For most people,
wearing a watch long ago stopped being about knowing what time it is. We have smartphones for that now.
So a watch is really a piece of jewelry, and as such the watch we wear is all about making a statement about your personality. With that in mind, and a scene from a less than brilliant Nicolas Cage movie, buying a brand spanking new expensive watch only really says that you have money. If you buy an expensive, rare, classic, vintage watch... you are a connaisseur.
You can drive up in a Ferrari 458 in front of the Casino de Monte-Carlo and nobody will bat an eyelid. Well, maybe a few tourists and their pocket cameras. In any case you’d be parking your pride and joy next to 3 or 4 other 458’s. Hopefully not the same colour as yours — if you chose red, you’re probably out of luck.
On the other hand, if you did the same with a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO... you’d be a god among men, and champagne would rain down from the heavens. To be fair, a 250 GTO goes for quite a bit more money these days than any new car Ferrari sells. Even though you can probably go around a racetrack faster in a 2013 Mercedes A-class AMG than you would in the GTO.
So what would be the 250 GTO of the watch industry? Well, we’re not going to get a single answer to that question, but the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona «Paul Newman» from 1963 would be a good option. Apparently ’63 was a good year for a lot of things. This iconic watch is nicknamed after the late great actor, though nobody quite knows exactly how the nickname started. Like the vintage Ferrari, it’s not cheap... one of these watches accompanied with its original documents will go for 50 to 100 thousand dollars. If it makes you feel any better, it’ll probably be worth a lot more than that if you keep it for another 50 years. Rolex actually introduced a new version this year, to mark the watches’ 50 year anniversary. But it’s still the 50-year old watch everyone wants.
From the earth to the moon, you can’t ignore the Omega Speedmaster. One of my all time favourite watches, and you can’t argue with the fact that it did, in fact, go to the moon. So what would be the coolest model of the watch? Correct, the model from the same year and with the exact same mechanism as the watches that went to the moon. Calibre 321. I don’t recommend that you use this fact to impress women, however. Somehow they just don’t appreciate these things. Quite a lot of these watches were made, so they’re not that expensive. Around 5000$ will get you a model in decent condition. It’s not the rarest or most expensive Omega watch, but if you’re going to wear a «moonwatch» you need to get the details right.
One rule of vintage watches seems to be «things were better how they used to be» so it’s no surprise that watch fans are looking for Heuer watches, from the time before they became TAG Heuer. My favourite watch from this period would be the Autavia. Particularly rare models like these with a bezel for divers. Regular Autavia prices are also in the 5000$ range.
Finally there’s the 1960 IWC aquatimer. This is quite a rare watch, but it is clearly the predecessor for the current Aquatimer lineup. Prices of the vintage models are about the same what you pay for a brand new one, which is still a bargain. Much as I like the new IWC’s, there is something about the old watches where they still wrote International Watch Co in beautiful letters across the dial.
We buy mechanical watches because we appreciate the astonishing precision of engineering that goes into them. Anyone can make a 5$ watch that runs on batteries now. So to wear a watch that still uses the same mechanical principles as first engineered by the grand masters of centuries ago just feels...nicer. In the same way that we don’t look at a newly built statue the same way we look at Michaelangelo’s David. You could say that a watch which wrong by half a minute per day is inaccurate. Or you could say that the person who put it together with his hands managed to make it 99,97% accurate. If you look at the glass as half full, a vintage watch is one of the best investments you can wear on your arm.