Watch Articles

What Is a Vintage Watch?

September 20, 2019 - Watch Articles
As luxury watch experts, are often asked: what is a vintage watch? Vintage watches is the term used for watches manufactured between 1935 to 1990, making them the perfect timepieces for lovers of classic style icons such as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Sean Connery. Our horologists take a deep dive into vintage watches, discuss the most expensive vintage watches and show you where to sell vintage watches quickly and easily for the most money.

Get the answers to the following questions:


What is a vintage watch?

Quite simply, a vintage watch is any timepiece made from 1935 to 1990. The allure of vintage of watches lies in their ability to evoke both nostalgia and horological awe. A vestige of the past, they are technological marvels that connect us to bygone years. They tell a story through their design and mechanics which reflect the time period they were made in. Vintage watches allow you to wear a piece of history that honours the spirit of watchmaking, major horological innovation and iconic styles.

What is a Vintage Watch?

Other than smaller case sizes for men and women, as well as dials yellowed with time, there is no unifying design among vintage watches. Depending on the decade they were made and whether they were dress, sport or casual watches, vintage timepieces can come in a wide array of styles. Today, many watch manufacturers are creating timepieces that are homages to their predecessors, such as TAG Heuer’s Monaco Calibre 11 or Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931.


What are the most expensive vintage watches?

There are plenty of vintage watches that have caught the attention of watch enthusiasts across the world as they sold at auction for astronomical prices. Below are the five most expensive vintage watches:

  1. Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona – £13.8 Million

The world’s most expensive vintage watch sold in 2017 after a heated 12-minute auction to an anonymous phone bidder for a record-breaking £14.2 million. Once owned by the legendary actor and racer Paul Newman, this watch was gifted to him by his wife with “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME” inscribed on the case back. Notable for its exotic white dial, black subdials and art deco style, this chronograph was once a slow mover, selling for a modest £160 in stores. Only about 2,000 to 3,000 of this model are believed to exist, making any “Paul Newman” Rolex Daytona, a vintage watch collector’s dream.

  1. Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 in Stainless Steel – £8.6 Million

The second most expensive vintage watch belongs to Patek Philippe’s Ref. 1518 in stainless steel which was bid on in 2016 for £11 million. Introduced in 1941 as one of four models, this timepiece was not only the first watch with a perpetual calendar and chronograph, but also the only perpetual Patek calendar chronograph made with steel. The stainless steel Ref. 1518 design inspired future Patek watches with its complicated, yet well balanced dial.

  1. Patek Philippe Ref. 1527 – £4.4 Million

It comes as no surprise that another one of the most expensive vintage watches belongs to a Patek Phillippe watch. Only two models of the Ref. 1527 were ever produced: one with and one without a chronograph. The model without a chronograph belonged to Patek Phillippe’s president Charles Stern and now resides in the Patek Philippe Museum. The chronograph model was sold in 2012 for £4.4 million.

  1. Bao Dai Rolex – £3.9 Million

Coming in as the 4th most expensive vintage watch is the Bao Dai Rolex, named after the last emperor of Vietnam. In 1954, the Emperor asked for the rarest and most precious watch ever made. He was shown Rolex’s Ref. 6062, a captivating watch made in yellow gold with a triple calendar, moon phase and diamond hour markers on the even hours. The Bao Dai first came onto the market in 2002 when consigned by the family of the Emperor and was recently sold in 2017 for £3.9 million.

  1. Rolex Cosmograph Ref. 6263 Oyster Albino – £1 Million

Wrapping up our list of the most expensive vintage watches is famed guitarist Eric Clapton’s 1971 Cosmograph Ref. 6263 Oyster Albino. Its name comes from the dial’s striking design, which is entirely silver, including the subdials. Only four Albino Cosmographs were ever made, and in 2003 Eric Clapton’s watch sold for £1 million.


How much is a vintage watch worth?

As a vintage watch owner, you are likely wondering how much your vintage watch is worth. While there is no definitive pricing for vintage watches, the value of your watch will be based on several factors:

  • Brand: Certain brands such as Rolex and Patek Phillippe better retain their value over time.
  • Model: Particular vintage models are more in demand than others, such as Rolex Daytonas with a Paul Newman Dial.
  • Original Parts: Many watch buyers will only consider buying vintage watches if they have all of their original parts. Watches with 3rdparty or aftermarket parts require costly factory original parts.
  • Dial: Your vintage watch should have its original, unaltered dial. Reluming, cleaning or repainting of the dial can lower your watch’s value by 50% or more. According to our head horologist Tom Pozsgay, “Collectors would rather have a dial with a patina to it than a refinished dial.”
  • Condition: Your watch’s overall condition can increase or decrease its value. For instance, a chipped crystal, deeply scratched case or water damaged leather strap would all need to be replaced.
  • Box and Papers: If you kept your watch’s original box, papers, warranty card and instructions in good condition, this will add value to your watch.

Click the button below to get a bespoke price quote for your vintage watch.

How to sell a vintage watch?

To sell your vintage watch quickly and safely for the highest price, WP Diamonds is here to help. Our team of horologists possess decades of experience analysing vintage watches, allowing us to provide you with honest and competitive offers. Unlike many vintage watch buyers who will simply broker the sale of your watch, which can take months or even years and then deduct a commission, we purchase your watch outright. This means that you can sell your vintage watch in as little as 48 hours, with no fees or commissions deducted from your final offer. We are proud of our seamless selling process and hundreds of excellent customer reviews.

What is a Vintage Watch?

To get started, complete our online form and receive your price quote. To get a final offer, schedule an appointment at one of our offices in Birmingham, London, New York or Hong Kong or request a free, fully insured shipping label. Once our watch team assess your watch in person, we will contact you with a final offer which you can accept by bank transfer. There is never any obligation to sell and you can always request to have your watch returned to you for free should you refuse our final price.

Click the button below to get a price quote for your vintage watch.

Bio: Written by one of our diamond, designer jewelry or luxury watch experts. With over 150 years of combined experience, our experts are able to comment on trends, share industry knowledge and provide diamond, designer jewelry and luxury watch education.

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