

    Paul

  7. #6
    Member diverdown's Avatar
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    Re: At what point does it become vintage?

    This is a very imformative thread. I have a question that perhaps you may be able to answer. I have a pocketwatch from 1910, it was my greatgrandfathers (his initials are inscribed on the watch cover). The watch was assembled by a small jeweler "Henry Kohn and Sons" and contains a CH Meylan movement. I have both the original box and receipt. The watch is still in running order, however I do not like to wind it for fear of it breaking as it most likely has not been serviced since 1910...

    The question I have is should I have it appraised before or after I have it serviced. It has been in my family a long time and I wish to perserve it so that someday my son can enjoy it, but I also am interested in its current value.....

    Thanks
    Stephen
    Doxa Sub 750T Professional 501/5000
    Omega Seamaster Deville (1970)
    Swiss Army - Officers Automatic
    Citizen Aqualand Pro - Quartz
    Tag Heuer 200m Professional - Quartz (Full Lume Dial)
    Vintage Pocket Watch - Circa 1910

  8. #7
    Member JohnF's Avatar
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    Re: At what point does it become vintage?

    Hi -

    We have a sticky at the top of this forum about what your vintage is worth. We obviously can't give you any sort of valuation per se, since that's not our job.

    Considering that it is an heirloom, just get it serviced! That is the most important thing. If you are concerned about the cost, get a second opinion, or find a watchmaker who is a recognized expert in this sort of thing.

    If you are having it appraised for insurance purposes, realize that it's an heirloom that cannot be replaced, and either insure appropriately for $$$$$ or don't insure at all: if you can place a monetary value on what the watch is worth to you, then insure it for that amount. But the value before or after having the watch serviced? Not a trivial question...

    JohnF
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  9. #8
    Member diverdown's Avatar
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    Re: At what point does it become vintage?

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnF View Post
    Hi -

    We have a sticky at the top of this forum about what your vintage is worth. We obviously can't give you any sort of valuation per se, since that's not our job.

    Considering that it is an heirloom, just get it serviced! That is the most important thing. If you are concerned about the cost, get a second opinion, or find a watchmaker who is a recognized expert in this sort of thing.

    If you are having it appraised for insurance purposes, realize that it's an heirloom that cannot be replaced, and either insure appropriately for $$$$$ or don't insure at all: if you can place a monetary value on what the watch is worth to you, then insure it for that amount. But the value before or after having the watch serviced? Not a trivial question...

    JohnF


    John,

    Thanks for the reply. I have just read the sticky, very interesting stuff. I will most likely have the watch serviced (I am in NYC) and that will be that. The one reason I was interested in its value was that the original sale price in 1910 was $190.00, which to me seems like a lot of money for that time period......

    Again, thanks for the reply
    Stephen
    Doxa Sub 750T Professional 501/5000
    Omega Seamaster Deville (1970)
    Swiss Army - Officers Automatic
    Citizen Aqualand Pro - Quartz
    Tag Heuer 200m Professional - Quartz (Full Lume Dial)
    Vintage Pocket Watch - Circa 1910

  10. #9
    Member Ray MacDonald's Avatar
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    Re: At what point does it become vintage?

    This seems to me a perfect candidate for restoration, if parts are available. $190 in 1910 dollars would be around $4100 today so it's for sure a gold watch and the fact that it has known provenance and is a family heirloom makes it all the more valuable to you. Meylan is not too shabby a manufacture either.
    Having said that watches don't always appreciate in value according to the consumer price index, so its price at auction today may vary considerably from $4000. No matter.
    Do NOT run it without service. Probably it hasn't been cleaned and lubed in some time, although I doubt your great-grandfather would have neglected such a fine item. Find a great watchmaker in NYC and put him to work.

    There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson. ~ Victor Hugo

  11. #10
    Member diverdown's Avatar
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    Re: At what point does it become vintage?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray MacDonald View Post
    This seems to me a perfect candidate for restoration, if parts are available. $190 in 1910 dollars would be around $4100 today so it's for sure a gold watch and the fact that it has known provenance and is a family heirloom makes it all the more valuable to you. Meylan is not too shabby a manufacture either.
    Having said that watches don't always appreciate in value according to the consumer price index, so its price at auction today may vary considerably from $4000. No matter.
    Do NOT run it without service. Probably it hasn't been cleaned and lubed in some time, although I doubt your great-grandfather would have neglected such a fine item. Find a great watchmaker in NYC and put him to work.

    Thanks for the advice Ray. I will start looking for a qualified and trustworthy watchmaker.

    Stephen
    Doxa Sub 750T Professional 501/5000
    Omega Seamaster Deville (1970)
    Swiss Army - Officers Automatic
    Citizen Aqualand Pro - Quartz
    Tag Heuer 200m Professional - Quartz (Full Lume Dial)
    Vintage Pocket Watch - Circa 1910

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