Vintage Watch Collection

Collecting Vintage Watches : An Accidental Passion

by Swami Nathan

An accidental passion! Yes I did start collecting vintage timepieces by accident. On a trip to Madrid, Spain in 2009, I walked into a pen show over the weekend, and spotted a Longines 12.68z time only watch that I tried on but just could not walk away from it. It was €150, and at that time and  I was oblivious to whether this was an expensive or a good buy, but I bought it. Well, it stopped working almost immediately and I had to take it to a service center in Madrid, fix it, wear it for a bit longer and then back to the repair store again. It was not a very good beginning, but I was hooked to vintage watches and the stories that they come with. 

Vintage Watch Collection
My first Longines

As someone who collects mostly vintage watches, let me to take you on my journey both in India & globally. My focus here is on affordability and most of the watches featured here are below $1,000 and in all cases, below $5,000. 

One useful thing to learn while stepping into the world of vintage watches is to write to the watch brands (Maisons) to ask for an “Extract from the archives”. The extract gives you an idea of when the watch was manufactured, when it was sold and the original configuration of the watch. In the absence of a “Full-set” – a vintage watch with box, papers, service papers, tags etc, an “Extract from the archives” serves as an important document and usually increases the value of the watch that comes along with it. To obtain one, you must write to the brands directly, enclose high quality photographs of the front & back of the watch, the movement and the inside back cover and wait for anywhere between 2-8 weeks for the extract. 

Vintage Watch Collection
Tissot Camping Box & Certificate Of Authenticity

A Certificate of Authenticity is even better, but this usually involves sending the watch over to Switzerland and only after a detailed examination of the watch, is it issued. The cost for various Swiss brands are as follows: 

Maison

Extract from the Archives

Certificate of Authenticity

Patek Philippe

CHF 500

NA

Audemars Piguet

CHF 500

CHF 1500

Vacheron Constantin

USD 188

USD 1065 (approx CHF 1000)

Breguet

Free (via email)

EUR 642

Ulysse Nardin

Free (via email)

NA

Jaeger Lecoultre

CHF 260

NA

Omega

CHF 120

NA

Longines

Free (via email & a laminated extract is sent via mail)

CHF 120

Zenith

CHF 150

CHF 400

A Maison will not issue an extract from the archives if the watch is clearly a Frankenwatch. While it is not a proof of authenticity, if you are unable to obtain an extract that is enough to alert you that something is wrong with the watch. 

Here are a few of my vintage watches and their stories: 

Longines 12.68z Calatrava in Steel 

I was always curious about the very first vintage watch I got from the pen show in Madrid in 2009. This year, I wrote to Longines and got this wonderful extract from the archives for free. The watch was invoiced to Ostersetzer, Longines’ agent in Italy on 19 May 1943 and the extract identifies further details about the movement. The original strap fell apart and it has been fitted with an Ostrich leather strap from Ajwain, India. 

Vintage Watch Collection
Longines 12.68z Calatrava in Steel

Jaeger-LeCoultre Triple Date in Steel 

The Banque Cantonale Vaudoise is the principal Swiss bank in the Canton of Vaud and is headquartered at Lausanne. The bank celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1945, gifting its long-term employees and shareholders this Jaeger Lecoultre Triple Date in a 36mm steel case with an inscription on the back that reads “Banque Cantonale Vaudoise 1845-1945”. The book is a history of the bank for its first 100 years and was gifted with the watch.

Vintage Watch Collection
Jaeger LeCoultre Triple Date

Patek Philippe Tortoise Case No. 7 in 18k gold

Patek Philippe Ladies 18k Gold with a Tortoise Case with an extract signed by Thierry Stern in 2019. While the watch is a 1929 vintage, it was sold only in 1937. As Patek made these cases through the 20s to the 40s, it is useful and imperative to have the extract that can distinguish it from other Tortoise case watches. 

