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The Value of Standing (or Avoiding) the Test of Time

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.

Single-owner Unserviced Rolex Reference 5508
“James Bond” Wristwatch, sold for: $53,125
Zodiac Stainless Steel “Sea Wolf” Reference
722-946B Automatic Wristwatch, sold for: $923

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)?

Rolex GMT Master II Reference 16710
with Box and Papers, sold for: $10,625
Omega Speedmaster “Professional” Stainless
Steel Chronograph Wristwatch, sold for: $2,160

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.

Single-owner Rolex Daytona Reference 6239 “Exotic” Dial Wristwatch, sold for: $200,000

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!

Consider Reading : Time on Your Hands


4 thoughts on “The Value of Standing (or Avoiding) the Test of Time

  1. And, of course, beautiful antique pocket watches fall into the same category. Made with pride, made to last and many of unparalleled beauty.

  2. On vintage “tool” watches, I like some dial patina, oxidation changes in the case material, but I’m not a fan of hard use or abuse in evidence by dents, nicks, scratches,, etc. While evidence that these watches are capable of hard use, I don’t need to re-live that hard life on my wrist.
    Now on the other hand, give me a triple-complicated Patek in rose gold, I want perfection! Who wouldn’t?

  3. Great question Jay:
    From a sale ability point of you I have well learned the closer it looks to the day it was made the more it will sell for. This business first suggests “leave it alone” where reality states cleaning something that was meant to show bright will help in actually selling. Of course the hard core collectors or dealers say otherwise but they tend not to be retail customers. If it was meant to be polished then it should be today. Nautical for example, if in the British Navy all brasses were mandated polished USN Only uniform brass.
    Your doing a great job Jay, keep it up.

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