Though the form still flourishes today, what we now consider vintage “tool” watches were produced from the 1950s to 1970s—their inherent artistry, engineering, and layout led to use at great depths, heights, pressure, speed—all manner of expedition or adventure.
When assessing today’s buyers’ views on vintage “tool” watches, whether a Rolex “James Bond” reference 5508, Zodiac Stainless Steel “Sea Wolf” Reference 722-946B, or a Rolex GMT Master II Reference 16710, never mind the myriad other makers and references that exist, it is interesting to note two sides to the value coin: patina vs. “New Old Stock” condition.
Would you choose a piece with a nice mellowed “patina” to the dial—evidence of the life it lived—or would you rather have an NOS example, engineered decades earlier that looks like it just arrived at the authorized dealer unmarred by use (ideally with the box and papers, possibly even acquired from the original owner)?
I am of course not advocating purchasing watches that were abused or neglected, or having incorrect or erroneously replaced parts, a “Franken” watch as they are sometimes called. I am referring to watches that reflect their use and still continue to keep you on time and let you know how many minutes are left before the decompression sickness sets in. We all remember the Timex ad “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking”—for tool watches those words could not be truer.
How much desirability comes from the history that you’ve learned from the previous owner about the actual stories the watch could tell? Perhaps that is another topic for another day…
Luckily the market provides exceptional watches from both sides —perhaps you can have it all!