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Everything you need to know about vintage watches before buying one, by Extropian

Gruppo Gamma
Heinrich Watches
Massena Lab
Everything you need to know about vintage watches before buying one, by Extropian

MMI Turret 300M V2

If you're looking for a really unique watch - something with classic style and a sense of history - it might be worth thinking about a vintage watch! Whether you’re interested in actual vintage pieces, or simply modern styles with a retro twist, we’re here to guide you through the basics.

How to search for and buy vintage watches

There’s a huge market out there for vintage watches, driven by a global network of enthusiasts and collectors. If you look for dedicated watch blogs and web forums such as The Watch Forum, Watchuseek, or The Military Watch Resource, and try sites like On The Dash, you’ll find they’re full of useful info on vintage pieces! 

Sites like loveantiques.com and vintagewatchspecialist.com have a huge selection of vintage watches, ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, while something like vintagewatchshop.com specializes in high end brands, mainly Swiss, so their prices are often much higher. Spend a few hours googling and you'll come across lots more! In other words, whether you want a vintage Rolex Submariner or something from an obscure independent brand nobody’s ever heard of, there’s something out there for you. 

Research is essential

Before you even think about making a purchase, it's important to spend as much time as possible gathering information on whatever brands or models interest you. That way you can avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous dealers. Unfortunately there are plenty of them out there… 

At the very least, you should know about a watch’s date of creation, type of movement, condition and original configuration at its release date. It's also a good idea to find out as much as possible about who you’re buying from, to see if they’re a reputable dealer. If you're looking for more expensive items, it may even be worth paying a little over the odds to a dealer with a solid reputation in exchange for guaranteed authenticity.

Old Circula

Always consider the condition

If you’re buying vintage it’s never going to be in mint condition, but let’s face it that’s all part of the charm! 

However, you are going to want your vintage watch to be authentic!  Be sure to check the details and make certain that all the workings are original. Has the dial been replaced? Does it have the correct style of hands and the proper bracelet? Is the lume the right color? These are all questions you’re going to want to ask. And if the answer to any of them is no, then it isn't in its original condition and shouldn’t be listed as such by the dealer. 

Beware of bargains and ‘Frankenwatches’

Another thing to be aware of is the scary sounding ‘Frankenwatch’. These are vintage watches which have been cobbled together from different parts, which could be either fake or from a completely different model, and therefore cannot be considered “authentic” vintage pieces. If they’re clearly labeled as such (and priced accordingly) it’s fine, especially if you just want a nifty-looking old watch but aren't too bothered about its condition. But some dealers will try to sell them as originals, so be careful! 

You’ll find ‘Frankenwatches’ frequently appearing on auction sites such as eBay, with popular models such as Seiko sports watches and Omega Seamasters cropping up especially often. As mentioned before, prices for vintage watches are pretty standardized, so always be suspicious of any unbelievable bargains. You might be investing in a monster!

Vintage quartz watches

We know quartz watches aren’t everyone’s favorite, but it’s worth bearing in mind that vintage models can often be picked up relatively cheaply in comparison to mechanical movements. And because they were produced in such large quantities, there’s a huge range of choice out there. Even luxury brands such as Rolex, Heuer, Patek, Cartier, and Jaeger LeCoultre produced quartz models. They’re never going to be exactly cheap but they’re often more affordable than their mechanical models!  Also, quartz movements have far fewer moving parts to go wrong, so they're more durable in the long-term as well as being cheaper and easier to maintain.

Independent brands

Vintage doesn’t have to mean big name brands. There are plenty of lesser known independent brands that produced high quality watches - and for a fraction of the price of those famous luxury names!  

A brief history of independent brands

The history of the watch industry is peppered with numerous lesser-known brands, many of which produced exceptional timepieces before being forced out of business during the 'Quartz Crisis' of the 1970s and '80s, when the explosion of cheap quartz watches forced a massive sea change in the industry. Some disappeared completely, while others survived in a much diminished form, being taken over by large corporations and reduced to churning out low quality products which were a shadow of their former glory. 

Classic independent brands

Look out for Cortébert, a high-end Swiss firm whose origins stretch back to the 18th Century, producing beautiful watches with a classic, timeless style. It was famous for its highly accurate railway watches, and also produced one of the earliest jumping hour watches in the 1890s! Then there’s Elgin, the largest American watchmaker in the 19th Century which produced millions of timepieces before its demise in 1968. Because of its vast production numbers, Elgin watches can be picked up pretty cheaply on the vintage market. Other names to look out for include Circula, Enicar, Eterna, Mathey-Tissot, Universal Genève, and Gruen. Once again, do a little research and it could open up a whole new world of watch collecting!

Circula Chrono 1970

Circula Chrono 1970s

❤️ At Extropian we do have a thing for 70s styling!

Circula Dress Circle 1960

Circula Dress Circle 1960s

❤️ We love the cool Madmen vibes of this 1960 beauty

Modern independent brands

Luckily the history of independent brands didn't end with the Quartz Crisis. There are some more recent independent names that have also become very collectible. Why not check out F.P Journe? Although it was only established in 1996 it has already won numerous awards and produced several pieces now regarded as icons by collectors. Impressive, huh? Others such as Atelier Akrivia, Philippe Dufour, and Roger W.Smith have also produced some pretty remarkable timepieces, often in very limited quantities, which can reach enormous prices on the collector’s market! These brands are often inspired by classic styles and could be considered a type of ‘modern vintage’.

Retro vintage watches

And it doesn't stop there! The increasing popularity of vintage watches in recent years has inspired several modern brands to create new models based on vintage themes. These range from literal homages to iconic historical models to new creations inspired by the style of a specific era. Let's finish off by taking a quick look at some of these retro-themed timepieces, which offer a great alternative to actual vintage models. If you find the idea of all that research a little daunting, or if you simply want something new and reliable but with a classic style, then they could be just what you're looking for.

