Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Vintage Watch

Obsessed with vintage watches? Us to. But how can you tell a real one from a fake—and what’s up with self-winding? What does that even mean? Before throwing down on a vintage timepiece, you better do your homework. To help we enlisted Ken Jacobs, owner of Wanna Buy A Watch—an LA institution that has specialized in vintage watches for more than 30 years—to shed light on all the questions that arise when shopping for one. Here, everything you need to know—and a whole lot of eye candy!

Your Guide To Buying A Vintage Timepiece

Selection of vintage Rolexes from Wanna Buy A Watch.

What Year Marks A Vintage Watch?

“Vintage watches generally refer to those produced prior to 1980. They have a different aesthetic to more contemporary watches and are sought after for their retro styling, nostalgia and unique character.”

Is A Vintage Watch Generally Water Resistant?

“Like vintage cars, you should have realistic expectations of a watch’s performance. In general, a vintage watch is not going to be water resistant—so don't head to the beach or the pool with your watch on. What happens if you do happen to go in the pool with your watch on? That will be a $500 repair, if we can even fix it.”

Do Vintage Watches Run On Batteries?

“Vintage watches have mechanical movements—they do not run on batteries. Also, they have either a manual wind (which you wind daily) or are self-winding (which uses the motion of your wrist). They will not keep the same accuracy of time as your iPhone and, like a vintage car, they require more care and will have higher maintenance costs over time than a brand-new watch.”

Does The Face Of A Vintage Watch Scratch More Easily?

“Watches made after 1980 usually have a synthetic sapphire crystal face and are generally considered scratch resistant. Most collectible vintage watches that are pre-1980 have acrylic crystals, which can scratch more easily. Although more delicate, these light surface scratches can be polished out by your local watch dealer or repair person.”

Photo: Wanna Buy A Watch

How Can You Tell A Counterfeit From The Real Thing?

“In the case of a Rolex, fakes have quartz movements (meaning they are battery operated), and the second hand moves with an abrupt motion, unlike the self-winding genuine Rolex where the movement of the second hand is smooth and continuous. Today the fake watch industry is very advanced and produces a much higher quality of replica watches, which can make it challenging to distinguish them from the real McCoy. Just because a watch looks like the real thing, it doesn’t mean it is. The most definitive test is to have a watchmaker open the case and examine the movement. A Swiss watch won’t have pieces marked China or Japan—all the parts should be from Switzerland if it's real.”

Photo: Wanna Buy A Watch

What Factors Affect The Price?

“Brand, model, condition and demand affect the price. It is generally not age or the gold content or even rarity that determines the value. Ultimately, it is demand that determines the value of vintage watches. Certain brands carry a greater cachet than others, and different models are more sought after than others. With Rolex, it has traditionally been the Submariner or—at a much higher entry level—the Daytona chronograph. Lately the GMT has jettisoned in popularity with its colorful, so-called Pepsi Bezel.”

Clockwise from top left: Stainless Steel Rolex Daytona, Stainless Steel & Gold Rolex Submariner Circa 2000, Gold Rolex Submariner Circa 1985, Rolex Stainless Steel "Pepsi bezel" GMT circa 1960, all from Wanna Buy A Watch