Automatic watches: buy new or buy vintage?

by Andrew W on February 10 2011 · 1 comment

in Uncategorized

One of the more expensive – if not the most expensive – accessories that a man is likely to buy during his lifetime is a good watch. Although in this day and age it’s possible to get a perfectly decent quartz watch that keeps good time for a hundred pounds, there’s something about an automatic watch that still appeals. I think that it has a lot to do with mechanics. The sheer amount of gears, cogs and other gubbins in automatic watches fascinate men in ways that simple, efficient quartz watches can’t.

Despite the austere economic climate, brand-new automatic watch sales have been steadily rising. This can to some extent be attributed to newly-minted individuals in rapidly developing countries wanting to show off their wealth. It could also be that more people appreciate the craftsmanship and time that goes into making good automatic watches. Personally, I only became interested in automatic watches a little over a year ago, and it took me a long time to decide which make I should buy, and then I wasn’t sure whether to buy new or second-hand. In the end I opted for a new one. There were two main reasons why I decided to do this: new watches are under warranty for at least a couple of years, so if anything happens I can send it in for a free repair; and it will always be my watch, which is good to know – in ten years’ time I’ll still know exactly where it’s been, what repairs its had done to it and the reason behind any little idiosyncrasies it might have developed.

One of the downsides of buying new automatic watches is, of course, that they are generally a lot more expensive than second-hand ones. Another is lack of character. Automatic watches made in the sixties seem to me to look so much… well… cooler than their modern counterparts. The two Omegas pictured above are both Seamasters, but the 1960s one on the right looks far more elegant than its modern namesake.

If you’re going to buy a second-hand watch you need to be aware of the dangers involved. A stunning-looking watch that on the surface looks like a genuine vintage piece might have had its delicate innards replaced with a mish-mash of cheap Chinese-made parts. The best way to avoid this is to go through a reputable dealer, or have someone close at hand who knows these things to check out a watch that you’re interested in buying. I learned to do these things the hard way when I recently bought my first-second hand Omega from an antiques shop in York. It worked perfectly for the first week or so, then things started to go wrong: the minute and hour hands got stuck whenever they reached 10.10pm, and refused to move until I manually rolled the date forwards. Then it slowly began to lose time. At first it was just a few seconds a day, then over the course of a week it became minutes, and finally hours.

Of course by the time all this had happened I was several thousands miles away in Tokyo, so taking it back to the shop isn’t really an option (and it wasn’t guaranteed anyway). I have a feeling that fixing it will be an expensive business. If anyone knows a good – and reasonably priced – Omega watch repairer in Japan, do drop me a line!

UPDATE:

Post image for The Seamaster returns

Well, I finally found a decent watch repairer in the Maruzen bookshop in Marunouchi. They gave it a thorough going over and I was finally able to collect it yesterday.

It now keeps very good time indeed. I’m pleased with the results. It looks like they gave the case a thorough polishing. I also bought a cordovan strap as it looks a little less dressy than its original black one.

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