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Buying a vintage watch

So you made the mistake of walking into a vintage watch shop. While you have my deepest sympathy, you also have my empathy and understanding of the emotions that are going through your head.

You are curious, bewildered, facinated and spoilt for choice all at once. You glance through the offerings through the glass and wonder which you can ask the owner to take out onto the viewing tray.

Vintage King Seikos - Cal. 44, 45 and 56

What new experience awaits your wrist, you wonder. The dress watch. The chronograph. The diver. The pilot. The novel. The heritage piece. The old, and the new (old stock).

What have you gotten yourself into?

And should you choose to part with your money, what are some of the considerations you will want to take?

As one who parts with his money all too often, I will attempt to share my experience.

Now I am no expert, and I do not claim to be. What you'll be reading is the cautionary tale of an average-Joe who just loves vintage watchs.

1. I will put it on my wrist

Despite how good the watch looks on the shelves, it should look even better on my wrist. Most vintages come with used straps, so I will have a quick think on what other strap / bracelet I would like to see the watch in. Find a mirror.

And what about the weight? One of the facinating things about mechanical watches is that it's usually heavier than its quartz counterparts. I do enjoy the slight heft on my wrist that comes with a well-made mechanical piece.

2. I will ask to wind the watch

If you've read my article on vintages watches, you'd know that they're not exactly in the best working condition. To avoid the heartache of taking a watch home only to have them not work on me, I will wind the watch.

Some of the things I will look out for is the smoothness of the crown. Does it turn consistently? Does it feel loose? Does it even work?

For automatics I like to turn it around like how you sample wine. The rotor should spin around without much effort, and you should be able to feel the weight shift around as you wind it with your wrist movement.

I will also give the watch a few minutes to see i f there are any serious timekeeping or gear train issues.

3. I will listen to the movement

Like how a doctor listens to your breathing, I will place the movement to my ear and listen to it tick away. As you would already know, the ticking sound of a mechanical watch is produced as a result of the rubies on the pellet fork entering and exiting each impuse of the escapement wheel.

The gear train and a level escapement comprising an escapement wheel, and a pellet fork. The balance wheel is missing from the picture.

While finding total pleasure in listening to the heartbeat of a mechanical timepiece, I also listen out for odd sounds that might tell you that the escapement might be a little worn or misaligned. I think the ticking should be a solid and loud series of successive whisks. There are some movements that I own that are less sharp than I would like. They tend to be less accurate.

4. I will test the functions

A good watch must first and foremost work. While vintage watches carry the risk of less-than-optimal functions, they should nevertheless work for me to want to take it home. For the next step, I will usually test out the functions of the watch.

Day/Date: I will advance time by 24 hours to see if the day/date changes.

Divers: the bezel should turn either bi-directionally or uni-directionally.

Chronographs: the registers should work, and the hands should reset well; the pushers should also have a solid feel. I usually let the chronograph run for a few minutes (5 is optimal) to see if the minute registers are fine.

Alarms: I have a preference for mechanical alarm watches, so I will pay particular attention to the winding and the accuracy of the alarm. If it's not sounding whenm you want it to, it probably means the last guy placed the hands back wrongly.

Moonphases: vintage pieces are usually adjusted via pushers along the case. I will ask if it's ok to push them and see if they will advance a few days. Also, advancing the time will move the moonphase display.

5. I will imagine how I will feel about the watch a month later (put the watch down)

This is an important step for me, and for anyone whose prone to impulse buys. There are times when I have to take a step back and imagine how I would feel about the purchase a day, a week or a month from now.

With practice, I'm able to manifest the emotions that I will likely feel about the watch. If I see myself getting tired of the watch (for many various reasons), I will force myself to put the watch back.

6. I will check the price of the watch online

While visualizing the emotional attachment I will likely have to the watch, I will also have a check on Chrono24 or eBay on the price of the watch, just so I don't get knocked off for a cheap profit.

This is also a time where I check on the various references for the watch. Sometimes I find a variation that's more worth waiting for.

7. I will re-examine the watch

Now that I've had time to have a quick time and also to check on the price, I will go back to the watch and look at it closely. Each time you look at a watch you will rediscover bits and corners about it that can either charm or disgust you.

To some, the blemishes on the dial of this Seiko 6102 is unacceptable. It'll irk them and keep telling them that they made the wrong decision.

I take my time here. I use a loupe. I examine whether those are stains that can be washed off or those that I have to stick with for the rest of the watch's lifespan. Some nice shops even let you take a look at the movement.

And if all checks out, it's time to make an offer. It's time to take the baby home. But in the event of an unrelenting vendor...

8. I will not be afraid to say no

Yeah, just keep telling yourself that.

©.2023. Reproduce with permission. Further enquiries at

Best viewed on desktop, because you should really take your time with vintage.

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