If you’ve been following recent watch exhibitions and salons you’ve probably noticed that every year it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a beautiful dress watch for a decent price. The Patek Philippe Calatrava is priced around €20,000, the Rolex Cellini costs around €13,000, and the Omega De Ville Trésor will set you back close to €10,000. There is the option to settle for a more affordable watch, such as a Frederique Constant, Omega De Ville Prestige, or Longines. Many of these dress watches are available here on Chrono24.
However, have you ever considered purchasing a vintage dress watch as an alternative? You could own the aforementioned Patek Philippe Calatrava for just under €10,000, and if you are satisfied with a diameter below 35mm, you should be able to find something for half that price. Though it’s debatable whether €5,000 (or €10,000) is really affordable, so let’s take a look at an interesting alternative for the price of – let’s say – a new Longines dress watch.
Have you ever considered a vintage Girard-Perregaux? For just below €1,000, you can find a beautiful vintage 18-carat gold 1950’s Girard-Perregaux dress watch from La Chaux-de-Fonds. For a few hundred Euros less, you can find a 14-carat gold Doxa dress watch. What about a stainless steel Longines 30L, or a nice 1950’s Zenith? Each of these watches is relatively uncommon. Therefore, they often have attractive prices.
Let’s not forget about Seiko. Their vintage Grand Seiko, King Seiko, and Lord Marvel watches are a true bang for your buck. The supply of these watches on Chrono24 is relatively low, so you might want to check out Japanese eBay as well. Keep in mind that a vintage Grand Seiko in very good condition may stretch your budget a bit over €1,000, but they are amazingly finished pieces.
Perhaps you want something that is more known and sought after, such as an Omega Constellation from the 1950s or 1960s, or an IWC Caliber 89. You should still be able to find one in good condition for around €1,000. The Constellation was Omega’s flagship in their early days and the vintage editions have nice finishes and elegant-shaped cases. Their in-house copper-coloured movements are very good performers and should run problem-free for years to come. The Seamaster and Seamaster De Ville watches are also good alternatives. The Seamaster Calendar watches, which feature the date at 6 o’clock, are especially beautiful.
Likewise, IWC‘s caliber 89 wristwatches are elegant pieces with hand-wound in-house movements. Though their gold models are becoming more expensive, you should be able to find a decent model in stainless steel. Similar to the Omegas mentioned above, these IWC caliber 89 models were in production for several decades. This longevity offers a range of case shapes and dial designs.
Chrono24 allows you to search specifically for pre-owned watches. In the results page, there is the option to play around with the filter pane on the left, setting criteria such as your price range, preferred brand names, condition, and year.
A few things to consider when you are searching for affordable vintage dress watches:
1. Condition of the watch
The most important consideration is whether the watch is in good technical condition. You want to avoid taking the route to expensive repairs and lengthy waiting time for parts. If you pick a brand like IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines, or Omega, you should be fine regarding availability of parts and whether it is reparable or not (with some exceptions of course). However, be sure to investigate this upfront. Choosing a brand that is long discontinued for example, can make things tricky.
It is also important to determine whether all of the parts are original and time correct. Parts such as the (plexi) crystal and crown might have been replaced during previous services, but you can at least make sure they have been replaced by original parts.
Will you get a warranty from the seller? Most dealers or professional sellers are able to provide a 6 month warranty on the watch you purchase. The warranty often stops at the door with private sellers. In this case it is important to be absolutely sure the watch is in working condition before you buy it.
3. Include a service in your budget
If your total budget is €1,000, it is better to go for a €800 watch and include a €200 service, than to buy a €1,000 Euro watch and have no money left for a service or repair. This is the case only if the watch doesn’t come with a proper warranty (see 2) or hasn’t already been serviced. Ask for concrete proof of service, don’t settle for nonsense such as “I’ve lost the invoice.”
4. Size, Size, Size
Fifty to sixty years ago, watches were slightly smaller in size. Dress watches don’t need to be large of course; they should be sophisticated and elegant. Even if you have large wrists, you might get away with 34mm – 36mm. Make sure to try these different sizes before you buy. Also, the case design and lug shape can make a significant difference between a 34mm IWC and a 34mm Doxa, for example. Don’t stare solely at the case size, look at the shape and proportions of the lugs as well.
5. Straps and buckles
In most cases you can forget about boxes and papers. It was quite uncommon back in the day to keep either. Perhaps they might be included with a Patek Philippe Calatrava or a Vacheron Constantin, but otherwise you shouldn’t think about it. Make sure to put your watch on a decent strap and buckle, preferable an original branded buckle. The strap isn’t the place to go cheap, it can make or break an elegant vintage dress watch.