Timeless classics: An expert's guide to buying vintage
They could set you back anything between Dh1,500 and Dh1,500,000. But during the last 30 years, vintage timepieces have been transformed from the stuff of horologists' obsession into dandy must-have, the right brand and model offering an instant signifier of connoisseurship. Tariq Malik, co-owner of Dubai vintage watch specialists, Momentum, offers advice on how and what to buy.
What type of watches are collectable in the UAE right now? what's in demand?
Vintage watches are relatively new to the UAE and so the market is still developing. Most of the demand is for brands that are already well known, such as Rolex, Patek Philippe and Omega. Classic models, such as the Rolex Datejust, Patek Philippe Calatrava or the Omega Speedmaster, are highly sought after. There's also particular demand for Rolexes made on special order with UAE logos printed on the dial. We've been surprised by the number of sophisticated collectors with focused interests, such as military watches, specific brands or eras. Collectors here pretty much know what they like and what they want.
Which brands best hold their value?
Given their remarkable impact on watchmaking, Rolex and Patek Philippe. They set the industry benchmark: Patek Philippe invented the keyless winding mechanism and the first wristwatch, and their creations are seen as pieces of watchmaking art that sell at auction for extremely high prices. Rolex were pioneers in so-called tool watches, made for a specific purpose. Sir Edmund Hillary reached the summit of Mount Everest wearing a Rolex Explorer, for example. Swiss brands are the most well-known and certainly the best marketed, but we do try to encourage people to consider watches made in other countries, such as Germany, France, Japan and the United States. Many have very interesting histories and traditions.
What are the essential checks you need to make when examining a potential purchase?
First, check the condition of the dial and case and whether there are deep scratches or any visible damage. Vintage watches naturally change colour with exposure to heat, sunlight and humidity, though this can add to the character and beauty of the watch if the ageing is relatively uniform. Ensure that the case has not been overpolished as this can reduce its strength and in the case of gold watches, it can reduce the value. Try to wind the watch and listen to how well the winding mechanism works. Change the time to make sure it moves smoothly. If the watch has a date function, try to change the date. Older watches do not have a quickset date function; this means you need to adjust forward the time by 24 hours for the date to change. For well-maintained watches, the date should change quickly at 12 o'clock. We would also recommend you check the movement, which is the heart of the watch. Don't hesitate to ask the shopkeeper to open it for you. For watches that are water resistant, opening the watch may not always be advisable.
What would you recommend as a first-time vintage buy?
It depends on a client's taste, their budget and the purpose of the watch. Generally, we recommend they go for a timeless steel Rolex or Omega, manual or self-winding, preferably from the 1970s or '80s. These are watches that can be worn for all occasions. The price range is reasonable and, most importantly, they provide excellent value. Rolex watches, more so than most brands in a similar price range, retain their value and are relatively easy to sell should you decide to let it go or trade-in for an upgrade. If you want to start in a higher price range, we'd recommend something like the Patek Philippe Nautilus Chronograph. Vintage Rolex sport models, such as the Submariner or GMT, which age beautifully, are another option.
What can you expect to pay for a vintage watch?
The watches we stock are priced from Dh1,500 and, at the higher end, they can reach the hundreds of thousands. We have watches from the 1930s, the vintage era, the classic era and a few contemporary style watches, as well as special and limited editions. Many brands have disappeared in the last 40 years, due to competitive pressures. Therefore, these names aren't as well-known and can now be obtained for bargain prices.
What would you recommend for the more adventurous speculator?
We don't know which watches will increase in value, so it's more important for clients to buy something they will enjoy for the long-term. The reason we focus on vintage watches is precisely because of their enduring appeal; their design and functionality have withstood the test of time. The fact that they have retained their value is simply an additional benefit.
What is the market like for vintage ladies' watches? Do the same buying rules apply?
Yes. We have a selection of ladies' watches from Cartier, Omega and Tiffany & Co, among others. Speaking to other retailers in Dubai, we are seeing a rising trend for vintage fashion - like handbags, clothing and jewellery - and a vintage watch is seen as completing this look. Also, if you're a woman looking for a unique timepiece without breaking the bank, a vintage watch is just right.
What documentation should you get with your purchase?
You should ask for a certificate providing a reference and serial number to authenticate the watch. This is important for more expensive watches. Over time, these may be lost. People might not have kept the box and original papers because they didn't realise their importance. With the original certificates, the value of a vintage watch can increase by 30 per cent. All the watches we sell come with a warranty and certificate providing details of the watch. It is very important to take proper care of a watch so your next generation will be able to enjoy it.
Is the internet a helpful resource when buying vintage or should it be avoided?
It's helpful when it comes to online forums. You can find dedicated websites for most brands and collectors are the greatest source of information. But you should buy from a trustworthy source. If you're buying online it is difficult to judge the condition of the watch without handling it. It's also difficult for online sellers to offer an after-sales service and many don't have a return policy. With auction sites, we recommend using the established houses such as Antiquorum and Christie's. They are also helpful when it comes to valuing a watch.
If you could buy any watch from any period, what would you choose and how much would it cost?
My dream watch is a vintage Pre-Daytona Rolex Chronograph (6238) with a silver dial from the mid-1960s. Those were made in small numbers and are being sold for around Dh200,000 at auction. When I first came across it in the mid-1990s, you could buy it for around Dh40,000.
Momentum, The Gate Building, Marble Walk, DIFC 04 327 4320. For opening times, see www.momentum-dubai.com. Pioneers of Aviation: an exhibition of pilots' watches and aviation instruments from the 1940s, will be held at the store from October 4 -November 22.