To own a great watch, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg, but you can. Actually, watches that cost an arm and a leg are cool just because they cost a truckload of money. They are often rare and from prestigious brands, and even a glance from them will make your golf partner miss his putt, green from envy. We don’t need these kind of watches, but sometimes we simply want to. Unfortunately these watches don’t come cheap, but there is a solution! What is even more classy then owning a premium watch from a current collection? Of course, a vintage one! Often more difficult to find, and therefore harder to obtain for the people around you. Another great thing about vintage watches is that some have somehow slipped through the cracks. The majority of the watch community has forgotten, or is not even aware of their existence. That means that great watches from well known brands can be found for more modest prices than perhaps their better known siblings. This is often a very temporary state, a delicate equilibrium between market and demand that can easily be turned upside-down in a matter of no time at all. Some of you might still recall the Mare Nostrum, a fine, manual wind chronograph made by Panerai around the time they where taken over by the Vendome-group (now Richemont). For a while, you could pick one up for a song, but right now your name needs to be Pharrell Williams to still get that watch for a song.
I’m not saying that all the mentioned watches will increase sharply in price within the upcoming years, allowing you to retire early and buy a mansion in Malibu, but at the very least they will offer you years of enjoyment and put a smile on your face every time you look at it, knowing that you bought a lot of bang for a modest amount of bucks!
Universal Geneve Polerouter
When you are often around people who wear a Patek Philippe Nautilus, or a Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, it is hard to come with a watch that stands a chance against these legends in watchmaking, especially on a budget. But there is way to take them some wind out of the sails, and that is when you show up with a Universal Geneve Polerouter. They might wear the most famous Gerald Genta-designs, but you will be wearing the first Gerald Genta design ever used to make a watch from! Eat that!
Although the watch was first introduced in 1954 as Polarouter, it was re-issued in 1955 as Polerouter, created especially for Scandinavian Airlines who where the first to fly over the North Pole to North America, and needed a reliable watch who could handle the magnetic fields at the top of the world. Even when it comes to the movement, you can hold your ground – inside most Polerouters ticks Universal Geneve’s caliber 215. Manufactured, of course, but also a micro-rotor movement for the added, although hidden, appeal.
Did Rolex made a quartz? Yes they did, but not with great success. This had by the way very little to do with the watch itself, but more with the market conditions. Rolex participated in the Beta 21 project and used the movement in the Quartz Date 5100. Apparently not satisfied with the Beta 21 movement, Rolex went on a quest to create a quartz-movement on their own. This one was introduced in 1977, in a DateJust and DayDate. The watch itself was very progressive, especially for a Rolex. The finish of the movement was even better than on its mechanical counterparts as it was better shielded from the effects of magnetic field than the Milgauss, and the OysterQuartz was fitted with a sapphire crystal years before the first mechanical Rolex were fitted with those. And then, there is the integrated bracelet with solid links, arguably amongst the best and most robust Rolex made in its history.
The OysterQuartz lasted more than 25 years in the Rolex collection, but estimated total sales over all these years, of all the different models combined, was only 25.000. In Rolex-universe that is nearly nothing. Reason for this was most likely the fact that cheap quartz movements enabled a wide-scale production of Rolex-fake. The easiest way to see the difference between a real and a fake Rolex was to pay attention to the seconds hand. That made the OysterQuartz a bit too much of an understatement and one you can use for your advantage, because their prices are still modest in comparison to other vintage Rolex.
If German watches are your thing, especially the more classic ones, you are out of luck. Perhaps Nomos or Sinn can entice you with a few of their more classic pieces, but otherwise you will have to go to Glashütte Original or Lange & Söhne, which is a sheer pleasure of course, but a costly one. But there might be a way to keep at least some money in your pocket and that is to go for a watch of Glashütte Original’s little sibling: Union. Yes, in today’s collection of Union you will find a nice collection of watches with ETA-based movements, but I am referring to the Union watches from a couple of years ago.
In those days, Union was making its own manufactured calibers for their watches. Fine movements crafted in the tradition of Glashütte. Yet with the growing success of Glashütte Original, their production capacity needed to be increased which resulted in a repositioning of the Union brand. Union was never a very large brand so when you are able to find one, you can enjoy a watch as exclusive as a Lange & Söhne, yet for a more modest price.
With first Jean-Claude Biver at the helm and now, already for quite some years, Marc Hayek, Blancpain has grown to be a force not to reckon with. Being in a list about premium vintage on a dime might be surprising, especially since for example the vintage FiftyFathoms and Bathyscaphe suffered the same faith as the Panerai Mare Nostrum, and increased in value at an astonishing rate. But there is the Villeret, one of the first collections Biver introduced to the world when he brought the brand back to life. A classical, round watch, with its signature stepped bezel and opaline dial. A classical beauty powered by Frederic Piguet-movements. No, don’t immediately say that you want a manufacture movement! Biver didn’t resurrect Blancpain all by himself, but joined forces with Jacques Piguet. Blancpain has operated from the same farmhouse-turned-manufacture as where Frederic Piguet housed ever since. In 2010, the Swatch Group, which owns both brands, finally brought them together in name as Manufacture Blancpain, but basically that was the only difference between calling them a manufacture or not.
Most of the early watches from the Villeret collection were between 32mm and 34mm in diameter whereas we are talking 1980’s and 1990’s here. A very beautiful, classic size that looks great on the wrist of many. However, quite a few men all of a sudden start to question their manhood when they strap on a watch of this size. Let their lack of confidence be your inspiration to get one of these classical beauties. You might even get lucky and find a full calendar for a price they shouldn’t be sold for.
Eclectic taste in Haute Horlogerie, passion for diamond set watches, loves the classics