Vintage Watch Collection
Patek Philippe Tortoise Case No. 7
Vintage Watch Collection
Patek Philippe Extract from the archives

Ulysse Nardin Jumbo Calatrava in 37mm in steel

This watch came to me via a dealer in Miami after I had lost it in an Auctionata auction in 2015 (Shows that if a watch is meant for you, it eventually comes to you). The Ulysse Nardin historian dated the watch back to 1947 and said that it had a Peseux 11.5” movement. 

Vintage Watch Collection
Ulysse Nardin Jumbo Calatrava

Tissot Camping with box and papers from 1955

This watch was recommended by Eric Wind when he was writing “Bring a Loupe” on Hodinkee. The recommended watch was in London and I had the advantage of being in the right time zone, and I immediately bought it. So did around ten others. The website was not set up to handle the Hodinkee rush, but the person running the website – Birth Year Watches was kind enough to let me have it as I was the first of many buyers. It is still with me and works perfectly. 

Vintage Watch Collection
Tissot Camping

Favre Leuba Gold Plated from 1970’s

A Favre Leuba gold plated Automatic with box & papers from the 1970s! Usually I ignore whatever chrono24 sends me, but this was interesting. I managed to use my rusty Spanish and buy it from Galicia, Spain. Unfortunately, the Guarantee papers seem to have got lost in transit, but the watch is likely from 1974 and is in perfect condition. 

Vintage Watch Collection
Favre Leuba Gold Plated from 1970’s

Gruen Precision from 1960s

This is a Gruen Precision from the early 60s. The watch came complete with an outer box, inner box, brochure and a price tag showing $59.50. It was probably a display piece at a Jeweler’s window for many years, so it came in a very dusty condition. The Gruen Precision 510 was the first Bond watch that Sean Connery wears in the first scenes of Dr. No, later switching to a Rolex Submariner 6538.

Vintage Watch Collection
Gruen Precision

Benrus from Christmas 1959

The Benrus was a Christmas gift in 1959 and was repaired in Sears in 1971 and was worn by an engineer at Caltech until he passed away in 2004 at the age of 93. That he kept it with the box and papers and it is in this condition is remarkable, as well as the fact that I somehow found it this year

Vintage Watch Collection
Benrus

Felca Calendrier from the 1950’s

Found a Felca Calendrier on ebay along with its repair invoice from Markt & Co in London from 1959. The crystal had too many scratches, so that was replaced, along with the strap.

Vintage Watch Collection
Felca Calendrier with the repair invoice

Zenith 126-6 in pink gold from the 1950s:

An oversized Zenith Calatrava in a 38mm rose gold case with faceted golden markers and a sub-seconds dial. 

The watch is from the 1950s with Caliber 126.6 and the rose gold case is made by Charles Dubois S.A., the maître who realized many rose gold cases for Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. How does one know Charles Dubois S.A. made the case? The inside caseback says 170 – that indicates Charles Dubois S.A.. I have written to Zenith and hope to receive a mail from them with the Digital Extract from the Archives for this watch.

Vintage Watch Collection
Zenith 126-6
Vintage Watch Collection
Zenith 126-6 Inside Caseback

 For someone starting on a journey of buying vintage watches, look everywhere – auctions, ebay, chrono24, facebook forums, instagram. Three of these watches- The Gruen, Benrus and Felca cost less than $50 each and came from ebay. The Zenith 126-6 came from Instagram and was 10% of the price of my modern Calatrava from Vacheron in pink gold. Take reasonable risks, and don’t be disheartened by failures. If you buy something from ebay for less than $50, expect it to be a dud, so you are delighted when it is the real thing. If you get a watch at a price that is too good to be true, it probably is – do check against a database of stolen watches like The Watch Register. Try and get an Extract from the archives – companies like Longines do it as a free service. Above all, find a good watch repairer/restorer you can trust – many of these watches need a visit to the watch spa. And wear them in good health! 

About Swami Nathan: An avid watch collector from the Caribbean who works in finance, Swami, has been following vintage watches and the watch market for nearly 15 years now and is always interested to connect with fellow watch collectors and enthusiasts.

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