Phillips auctioneer Aurel Bacs gives his expert advice on choosing a vintage watch that suits you
Find out what you like
This might sound obvious, but a lot of people worry too much about market trends and not about the watches that create an emotional response for them. It is absolutely okay to like small, rectangular Art Deco watches from the 1920s, and it is equally all right that you like 1970s orange dials. If you always try to buy what is en vogue you are likely to pay a premium, and also in the long term your collection will mean less to you because it doesn’t express your personality.
Better to have one high quality watch than two lesser ones
Quality can be expressed in a number of ways. The make, model and rarity are obviously key, but equally a great deal rests on originality. This means not only the components being original to the watch, but also that they have not been brushed, cleaned or renewed too much. Think of this in terms of food: which would you rather have, one fresh fish or two that have been sitting on the shelf waiting for a buyer?
Don’t be afraid to ask for advice
I learnt at a very early stage that it is impossible to know everything about every watch and every market. I still have advisers and friends who help me to spot things I haven’t noticed upon first inspection, who share their knowledge with me. For me it has never been shameful to ask a friend for advice.
It is far worse – whether you are an auction house, a dealer or a private collector – to find yourself with a watch that isn’t quite what you thought it was.
Always buy from a trusted source
Whether you are buying at an auction, online or from a dealer, the most important thing is that you have confidence in the person or organisation selling you the watch. Someone who has a reputation to maintain has as much interest in making sure you are happy with your purchase as you do.
Vintage doesn’t mean high-maintenance
As long as a vintage watch is treated with care, the maintenance can even be less than for a modern piece. Vintage watches are mostly quite simple, with sturdy constructions, and they often require little attention – other than some love and respect – from their owners.
Be prepared to pay a fair price
It is the most natural thing for every human being to try to get a bargain. However, my 20-plus years in this market have taught me that saving money does not go hand-in-hand with collecting valuable watches. Too many times I myself – and many of my friends and collectors – have made the mistake of offering nine when the price was 10, then the sale didn’t happen. Two years later, and after many moments of regrets and sorrow, there was another opportunity to buy it when it was worth 15, and I tried for a bargain by offering 14… and the sale didn’t go through again. And so it goes on. With a growing population of collectors, high-quality watches are becoming rare and more valuable. Don’t miss out for the sake of a short-term saving.
Go to a source you trust, find out what makes your heart sing and buy the very best that you can afford.