Reissues of classic models

Several brands have revived classic watches from the past in the past few years. The Nivada Chronomaster, Airan Type 20, Ollech & Wajs OW C-1000 dive watch, Massena Lab Uni-Racer, and Circula Aquapsort are just a few recent timepieces based on iconic historical models. And there are many more!

Massena Lab Uni-Racer

Strap Silver2copy 3000x

❤️ Here at Extropian we are seriously crushing on this re-issue of a mid century classic

Circula Aquasport II

Aqua Sport I Old&new

❤️ Extropian has a major thing for the sophisticated dial on this diver


New brands

In recent years, several exciting new micro-brands have appeared which are dedicated to producing beautiful watches that draw directly on the past for inspiration. Many of these make use of what is sometimes called ‘Faux patina’, which gives their watches a vintage feel as well as a vintage style. This is based on the simple fact that watches (like most things) can change as they age; their dials fade, for instance, while the old radium lume used on many models before 1970 generally turns an attractive yellowish brown over time. Attractive, yes, but also radioactive! (Even if the old radium used back then in your watch doesn’t glow anymore it’s still going to emit alpha, beta and gamma radiation!)

So watches with faux patina carefully reproduce these 'faded' colors which are found on so many vintage watches, and which collectors have grown to love so much. They also use vintage hour markers and other historical design elements to set themselves apart from modern watches and give them the same kind of warmth and “aged” appeal as original pieces from a bygone age. The advantage of these watches is that they combine the style and feel of vintage models with all the reliability and modern tech of a brand new watch!  

Heinrich Taucher with Old Radium lume on the indices

Capture D’écran 2022 12 21 À 22.25.50

❤️ We simply adore the bold quirky indices on this model

Modern retro!

Other modern brands are simply inspired by the designs of the past, and incorporate items into their products to produce something with more of a retro feel than actual faux vintage. But these guys offer another great alternative if you want to combine the best of both past and present. Something like the Heinrich Taucher has a real 70s vibe, being inspired not just by watch design of that era, but also vintage print media and dive magazines. 

The Zelos Mako V3 makes a feature of its retro 60s design combined with a super-durable scratch-resistant case. The timeless style and classic colors of the Isotope Rider Jumping Hour are inspired by car and boat design from the Streamline Moderne era of the 1930s. And finally, taking things to a whole other level, the rugged look of the MMI Turret 300M dive watch was inspired by the design and technology of 19th Century US naval warships. Now that is retro!

Zelos Mako V3 Vintage Black

Black2021 07 14 Zelos Mako Titanium V3 Mr 900x

❤️ At Extropian we’d be proud to have this bold beauty on our wrists

Isotope Old Radium Bronze

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❤️ Oh that gorgeous combination of green and bronze! Extropian wants one now!

MMI Turret 300M V2

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❤️ At Extropian we love the unique placing of the bezel on this diver

Dryden Chrono Diver Series 1


❤️That seriously imposing dial is hitting all the right buttons for us

Gruppo Gamma Piecemaker


❤️ It’s the minimalist beauty of this model that has Extropian seduced



When it comes to vintage, or vintage style wristwatches, there’s definitely something out there for everyone! It pays to do a little more research than usual when buying this type of watch but, hey, that's all part of the fun, right?

A little extra : the vintage connection - from history to heritage

The allure of vintage watches is not just about the mechanical wonder they represent or their aesthetic appeal. It is also about the profound connection to history they offer. Every vintage timepiece tells a story, a silent testament to the era from which it hails and the hands through which it has passed.

The 20th century, for instance, witnessed several landmark events, from world wars to moon landings. Watches from this era are not just timekeeping devices; they encapsulate moments in history. Consider a military watch from the 1940s. Beyond its primary function, it might have counted down moments in a trench, ticking away as pivotal battles reshaped nations. Or think about a 1960s timepiece, possibly adorning the wrist of someone witnessing man's first steps on the moon. The historical connection deepens the intrigue of vintage watches.

Yet, the value of a vintage watch doesn’t stem only from monumental events. Personal stories often weave a richer tapestry of memories. A wristwatch passed down through generations becomes a family heirloom, chronicling birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and other milestones. These watches serve as tactile memories, linking generations and preserving family lore.

Acquiring a vintage watch can be akin to inheriting a piece of history, both global and personal. While a modern watch might impress with its cutting-edge technology or design, a vintage piece evokes emotions, conversations, and a sense of heritage. It’s this emotional quotient that often drives collectors, making them treasure hunters of time. They seek not just the watch but the chronicle it represents.

Another fascinating aspect of vintage watches is their craftsmanship. Today, while technology aids watch production, vintage pieces hark back to an age when each component was meticulously crafted by hand. The intricate detailing, often seen in older watches, reflects the pinnacle of human ingenuity of the time. It’s a tribute to the master craftsmen of yesteryears, their skills, patience, and dedication. Owning such a piece is akin to possessing an artwork, with the artist’s essence embedded in it.

The contemporary trend towards sustainability also adds to the vintage appeal. In a world increasingly conscious of consumption and waste, vintage watches are symbols of sustainable luxury. They negate the need for new resources, promoting reuse and honoring longevity.

To the uninitiated, a vintage watch might simply appear as an artifact from the past. But to the discerning eye, it's a bridge connecting eras, a storyteller, and an emblem of artistry and sustainability. As the modern world races forward, these timepieces serve as poignant reminders of where we’ve been, guiding us in where we’re headed. The next time you admire a vintage watch, remember: it's not just about reading the time, but also about valuing the times gone by.

Cover image : circulawatches.com

Created the 2022-12-21

Modified the 2024-03-08

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